A Tender Tale

Chapter 2:
 not the "real" thing

Makin' a living the old hard way; Takin' and giving by day by day
I dig snow and rain and bright sunshine;
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)
Loving the free and feelin' spirit: Of huggin' a tree when you get near it;
Diggin' the snow and rain and bright sunshine; Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)
I feel fine; I'm talkin' bout peace of mind;
I'm gonna take my time; I'm gettin' the good sign:
Draggin' the line (draggin' the line)...
Tommy James and the Shondels

So my orders were amended - I was sent to the Proteus (AS-19 - Submarine Tender) stationed in Guam to await transfer to a boat as a billet became available. At this point in time - I had no idea what a tender was. I was assigned to W5 Division - Navigation Repair - which is responsible for the maintenance and calibration of the various navigation sub-systems on a submarine. Though a competent electronics technician - I hadn't a clue about the day-to-day routine. Since I was really just "visiting" - I didn't really have any motivation to "dive-in". If I was told to do something - I did it; otherwise - I just tried to lay low. The people that had been there a while seemed to get things done. But there was something "muddying" the waters -- there seemed to be two agendas - the work at hand - plus there was this "undercurrent" going on - something other than the day-to-day business at hand. It didn't take but a few days to discover what that "second" agenda was - the Proteus had orders to Mare Island for overhaul just two months after I reported aboard - and there were things to get ready - families to move - equipment to secure - other equipment - personnel to transfer to the ship that was to relieve us in up-keep duties there... As the time to leave drew closer the Hunley (AS-31) arrived and pulled along side to facilitate transfer of equipment, weapons, etc. The previous several weeks had been - unusual - but now chaos really set in!!! I don't remember exactly how it came about - but the Navy "lost" track of me... I should have been transferred to the Hunley - for transfer on to a boat... but it didn't happen. - and I certainly didn't remind anyone - after all - the overhaul the Proteus had been ordered to was at Mare Island, California - a short PSA "midnight flyer" hop to home! In hind-sight it's easy to see that in no way did my experience so far on a tender come even close to "real" tender duty - I got there just in time to "miss" being a tender sailor - for the time being - though not realizing it yet - I was entering that continuum between reality and fantasy known as the Twilight --- er ---- the Yard Zone. Sailing for home - I participated in one of those "little things" that you don't think about much at the time - but prove important later. Since the Proteus didn't go to sea much - she was always short on engineering types. Since ET's (supposedly) can read meters and such - several of us junior types got "volunteered" to supplement the Engineering gang. I spent 8 hours out of 24 "running" the after engine room propulsion switchboard. In simple terms - on a diesel electric ship - this is equivalent to one of the propeller's accelerator pedal. We stopped off at Hawaii for a few days - then on to Mare Island - and starting the overhaul. March '72 was my "two year" point in my enlistment. The Navy was having a difficult time retaining people in certain specialties - so they came up with the "Star program". You "re-up" for six years (after just two) - then you get a bonus (15 grand) and several other benefits. By this time - I had taken the exam for Second Class Petty Officer - and was on the "selectee" list. That means I didn't score high enough to be rated immediately - but it was likely that a billet would become available shortly - and I would get advanced then. One of the benefits of the Star program was immediate advancement - and some leave. I wanted some leave - bad. There was this un-finished business in Mississippi...

Got your spell on me baby, got your spell on me baby
Got your spell on me baby turnin my heart into stone
I need you so bad magic woman I can't leave you alone...

After one date, 10 days of actually "being together", a couple hundred letters over six months...
June 10, 1972. Yup. June 10, 1997 was our 25th Anniversary.
When it's right - it's RIGHT.

We moved into base housing at Mare Island - with lots of help from some very special people - Chief John Davis - Chief Robert Dibben - ETN3 Wally Morey... Some great friends. We managed to put a few more years into the old AS-19 - new engines in propulsion... new habitability spaces - replaced worn-out air conditioning - new floor tiles and fresh paint - (and NO I don't know anything about that 1,300 gallons of mist green paint that Mare Island shipyard lost)...

Mare Island Security Pass
Mare Island "E" ticket...
By the way - my job title during the overhaul was habitability department supply petty officer - or Procurement PO for short.... I also doubled as an electrician supervisor - running a gang of 15 - 18 men wiring bunk lights and similar stuff. In running that crew - I learned a couple of valuable lessons about "assuming" anything.

Short Sea Story.

In overhaul - everyone gets into just about everything. So you might have someone doing something that they don't know much about - and you should assume nothing. Take Electronics techs. They work with electricity and wires all the time - so it makes perfect sense to use them as electricians - right? Sure. Just make sure that your insurance is paid - and that you are far away! One of the tasks they were assigned was to wire in some new flood lights that had been mounted on the boat deck. A yard electrician had pulled the new wiring to each fixture - all that was needed was to strip the individual wires - and put them on the correct terminals. Nothing fancy. Like I said - these were Electronics techs - Let's see - Three wires - Black, White and Green. Well Black is ground - so it goes to the case. The other two wires must go to the two screw terminals. If you know AC wiring - you probably understand why when a "real" electrician put the fuse back in the AC Main circuit these lamps were wired to - the fuse itself exploded. Needless to say - he was a little pissed. That's when they decided to have someone start supervising these guys - and since I had a couple years in electrical - I was "volunteered."

