Monday, September 5, 2011

Twenty Knot Tommy

Back in the 1970s, after the Vietnam War was finished, the Navy regarded shore duty as a sort of paid vacation. The idea was something along the lines of since sailors spent a lot of time away from home when they were on sea duty, when they were on shore duty, they should work regular hours. It was highly frowned upon to require sailors on shore duty to work outside of normal hours.[1] It took damn near an act of Congress (or a C/M-4 CASREP) in order to get the shore establishment to work overtime.[2]

"20 Knot Tommy" was the skipper of a tin can that was homeported in Charleston, SC.[3] He got that nickname because his preferred speed during sea and anchor detail was 20 knots. The Charleston Naval Station was several miles up the Cooper River. A lot of recreational boaters[4] could be found in the Cooper River. The Coast Guard asked the Navy to limit the speed of its ships when they were transiting the Cooper River. That cut no ice with 20 Knot Tommy. The Coast Guard would complain to the Navy, the commander of the naval base would send a letter to 20 Knot Tommy, who would ignore the letter.[5]

This is no shit: 20 Knot Tommy and his ship were returning to port after a series of exercises. From the time the last exercise ended, a normal transit[6] would bring 20 Knot Tommy and his ship to the Cooper River sea buoy[7] at 0530 on Saturday.

The ship sent the normal logistics requirement message to NAVSTA Charleston, which said that the ship would require two tugs, linehandlers and the usual services early on Saturday morning. NAVSTA Charleston replied that the ship was to remain at sea until no earlier than 0900 on Monday.

Tommy was not going to keep his ship and his crew at sea for two extra days to accommodate the shore establishment. At 0600 on Saturday, his ship was sitting in the Cooper River off the naval base. Tommy got on the radio, called the naval base and asked for the tugs. The duty officer told him to go back out to sea and come back on Monday.

20 Knot Tommy wasn't having any of that. So he anchored his tin can right in the middle of the Cooper River, just offshore of the Bachelor Officers' Quarters (BOQ). What Tommy knew was that a number of senior officers had left their families in the DC area and those officers lived in the senior officers' section of the BOQ. Those rooms faced the river.

Tommy's next move was to hold early reveille on those officers. He did that by having the ship's whistle sound long (and very loud) blasts at short intervals.

One of those senor officers was the commander of one of the two destroyer squadrons in Charleston. He was Tommy's boss. Within 15 minutes, the Commodore was on the radio and the conversation went something like this:

"Good morning, Thomas. You're back early, I see."
"Yessir. Request permission to enter port."
"Permission granted. The tugs will be out to you shortly."

And they were. Someone on the Bridge spotted the smoke from two tugs as the duty crews started the tugs' diesels. The tugs got underway, Tommy ordered the anchor raised, and his ship was brought alongside the pier. Other ships at the pier sent over linehandlers to help moor the ship and a crane was waiting to lift a brow.

20 Knot Tommy was the hero of the waterfront for the next week or so.

But I imagine that his career went nowhere. For you didn't buck Big Navy and survive.
[1] 0730-1600.
[2] The sailors on ships used to say that their main mission was to support the shore establishment.
[3] By "tin can", I mean a warship other than a cruiser or a minesweeper.
[4] Also known as "bubbas with boats".
[5] Supposedly he said that sailing in and out at 20 knots effectively halved the time his crew had to stand at Sea and Anchor Detail and if that made the Coasties unhappy, fuck `em.
[6] Warships were limited to a transit speed of 16 knots, unless authorized to go faster.
[7] The "sea buoy" is the last buoy in a marked channel before the open sea.


Jimh. said...

great post as usual.

jon spencer said...

I was stationed on a YTB from late 72 to early 74 and the day of the week did not mean much.
Normal work week was 0800 to 1630 Monday to Friday, then for after hours and weekends it was the two boats that had the duty. There were many moves scheduled for after normal working hours and weekends too. The way it worked for unscheduled movement was that the First boat was on 5 minute notice to get underway and the Second boat was on 30 minute notice. When we were First boat we stayed onboard, when we were the Second boat we had to stay in contact with the tug base/ harbor control. There were between 3 and 5 boats to do the work depending on what boat was broke down or doing maintenance. However the duty followed the crew not the boat. So once the regular work day was done and if you were a duty boat we (the crew) went to working boat and took over the job.
Now this was at NavSta Guam and it was quite busy back then. I don't even want to think of what would have happened to us if we told someone who wanted a tug to call back on Monday.
If we needed a third boat for a after-hour or weekend work without notice then it was run around an snag off duty crew.
I suppose it all depends on what the local base CO or their boss wants.

Comrade Misfit said...

Jon, that might have been peculiar to Charleston. Or maybe it was a post-Nam thing. I heard the story from several different people; maybe it's true to some degree. That's the thing about sea stories, y'know.

Eck! said...

Don't let the coasties fool you. Eatons Neck (Huntington Bay, LI)
was the coasties. Every so often they'd take the 44ft cutter for a ride. Now that a big boat to take all the way into Huntington harbor on a deli run (seriously there was a good delicatession at the end of the harbor). They did it and would even turn it around and cruse out at about 4kts. Well I was going out that day in the 15ft stink pot
I had. We rode the wake as it saved gas and had done that before.
Anywho we got past the inlet and the coastie must have called for flank speed as he took off like his tail was being shelled. The result was a 20ft wake with me on top..

Now at this point I had two choices. I could push the throttle foward and run down the front of that wave and that seemed like a very poor idea. Or, chop power completely and slide down the back of it and hope to say ahead of the wave behind it. Slowing was the choice save for the push we were getting made slowing not happen.
As the cutter gained speed we finally started loosing ground
quickly and sliding down the hill, than when we met the second wave coming from behind. It washed over us and put about 8 inches in the boat that had maybe 16 inches of freeboard. Full power and man the pumps. The 22ft daycruser on the other side did worse, flooded the outdrive and
left him dead in the water near the rocks. I ended up helping a guy
in a 16ft open sailor also swamped.

We never found out why he was in such a hurry but he went past our view into the (LI) sound. Leaving a lot of wet boaters litterally in his wake.

I can imagine larger at 20Kt being might unpopular and seriously dangerous in tight waters.


Glenn Mark Cassel said...

Good one! I remember my first deployment on Independence out of Norfolk. We took eight days to get to Rota in July and eleven days to return in January. We flew off the Oceana and Norfolk aircraft going up the channel!!!!!!
Linked to Old Retired Petty Officer!

Captain Steve said...

Oh Yes. First Duty Station was Charleston as an Ensign on a DDG. What a way to learn shiphandling--6-8 knot currents, very restricted maneuvering room and the ever popular Cooper River Bridge. Everything afterwards was relatively easy!