Flag Oscar Close Up

14 05 2014

When in Rome, do as the Romans. When at sea, know how to swim.

There, how hard is that little idea? Just because the nearest land is  usually under your feet is no excuse. If you are going to leave the ship, be prepared to swim for it.

Okay, for the most part, when a sailor goes over the side it is usually not by his choice and swimming for it really isn’t a realistic option. If the sharks don’t eat you, or the cold, or the…. or the….. or the…. it is not particularly reasonable to expect anyone to swim to shore when you are more than 100 yards from it. All of that being said, when someone does go over the side, that person should expect to be recovered post haste – if for no other reason, the Commanding Officer (CO) has to do an awful lot of paperwork if he loses one of his sailors.

As the CO isn’t much into doing paperwork, Man Over Board drills were generally done every other day that we were at sea. The fleet standard was to have the man back on board in 10 minutes or less – a pretty impressive goal when you factor in turning a ship around, getting 200 ish men doing a specific series of tasks (usually having being woken from a dead sleep) and stopping the ship at point about 100 yards away from where the man in the water is doing his best to convince that shark that there is a buffet being served somewhere else.

For your edification, this is the drill, from the view of a sleeping naval signalman.

I have finally reached that happy place in sleepyville. I am warm and comfortable and thinking very NSFW thoughts about a lovely lady back home. All is as it should be.

While I am happily asleep, the Chief Bosun Mate is making a very casual stroll to the starboard  boat locker. He opens the hatch, reaches in and pulls Oscar out and pitches him over the side. Oscar is a  6 foot 200 lb dummy, approximately humanoid shape and about as east to move as your average 20lb cat who is not interested in leaving her sunbeam. Oscar hits the water and bobs around in the ships wake until the ship passes him. At that point, the lifebouy sentry (the guy at the extreme aft end of the ship whose only job is to be looking for Oscar) sees Oscar, hits the alarm and throws a life ring and a smoke marker at Oscar. He picks up a phone and tell the bridge that Oscar has gone swimming again.

Up on the bridge, the Officer of the Watch is calmly informed of our late night swimmer at which point the OOW craps his pants. If the OOW doesn’t retrieve the swimmer properly, all of that paperwork that the CO has to do get multiplied and handed to the OOW to do. It is hard to do paperwork after you knuckles have been whapped with a steel ruler for being incompetent. The OOW tell the Quarter Master to bring the ship to Rescue Stations and the fun begins.

Going back down to my rack where I am deeply involved with those NSFW thoughts of my wife, I am wretched back to life. I jerk myself awake as the BONG BONGS go off and I hear that oh so sweet announcement of  “PORT WATCH TO RESCUE STATIONS, RECOVERY BY SEABOAT” Just to make sure we didn’t miss anything, they repeat the call. I jump to the deck, find my locker, pull on my pants, shirt, jacket, boots and grab my cold weather jacket because it isn’t all that warm in the north pacific at 2 am.  While I am doing this, the other 50  guys down here are doing the same thing. After a bit of scrambling and general mayhem, I get myself dressed and up to my rescue station. On the Qu’appelle, my rescue station was boat comms, meaning I got to sit at the bow of the ships boat and keep radio communications between the CO and the Coxn of the boat.

On the boat deck, more or less awake, I am handed a PRC (walkie talkie), I do a radio check with the bridge and report the boat Coxn. On one side of me the ships diver is pulling on his wet suit, on the other side the cooks are setting up a first aid station. It is now 4 minutes since Oscar went over the side. The ship has been turned around and has stopped approximately 100 yards from where the dummy is bobbing around in the water. The order is given to load the boat and lower to the waterline. The boat crew loads up,  we get lowered the 30 feet to the waterline and then we hit the release and we drop to the water.

A word of perspective is due here. Standing up on the bridge and looking down at the ocean surface and being told that there are 10 foot swells down there is interesting and all. Looks pretty flat to me. At 0230 in the morning, in blackness only broken by the ships lighting, that 10 foot swell looks pretty $%(#! impressive from the surface of the ocean while sitting in a 28′ wooden boat.

The boats Cox’n flashes up the outboard and away we go. I have the PRC plastered to my ear so I can hear the bridge tell me where OSCAR is. If we are lucky, there will be a signal lantern lighting up the dummy, if not, we have to follow the “Left a little, right a little….” over the PRC. We drive over to OSCAR, the driver goes into the water with a horse collar over his shoulder, grabs the dummy, we pull them both back along side and up into the boat. The cox’n brings us alongside the ship and we get taken back onboard.

The aftermath of this evolution is generally someone pointing at a stopwatch saying ” 2 minutes too long”

Yeah, yeah, whatever. If that stupid dummy would pick a nicer time to go swimming, I would be more inclined to move a bit faster. Now, if you mind, I have some NSFW thoughts to get back to








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