Mare Island Jacket Patch
Mare Island Jacket Patch
But the major portion of my time was getting materials from the warehouses to the people on the ship doing the work. My assigned vehicle during this time was a 5 ton stake-bed chevy - and more than once I'd come back from a supply run with it sitting on the axels... I got to where I knew all the ins and outs - who was where - when - got pretty good with fork lifts - and did pretty well at cumshaw - that's a polite Navy term for a tip or gratuity - and we were very greatful for many of the things we got for the ship. I never stole anything outright - but some of the trades I made were - well - let's just say everything I got went to the ship and leave it at that. Did I mention most of the berthing areas recieved a fresh coat of Sea Mist Green? Very soothing color. One thing about taking a ship through overhaul - it's a huge opportunity: You can go places on the ship you wouldn't be able to get near any other time. You can see how the "guts" of stuff works - pay attention - and be exposed to every major system - and most minor subsystems - as they get stripped down - checked - refurbished - and re-assembled. The new propulsion system was particularly fascinating to me - I guess because I had been running it on the trip over - and also just the size of everything - One day I was looking down at the pier - and noticed an engine sitting there. a short distance behind it were what at first glance appeared to be toys - full size cars and pickups parked along the way. One BIG engine. Once they got everything installed - they needed to test the generation part - and since we weren't in the water - they couldn't use the motors as a load. So they brought these huge resistor load boxes aboard - I think 8 - each one could dissapate some 1 million watts - and they tested each "engine room" as a unit. Each engine room had 3 16 cylinder General Motors engines (actually there were 5 per engine room - the three for propulsion - the other two AC power generation) - each could develop a couple thousand horsepower. These engines turned generators - each generated up to 750 volts (500 normally) at up to 3000 amps. The three generators were in series - so their added output combined for "normal" running would produce 1500 volts at 2000 Amps. Full power was close to 2250 Volts at close to 3000 Amps - Some 6.75 million watts - or some (roughly) 8500 horse power. And of course - the other engine room could generate the same. Four (big) motors were mounted to a reduction gear - the output shaft of the reduction gear was the propeller shaft. At normal "cruise" (1500V @ 2000A) - the "loop" would power the shaft to about 112 turns per minute - roughly 12 knots. It takes a lot of power to shove 37 million pounds of ship through the water at 12 knots... While they were testing the power system - a yard worker was trying to see something in the works of the main propulsion switching panel - some switch or something wasn't working right - and he was trying to see what it was doing. Apparently - he lost his balance - and grabbed for a hand hold - unfortunately - what he grabbed was live. It reminded us all just how easy it is to give your life in service of your country - and just how fragile life is.

73 men sailed up from the San Francisco Bay;
Rode off their ship, and here's what they all had to say:
Ride Captain Ride, upon your myst'ry ship
On your way to a world others might have missed.
 ...Blues Image

By November - we had (almost) everything done - the rest - we could do while at sea. After all - by it's very nature - a Tender is a floating ship repair facility - with machine shops - foundry - woodworking shops (pattern makers); sheet metal shop; motor re-wind shop (with bake oven); pipe fitters; Dentists, Doctors, Barber Shop, Ships Store, Navy Exchange, Post Office, Store keepers (with fork lifts and cranes) and on and on. A sub tender's mission has three main elements: Repair of the boats; Supply of the boats; and support of the boat's crews. This is where I originally came in.... If a boat were to have a critical person not able to sail (illness, or whatever) a "spare" sailor can be drawn from the tender. If a crew is a bit short - there is usually an available sailor to be found on the tender - and in the case of Guam - the nearest replacements are Hawaii - several thousand miles - near a day by fast jet- away. So it was common for a "detailer" to assign any extra bodies he might have to a tender - they are still able to contribute to the program - and are very available when needed ( a detailer is the guy who manages various billets around the Navy by moving people from where they are - to where they are needed - rotating people between sea and shore duty - something like today's "Human Resource Managers" in the civilian world).

