Three Remarkable Days in Japan 2

Fast attack submarines play a key role in our nation’s defense and have done so for as long as I have been alive. For the record, that’s more than at least 59 years. I was a crew member on three different fast attacks although I only really deployed on one: The USS San Francisco SSN 711. It was also my longest served boat (just shy of four years) which is probably why I have some of my strongest memories of that service.

I want to tell a short story about our first West Pac. These six month deployments allow fast attack submarines to do many missions for extended periods of time without having to return back to home base. The San Fran was not unique in any way when it came to doing West Pacs (Western Pacific operations) but our first one had a few twists and turns along the way that separated her from routine.

Most of the operational stuff is still classified in one way or another but what we did in Japan stands out as a very different sort of port call. We had left Hawaii not long before arriving in Yokosuka JDF Naval base. Arriving in Japan, we would have had a typical port visit with visits to the local bars near the main gate and perhaps a little souvenir shipping. But I had a bigger vision than that. I actually thought it would be interesting to use some of our time to actually see Japan.

In my role as the Command Career Counselor, I had decided that maybe there was some missed opportunity in not seeing the country that would be our first port call on the West Pac. So I got the XO’s permission while we were still back in Pearl Harbor to set up some tours once we got there. I was a bit older than most second classes since I had rejoined active duty after a stint in the reserves. I had also seen guys drink their paychecks away in port after port and then years later not even remember anything about where they had been.

Japan has a rich history and many things to see. Even to this day, I hope that I have at least one more chance of travelling back to catch some of the things I have read about but never saw. The special services people and American consulate people were probably surprised when they got the first letters from some second class petty officer inquiring about tours. There was no email back then so no back and forth communications could occur in a timely fashion. Plus, I couldn’t actually tell them when we were arriving since it was part of OPSEC (Operational Security).

Surprisingly though, when we pulled in, I had envelopes full of pamphlets, maps, translation guides, and a letter from a tour operator with three suggested trips. Those included the famous Fifth Station on Mount Fuji (including the Lake Hakone Region and the Ice Caves), The Coastal region and the famous statue at Kamakura, and day trips to Tokyo including the Palace.

I spent the next two days making arrangements and selling tickets for the tours. Within a few days, the first tour was ready to go and I got my first cold hard dash of reality. There seemed to have been a lot of excitement about the various trips but suddenly guys were trying to back out. The travel to Japan had been hard and work in port on a fast boat is always exhausting. But a deal was a deal and we had obligated ourselves.

I can’t remember now which trip was first. The bus pulled up next to the pier and our guides explained where we would be headed. There were a few unhappy campers who felt like now they were going to miss out on something. I don’t know to this day if the trips really meant anything to the groups that went. I do know what they meant to me…

I can now say that I have been up to the Fifth Station of Mount Fujiyama and walked beneath the Ice Cave falls.

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I can also say that I saw the Shogunate of Kamakura and the giant Bhudda statue that you can walk up into.

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And to this day, I can still feel the crunching of the gravel and stones around the Imperial Palace

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There was one last memory of Japan that I still cherish today.

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I still miss your music Jim.

 

I hope in your journey of life, you take a risk from time to time and do the unexpected. You may never know the impact you had, but I can assure you, you probably did.

Mister Mac

The Anchor’s Missing Sir 3

Anchors Aweigh is described as the response to the order to weigh anchor when the anchor has been tripped and is no longer attached to the bottom.

I am unaware of there is an official response if the anchor is no longer attached to the ship. A number of four letter expletives come to mind, but people of many ages and sensitivities read the blog so I will allow the reader to use their imagination and fill in those blanks.

Underway

A submarine is best employed when it is underway. Sitting next to a pier, it is relatively helpless except for the shutdown duty crew that can shut the hatches and button up in signs of trouble. A submarine at anchor is also an abnormal condition and one that is fraught with potential adventures.

Riding high 2

Thinking back, it was pretty rare for any of the boats I rode to sit at anchor and the one time that the San Francisco used hers off the coast of Maui, it didn’t turn out so well. We were stationed at Pearl Harbor at the time and had been on a special operation. Towards the end of the run, the Captain announced that we were going to do a port call in Maui before returning home and that the wives had been notified that they could join us there and return home on the boat.

Romantic Maui

That was a pretty exciting thing for the families that would be joining us. Not only would we get a few days together in romantic Maui, but they would get a ride on board the boat including a submerged run. So all the plans were made and the only detail that needed to be attended to was the place where we would anchor.

D _ 711 Homeward bound

As the old whaling ship masters could tell you, the sea around Maui is relatively calm but the wave swells are long and fairly strong.

I can imagine that they would want to securely fasten their anchor so that their ships would not drift into the shore or into a nearby ship. Anchoring is definitely an art and I suppose submarines don’t get a chance to practice it as much as other types of ships. The other disadvantage an old school 688 has is that its hull is mainly submerged even on the surface so underwater swells and currents will have a pretty strong effect on her.

The big day arrived and we anchored within sight of the island. The small boats took those of us lucky enough to have someone waiting for us to the nearby shore. Maui is a very nice vacation spot and the people are friendly and hospitable. The hotels are a fresh change from being stuck inside a berthing area with a lot of other guys and frankly that first real shower is one of the best feelings you can ever experience after those abbreviated submarine showers.

                               

My wife and I had a great meal and then headed back to our hotel to get reacquainted after not seeing each other for too long. It was early in the evening and we were about to settle in when that one noise you never want to hear at a hotel in Maui with your bride occurred. A knock on the door. Then a more insistent knock on the door. I suppose we could have just ignored it but the sailor in me knew I had to answer it. Of course it was one of my shipmates in uniform who told me that I had to report back to the boat immediately. The anchor had broken free of its chain and the boat was slowly making big circles off the coast. The crew that was left on board was missing a few key people and one of those was Chief of the Watch.

Suddenly that decision to become the first second class petty officer to qualify as COW on board the 711 boat seemed like not such a great idea. The crew member that found me told me that all of the other people qualified to stand the watch were no where to be found. That left me and the one guy already on board to man the station until the next day when we were scheduled to depart. The fact that we had already paid for the room and my wife would have to stay on shore until the next day by herself became inconsequential.

So I headed back to the boat and shared the next twelve hours with my comrades while we gracefully sailed off the coast in very large circles.

711 Chief Of the Watch 1983

It ended well since we picked up the wives and headed to Pearl the next day. My wife even got to help me initiate an emergency blow which was quite a thrill (for both of us since she did the aft group first and then froze because of the noise it created!).

 

The thing I have thought about since then is how important it is to have the right anchor for the right situation. As a kid, I remember my Dad teaching me how to anchor the houseboat on the Monongahela so that it would stay in one place despite the currents. Its definitely a skill because doing it incorrectly would allow the boat to swing port or starboard with sometimes unexpected results.

With the situation in this country right now, I really thing we have either lost our anchor or are about to. All the change we were told was coming was nothing more than swinging wildly on the anchor chain and unfortunately the results are exactly what you would expect. At a time where we need some stability, you have people who have no clue about the proper way to use an anchor at the helm. Frankly I am not sure they know how to pilot the ship either but that’s for another day.

My hope is that we finally get some leadership back up on the bridge before its too late. In the meantime, let’s hope we don’t lose the anchor completely.

Mister Mac

2016 Update: When I wrote this, the country was in need of great leadership. I was thinking this morning, we need it now more than then.