An ensign gets a lesson taking the helm

Edited by Martha Jette

Story by Denny Kemp

While underway on the USS Fulton (AS-11), we ran into a bad storm off Cape Hatteras on the coast of North Carolina.

Photo Credit Wikipedia

Photo Credit Wikipedia

The entire ship was battened down and travel was limited to inside ladders. I had the helm on the midnight to 04:00 watch and was struggling to maintain some semblance of staying on course.

It should be noted that Cape Hatteras is where two major currents on the Atlantic collide. When the Labrador Current, which brings southerly-flowing cold water collides with the warm water of the Florida Current, also called the Gulf Stream, they create very turbulent waters, as well as expansive shallow sand bars (the Diamond Shoals) that extend up to 23 km (14 miles) offshore. When this happens, it also creates a dangerous situation for any ships in the area.

An ensign on watch with me made it his job to lecture and complain about my drifting off course by a few degrees. He harassed me during my whole watch. At muster when all sailors gathered to be accounted for later that morning, Torpedoman First Class (TM1) Prince, who was the watch roster petty officer (PO) approached me and asked about the incident.

I explained what happened and he made no comment. Later that day, I had the 12:00 to 16:00 watch with much better weather and the same ensign. Shortly after I assumed the watch, the ensign approached me and asked to take the helm.

We went into a Man Overboard drill shortly afterward. I stood by and watched as the ensign fought the helm and perspired so badly that his khaki shirt was soaking wet. When the drill was over, I again assumed the helm.

Shortly after that, the ensign approached me again and commented that a helmsman’s job was more difficult than it appeared. I later learned that PO1 Prince had reported the incident to Lieut. Commander Bissing (our boss). Commander Bissing was the person who had directed the ensign to take the helm in the first place.

After the watch, PO1 Prince approached me once more and asked how my watch had gone. I smiled and replied “it was great.”

Bus to Bilbao Ch 1 2014-02-22_1430

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