When I reported aboard Proteus - the ship's age and need for repairs was obvious everywhere you looked. There were lot's of hints and reminders - In several spaces the air conditioning equipment had failed - and was just too old - too worn out to be repaired - so these large - often noisy temporary units were installed here and there to take up the slack - and hog space. Other signs of old age were little constant reminders - like pipes leaking everywhere - and fire mains that were clogged and by passed in several places. The overhaul at Mare Island had corrected the vast majority of these problems - the Proteus was in pretty good shape all around ready to return to Guam. Guam! Hmmm.... It was decision time. Up to now I really hadn't given it much thought - I had just assumed that I'd be going back - . But now a very short time to leaving - I'm being asked what my intentions are (didn't I just go through this with my then soon to be Father in law???)? Well are you willing to commit to stay aboard? Commit? what's this? Up till now everything had been temporary - with the "intention" of further orders to a boat. Now I'm being asked if I'm willing to make a commitment - did I intend to stay with the ship. After all - the Navy didn't want to spend a bunch of money getting me back to Guam - just to have me put in for a transfer! Before I got married - moving me was as simple as putting my butt and my duffel bag on a plane. Now married - and a Second Class Petty officer - which entitled me to more "move bennies" - like moving my car and furniture... the financial consideration to the service was a lot more. Well - I talked it over with my new wife. If I stayed with the Proteus - I'd get to come home almost every night. If I went to a boat - I'd be gone three months at a time - twice a year. We decided we liked the Proteus better. Wrong reason - right choice - I still didn't have a clue what the Proteus - nor her mission were really all about

A short trip from Mare Island to Concord Weapons Station to on-load ammo - (the Proteus still had her 5 in gun at the time - plus 20MM and small arms stuff) - and we were off to Hawaii.

I've been driving all night, my hand's wet on the wheel;
There's a voice in my head that drives my heel;
It's my baby calling - saying "I need you here";
And it's a half past four and I'm shiftin' gear;...
We've got this thing, and it's a called RADAR love;
We've got a wave, in the air:  RADAR Love...
Golden Earring

As usual, the Proteus was short handed when it came to "sea" personnel. So many of us would get "volunteered" for duty in various at-sea watches throughout the ship. Since I was now a little more senior, I didn't get "volunteered" for Engineering this time - instead - it was to the Combat Information Center - or CIC. On the Proteus - the CIC is - ah - minimal - It's really just an over-grown plot room; with a Master PPI repeater (RADAR Scope with the main RADAR operating controls remoted on it); A gyro-repeater; log repeater (ships speed); and a Dead-Reconing Tracer (DRT) - a device which takes in speed and direction from the gyro and log - and actually traces the ship's movement onto a chart or map. Our DRT had zillions of gears and dials and adjustments so that the scale of motion can be set anywhere from 1" = 200 yards (for harbor and similar use) - clear out to something like 1" = 20 miles - for open ocean track. We left ours in the 1" = 200 yards mode - and only used it for man-overboard drills. Anyway I started out as RADAR watch - and started learning plotting, and other neat stuff. Certainly made the trip from California to Hawaii go quickly.

We got to Hawaii - and did some training - shakedown - testing - more training... and a lot of liberty. Not that we weren't really working hard - but the crabs (civilian workers) didn't work nights or weekends - so it was on to the beach. Four of us rented a car from a certain car rental company - and we decided to do some sight-seeing. We drove all the way around the island. Problem is - the roads don't go ALL the way around the island. Hertz - er - that rental company was very gracious about it - seems somehow the transmission ran out of fluid. They came and towed us in - sternly chewed my butt (I was driving) and sent us out with another car - on our promise that we would stay away from the NW corner of the Island... Hawaii - what can you say? Paradise? Almost - the prices of stuff there does tend to bring you back to the "real" world...

But the swagman he up and jumped in the water hole
Drowning himself by the Coolabah tree,
And his ghost may be heard as it sings in the Billabong,
"Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?"
 ...(Proposed) National Song of Australia

After Christmas we took off and after crossing the equator at 180 degrees (can you say Golden Shellback?) we sailed on down to Australia. Wow!. I could spend a week talking about Sydney - and Manley Beach (wolf whistle here!). It was New Years - and the middle of Summer. Yup everything is backwards and or upside down in Australia. After having sailed a few thousand miles at 12 knots... we get off the ship - and jump into a Chevy - er - they call them Holdens down under - anyway - jump into this taxi - which takes off going 100 on the WRONG side of the street!... We thought we were going to die! Actually - you get used to driving on the left pretty quickly - and 100KilloMeters per hour is roughly 60 Miles per hour - hardly flying - but after a week at 12 knots - it seemed like it!

It's kind of strange - as an American - I'd always thought of the song Waltzing Matilda as a fun "non-sense" song - however - once "down under" you quickly come to appreciate that this song is really about the heart and soul of a nation - and a continent. It's about the heritage of those pioneers who in seeking freedom - explored and tamed (and continue to tame) a vast and incredibly diverse land. Australia is big - and most things in it are scaled to match. Take trucks. Here - 60 feet, 5 axels, 14 tires and 80,000 pounds is a big truck. In Australia a truck may go 170 feet; have 18 axels, 70 tires and weigh in at more than 400,000 pounds. These "Road trains" run the "out-back" highway called the Matilda Highway - which runs from the population centers in the south - up to the Northern coastal towns. The highway passes through a large part of what is Australia - and like the song it's named for - shares much of the heritage and history of the land.

We stayed in Australia just long enough to have a good time - and pickup a stow-away. She sneaked on board and hid in a fan room - so they say - most of us suspected she had help - but we didn't know for sure. Anyway - we dipped into Brisbane and dumped her off - and went on to Guam.

Chapter 3:

Table of Contents

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