Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Amityville Horror

The house that was the site of the murders that sparked the Amityville Horror has been put on the market for $1.15 million.

This is no shit:

On most of the older steam-powered warships, the sailors lived in large berthing compartment that held anywhere from 15 to 100 men or more. In the early 1980s, the Navy began installing privacy curtains that went around each bunk. The curtains (known colloquially as "beat-off curtains") allowed individual sailors to read or to write letters after Taps. Before the installation of the curtains, everyone had to shut off their bunk lights.

There was a sailor who stayed up after Taps, reading the book The Amityville Horror. It was fair to say that he was really engrossed in it. Just after midnight, another sailor reached across the bunk next to his, slid his hand under the curtain and grabbed the ankle of the sailor reading the book. The screams of that sailor woke everyone up in two berthing compartments.

This is also no shit:

After the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard closed in 1966, a company called Coastal Drydock & Repair took over part of the shipyard. They did major overhauls and repairs on Navy ships. A little while after the Amityville Horror movie came out, a few sailors on one of the ships undergoing overhaul there decided to drive out to Amityville and look at the house. They found the house, took some photos and drove away.

The transmission on their car blew out a quarter of a mile down the road.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Landing On a Pitching Deck

I've probably said before that the guys who flew SH-2s from the Knox class and Garcia class FFs were about the craziest fuckers around. Flying from a CV in heavy seas is almost as insane.

Part 1:

Part 2:

They earned their flight pay that day.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Can the Bubbleheads Do It Right?

The first group of female midshipmen have been accepted into the submarine training pipeline.

Two things are given: First off, these 13 young women will be under a microscope. A guy can get bilged out of the training pipeline and nobody will ever say "oh, he flunked out because guys can't hack it." That'll be different for these women.

Second, the selectees, no doubt, are as prepared for the challenge facing them as they can be. I know nothing about them, but I would bet heavily that these women are the best of the best in the current graduating class. 8 were already slated for the nuclear-training pipeline, which means that they are brainy gearheads.

The question is whether or not the submarine community will get it right. I would hope that the senior officers in the 1120 community have studied how the surface and aviation communities handled their first group of women in the 1970s.

The consensus was back then that the airdales pretty much fucked it up. The blackshoes did it pretty slowly, taking over ten years to go from having women on AD/ASs to the UNREP force and then to the NRF tin cans before women were allowed on active-duty warships.

The bubbleheads don't have the luxury of having different grades of ships to play with, like the skimmers did. They have got to get it right from day one.

I think they are up to the task.

(Yes, I know, I stepped outside of my normal Cold War beat for this one post. Sue me.)

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Best and the Worst People Could Be Found There

They could be found at the various naval facilities, known as Navfacs. That was the cover name for SOSUS stations.[1]

Female line officers started being assigned to the SOSUS stations at the end of the 1960s. Until the early 1980s, when women began being assigned to surface ships and began going into flight training, assignment to a SOSUS station was the closest thing to an operational job that the Navy had for women.[2] The women officers were unrestricted line officers (designator: 110x)[3] and they were the cream of the crop. Many had hard science degrees and/or advanced degrees

Male junior officers who were assigned into SOSUS in the 1970s were, on the other hand, generally a group of serious fuckups. Oh, there were some who were just there because of bad luck, like a few pilots who had been in crashes, been hurt badly enough to be disqualified from flight duty, and were serving out their time. But mainly, the male JOs were complete fuckups who had been booted out of their warfare communities. These were guys who couldn't hack being on ships or guys who had been washed out of flight school and then couldn't hack sea duty. They were the guys who would eventually fail to select for lieutenant.

You could find these guys scattered all over the Navy, if you knew where to look. They were the ensigns and JGs who were doing paper-pushing at the recruiting offices, the ones that were not let within a league of a potential recruit. You might find them nominally in charge of the pass offices at places like the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard.

It took being a serious fuckwad to get fired from a ship as a first-tour junior officer. A captain who sent such a JO to the beach might have to wait a year or more for a replacement, when a twit like that could at least stand watches as a JOOD underway or an OOD in port.[4] So for a captain to throw someone like that off the ship meant that the young lad had to be one serious piece of human shit.

And that khaki-wearing turd could be pretty much counted to wash ashore at a SOSUS station.

[1] It's hard for me to grasp the fact that I can even write about this. SOSUS was once one of the most secret programs that the Navy had.
[2] As opposed to an administrative-type job.
[3] 110x was the designator for "unrestricted line", which by the late 1970s, meant women. Men who had the 110X designator were fuckups (or were possibly in a secret specialty).
[4] I knew of one JO on a ship on the East Coast whose job was "ship's photographer". It was more common to find them nominally as division officers of divisions with very strong chiefs.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Steam Applications (non-naval)

Steam power had some interesting applications, other than driving ships, trains and generating electricity.

