U.S.S. McKean Sea Stories

By Dave Hood, USS MCKEAN (DD-784)

Soldiers often play in sandboxes to learn tactics and strategy. That
wouldn't work in the Navy. Bos'n mates would steal the sand to mix in paint
for non-skid. And there isn't a bathtub to be found aboard ship. So instead 
we had "fast cruises."

When a ship has been in port for awhile and it's crew had gotten either
rusty or green, we would pretend we were at sea by having a "fast cruise." As a
child I used to play the same game using the back steps, a garden hose, and
maybe a trash can. As sailors we used a $10,000,000 ship. With the engines on
or off (it really didn't matter), making your own electricity or getting it from
the pier, we would man all stations, energize radars, sonar, weapons stations,
and communications equipment. We would "navigate" through minefields, suffer
torpedo attacks, lose our watertight integrity (i.e., leak), fight fires, make 
emergency repairs to vital gear, fight back attacking "Rusky" (Russian) surface
ships, and in general let the brass play Horatio Hornblower.

In June 1978 we were to get ready, for a week-long exercise with the
Canadians. Some of us were looking forward to it, as we hadn't been out to
sea for awhile. Some of us were grumbling about it, as we hadn't been out 
to sea for awhile and preferred it that way. The brass decided that the 
day before we were due to get underway we would have a fast cruise. Since no 
contacts with Russian or Mongolian submarines were expected, I would stand
the quarterdeck watch.

Immediately after Quarters the Boatswain's Mate of the Watch sounded on his
pipe Sea and Anchor Detail, Underway, Shift Colors, and General Quarters all
in one breath. I made my way to the Quarterdeck to relieve the current
Officer of the Deck (OOD) so he could go to his GQ station. I expected a rather
long and uneventful watch during the cruise. Since the conn was now on the
bridge, my only responsibilities were to answer the phone and to tell the 
caller to call back later and to make sure Albanian terrorists didn't walk 
across the brow without proper  ID.

I was there for only about three minutes when LTjg Fair, the Anti-Submarine
Warfare Officer (ASWO) and also my division officer, came running up to the
quarterdeck and asked me if I had my diving gear aboard. I did indeed. "How
would you like to get wet?", he asked me. I never turned down an opportunity
to get wet, but what is going on?

It seemed that prior to GQ no one had gone into the bridge to check things
out. Sometime after yesterday's Liberty Call, persons unknown and without
authorization broke into the bridge and removed the ship's steering wheel
and took it to an undisclosed location. In other words, it appeared someone
had float tested it and it failed the test.

As I mentioned earlier, getting underway was tough enough under the best of
conditions, and while there were contingency plans for conning the ship from
the After Steering Room in case the bridge got blown away, getting in and
out of pierside and maneuvering with Canadian vessels just wasn't in the
Operation Order. You just have to have a steering wheel!

While the CO called Naval Investigative Service, DesRon 37, 13th Naval
District, and Bremerton to see if they had a spare, I suited up and went
over the side. It was high tide and the bottom was sixty feet down.
Visibility was incredible. From the bottom I could see the crew on the main
deck watching my bubbles. I did a spiral search, starting under the port
bridge wing, going in ever increasing circles. I knew what I was doing as
I grew up on Sea Hunt and Mike Nelson did this all the time. I was using
twin 60 cubic feet tanks and had about an hour's worth of air at that depth
- maybe a little less,

I used up every bit of that air and never found the wheel. I can prove,
however, that Miller is the most popular beer among fleet sailors 2 to l.
Wardroom tableware was another popular item in the game of float testing.
Lockers, urinals, sound-powered phones, battle helmets; anything that wasn't
bolted down. And, if there was a toolbox handy, things that were bolted down
were thrown over the side, too. I even found a couple of toolboxes.

As it turned out, Bremerton had a FRAM tin can in mothballs. We cannibalized
it for its wheel and we were able to make our deployment with the Canadians.
Right before I got out of the Navy, I heard a rumor that the ship's wheel is
now a coffee table in a former shipmate's house.