Select Page

ChautauquaWHEC41

Long, long ago I was stationed on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Chautauqua out of Honolulu. She was commissioned about 4 months before I was born. Not saying when that was, but if you insist you can look it up. She was 254 ft long with a 43 ft beam and powered by a 4,000 horsepower electric engine that could take her up to 17 knots (according to specs). I never saw 17 knots. We mostly stayed under 13 knots.

In the Pacific she had this odd tendency to bury her prow about every third swell, if you made her go too fast. Actually, I’m not sure she could get over 13 at all because even in emergencies when we had to really book, she never got much past 13 knots. I serviced all her electronics so I could always tell when we got going too fast for conditions. All hell would break loose. Every time she buried her nose she would almost come to a full stop and the hull would shudder like a dog in REM sleep. The gear I maintained couldn’t take much of this before it started to go to pieces.

I was on duty 24/7 while underway so we’d hit a swell hard, then the pager would squawk me to the bridge, usually ‘on the double’. You had to be able to come out of a sound sleep, get dressed, get your wits about you and make it to the bridge in 3 minutes or so. If not the XO would chew your ass out and make ridiculous demands about fixing his toys.

I was fortunate in this need for instantaneous readiness to have as my sleeping partner on one side, a gazillion ton air conditioning compressor, and on the other a companion way (ladder for landlubbers) that led up to a water tight (not so much) hatch. When it was nasty outside this was the hatch that crew used to change watch, so when it wasn’t closed and leaking it was open and taking on the spray that resulted from our every third plunge into the abyss. The best time to go through that hatch was when the ship was shuddering at full stop. Any other time you ran the risk of having it swing you into the Pacific ocean or slam on your fingers. Sure the spray was an issue, but if you were coming off the deck you were most likely drenched already and my bunk was there to soak up the mess anyway.

Which brings me to the XO; the executive officer, the second in command. My XO was a nasty piece of work. He got seasick as soon as we cast off mooring lines. We generally didn’t see him until we were underway for 2 or 3 days. His demeanor was pompous, always. He made demands that were often unreasonable and occasionally unsafe. I remember once being in big seas, well over 15 feet. The Chautauqua shape was like a WWII destroyer only shorter, which meant it was never comfortable in any kind of sea. She rolled to 45 degrees like any good drunken sailor. I was called to the bridge to fix the surface radar which was making a display that looked a bit like the spokes of a racing bike. Just rotating lines that made you crazy. Inside the beast were several places you could use to kill yourself if you got your hands in the wrong place.

Mr Jones (made up name for my safety) wanted that thing fixed ‘double time’. Now we were 2100 nautical miles NW of Honolulu. If you look on a chart you’ll find this to be one of the most desolate places in the world. There is no land within a thousand miles and if we were really lucky we’d see another ship out there (and we stayed in that place for 30 days at a time) maybe twice. Needless to say, a surface search radar with a range of 30 miles is not going to do much for you out there. And, if your ship is taking 45 degree rolls while burying itself up to midships in every third wave, it doesn’t make much sense to have a crew member risk his well being to fix it. There are more important things to worry about.

Well he’s an officer and I was a PO2, which is like a sergeant in the army. You do what you are told. You don’t risk your life though when it’s for nothing much. And you don’t put yourself into the high voltage when the clown watching you hasn’t a clue what you are doing. So I ‘worked’ on the problem. He wanted that thing fixed really bad and was at the point of losing his temper with me when the captain walked onto the bridge.

The captain was like a John Wayne type. Silver gray haired temples, 6 foot three inches of creased uniform, Kirk Douglas chin. He could look good in a shit storm (which this was). He took a look at me wrestling with 150 pounds of glowing circuits, the water hitting the bridge like a sledge, and the poppy cocked XO and said “That will be enough Mr. Jones.” Doesn’t sound like much, but coming from him, under the circumstances it was like a thunder clap on the bridge. If it wasn’t for the storm and the water crashing into us, you could have heard a pin drop on the bridge. Mr Jones scurried to his quarters, I stood down. The next morning the radar was fixed and displaying (as expected) nothing at all.

That captain was a principled man. For him I would stick my hands in the radar. The thing was though, that for him I didn’t have to. He knew what was a priority and what could wait  until things calmed down, and when he said to do something you knew it had to be important. With the XO you were never sure it was important for the good of the ship and crew, or important for his ego. He was a very unprincipled man.

I remember once, after a two month cruise, we were all lined up starboard side in dress uniforms as we came to rest at the pier. We enlisted types had to stay lined up until the officers left the ship. The XO was first off the ship and he walked to his wife waiting beside their convertible. She was Japanese or Filipino I think and tiny compared to him. His first words to her, in front of the 130 man crew, looking down on him from the gunwale, were to berate her for not dusting off the seats of the car. An unprincipled man. Nobody respected him but everybody worked for him because it was what we had to do.

I’m that way about the orange raccoon, Donald Trump. I wrote about how I could never support him here. I made a stand on my principles that at the time seemed sound enough. I was wrong. As long as there was even a slight chance that he wouldn’t make it through the primary process my position had no consequence. I still don’t respect him. I think he is a fraud and a terrible person. Now though, my principles have consequence.

We are faced with the reality that there can be only two outcomes. Orange raccoon or Lyin’ Hillary. And she is a liar. She even lies about her lies, but I drift. Donald is like that XO. You may not respect him. You may not like him. But if there is no other choice you have to ‘do what he says’. Just like me on the bridge of that ship. You have to work the problem. You might not work it with all the vigor you would for say, John Wayne, but you work it never the less. You hope that in time you will fix what ever it is you are working on. And no matter how bad things get it is still ultimately you fixing the problem.

My XO was never going to fix that radar by himself no matter how unhinged he got. It’s still the guy in the trench that fixes the problem. All the leader can do is point the troops. So as much as it pains me to vote for him, I must. Because, if he loses we won’t even be on the ship to try to fix things. It will be Hillary’s ship and crew and it’s way better to have a bad captain on a good ship than to be adrift in a sea of fools.