This is a website about a very large steam pump, the Cruquius Engine, that was used to help dewater Holland.

This is an animation of the engine room. This is an animation of the operation of the engine and pumps and a schematic animation to show the basic flow of steam.

The engine ran for something like 70 to 80 years.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Ship's Boats

Destroyers and cruisers traditionally had two boats[1]. Both were powered by small diesel engines.

They were the Captain's Gig:

And the 26' Motor Whaleboat (this one was sold as surplus):

Boats were used primarily when the ship was anchored somewhere, though in far rarer occasions, they were used for "blue water" transfers between ships in the open sea. They were hoisted onto the ship and lowered by davits. The davits were double armed affairs that held the boats on cradles when they were not used. When in use, the davit would lift the boat up, tilt down so that the boat was over the water, and then lower the boat on pulleys (called "falls").

When the boats were being raised and lowered, only the bare crew was on the boat and they were required to hold onto the monkey lines (ropes with knotted hand-holds). For one end of the boat could slip off a fall and yes, they occasionally did.

The davits were powered by large electric motors which had limit switches to prevent the motors from breaking things. The motors wound and unwound the wire rope winches on the davits. The limit switches, though, were sitting right out there open to the salt air and they sometimes failed. When they did, the winch motors could wind things a little too tight and bend the living shit out of the davit arms.

During good weather, these boats had a three-man crew: A coxswain, a seaman and an engineman. The seaman and engineman handled lines fore and aft. In bad weather or at night, a boat officer was added, usually the junior-most ensigns in the duty section.

The motor whaleboat was pretty straight forward. The coxswain drove the boat from the steering station next to the motor. The motor had a straight shaft that ran right to the prop.

The gig was, comparatively, a maintenance nightmare. The engine was at the rearmost part of the boat. The driveshaft went forward into a "v-drive", which in turn drove the prop shaft. The housing of the v-drive was made of aluminum. There was no way to get to the bottom of the v-drive other than pulling it out. Aluminum corrodes nicely in seawater, which tends to get into the bilges of boats. So what would happen is that the bottom of the v-drive would swiss-cheese itself from corrosion, the oil would leak out of the v-drive and, if that was not caught, the goddammed thing would seize up.

The gig was the captain's boat and it was at his beck-and-call. A considerate captain would let his gig be used as a liberty launch for at least the chiefs and the officers, if not for the entire crew. It was incumbent upon those who were returning to the ship and who were really drunk to pass up on riding in the gig, as captains took a dim view of squids puking their guts out in the gig's cabin.

When boats were in use, a beach party with a radio was sent ashore for controlling the sailors at the landing point. The petty officer or officer there reported to the OOD. Anyone who was really drunk might have to wait for hours there until they sort of sobered up. The beach party also functioned as a security checkpoint, welcoming and screening visitors to the ship. The boats took their orders from either the beach party or the OOD.

When boats were in use, the senior line officer in the boat was in charge, even if an officer was assigned to the boat and even if that senior line officer was drunk on his ass. More than a few drunk lieutenants got into serious trouble after an incident when someone else on the boat was injured. ("Line officer", in this regard, meant that one was in a warfare specialty eligible for command at sea.)

 It was common to hire water taxis when visiting foreign ports.

This served several functions. First off, it freed the ships from having to crew and operate their own boats. Second, it provided some work for the local charter boats, which meant there was some more interest in having naval ships visit. Third, because they were foreign vessels, the ship's officers were not responsible for safety of the water taxi.

Anchoring out was done in ports that either had limited pier/dock/wharf space (or the port wanted to reserve the space for freighters and cruise ships) or were too shallow for the ships to pull in. Most everyone hated anchoring out and using the boats. It was a strain on the duty sections. Boat crews were required to wear the uniform of the day, which meant trashing a set of whites in the summer.[2] Boating operations could be hazardous, especially if the weather was up. Boating might be secured,[3] which meant that you could find yourself stuck on shore for awhile.

A wise sailor on liberty made sure that he or she had enough money set aside to rent a cheap hotel room in case the weather soured. Worse case was when the weather really soured and the ship had to get under way to the relative safety of the open sea. It was not unheard-of for half of the crew to be stranded ashore for a few days, an event that would involve the local consulate/embassy to help out in caring for the strandees.

[1]Carriers and other large ships had personnel boats that were much larger. The admiral commanding a task group would also have his own boat, known as "the admiral's barge."
[2]Working uniform might be authorized if the weather was getting lousy, but that was not to be counted upon.
[3] "To secure" in the Navy meant "to end an evolution and tidy up." In the Navy, "to secure a building" meant to sweep down the halls, empty the trash, turn out the lights and lock the doors. To the Army, "secure the building" meant to post a guard at the front door. To the Marines, "secure the building" meant to attack the building, blow a hole in the side, go in and kill or capture everyone inside. To the Air Force, "secure a building" meant to negotiate and sign a lease for the building.