USS Holland Swim Call: Keeping up morale

By Craig Johnson

I joined the USS Holland AS-32 in San Diego in 1974. She had just left the shipyard in Bremerton, Washington and had arrived to go through REFTRA (refresher training).

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

REFTRA is training that the navy puts ships through when they are new or just out of an overhaul with the majority of the crew being new to the ship. This training puts them in war time conditions and makes them run through every type of problem that can be thought of for the type of ship going through the training. This one month of training seems to take for ever!

The Holland had finally just successfully completed REFTRA and was making preparations to pull into San Diego. The Executive Officer (XO) came on the 1MC (ships announcing system) to inform the crew that after the ship moored, all hands would muster for loading stores. The complete load of stores and supplies took us three days, with breaks for chow and sleep only. Thus with the crew literally working straight through, we were able to finish late on a Friday night. Once completed, the XO announced that there would be no liberty and that the ship was getting underway in the morning at 08:00 hours.

JAWS POSTER 2014-03-04_0814The Holland got underway Saturday morning with the crew still not knowing where they were going or for how long. Around 17:00 the XO came on the 1MC and informed the ship’s company that we were on the way to Acapulco, Mexico for liberty. The XO then informed the crew that Sunday, with weather permitting, the cooks were going to have barbecue grills set up on the helo deck for lunch. He then announced that after lunch, the ship would stop for a swim call. Then almost as an after thought, he announced that the crews movie was a brand new movie just released called “Jaws.”

Saturday night the crew watched this newly released movie, “Jaws.”

I will not go any farther into this just yet.

Sunday was a glorious sunny calm day; which set up a series of incidents that only sailors can appreciate.

The chain of events started innocently enough.

The first incident in the ever growing list was that the Holland had received a brand new Ensign just out of Officers Candidate School (OCS) who had just reported aboard while the crew was loading stores.

The Senior Watch Officer, being an old school sailor, did not believe any officer should not have an assignment underway. So the first thing he did was assign the new Ensign to bridge watches under instruction for the Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD) watch. This resulted in the Ensign being on watch Sunday afternoon for the scheduled swim call.

The ships Doctor wanted the crew to have time to digest their food prior to having swim call. The the XO told the Officer of the Deck (OOD) to bring the ship to all stop by 1400 (2:00 PM) then pass the word on the 1MC swim call.

When the XO left the bridge the OOD turned to the JOOD and told him to have the Boatswain Mate of the Watch announce swim call on the 1MC when the ship came to all stop.

Now the comedy of errors speeds up.

Sailors know that sh*t flows downhill. The JOOD turns to the new Ensign who was standing JOOD under instruction to have the Boatswain Mate of the Watch pass the word on the 1MC for swim call when the ship comes to all stop.

Sailors who have stood bridge watches can probably see what is about to happen.

The OD gave the order to the JOOD to come to all stop. The JOOD turned to the voice tube and gave the order to come to all stop to the Lee Helmsman on the other end of the voice tube. The Lee Helmsman changed the engine order telegraph to the all stop position, this is an indicator that lets the Lee helmsman relay orders to the Engine Room.

Now you need to understand that the new Ensign had never been on a ship at sea before and did not understand what he was about to do. When the JOOD gave the order to come to all stop he turned to the Boatswains mate of the Watch and ordered him to announce swim call.

19,000 tons does not stop on a dime. So with the ship still moving, approximately 150 sailors jumped over the side. The ship covered about another mile or more before coming to a complete stop.

The OD realized very quickly what had just happened and ordered motor whale boats to be launched to go back and gather the sailors. The ship’s Boatswain had to figure out how to get that large number of sailors back to the ship. The Boatswain had the boat crews take reels of small stuff (3/4 inch line) and tie knots every few feet which could then be towed behind the whale boats so the sailors could grab them and be towed back to the ship.

The XO in the mean time had the electrical power boom on the starboard side swung out and a Marine armed with his piece assigned as shark watch on the end of the boom. They dropped knotted lines down from the power boom so the sailors could climb up (give or take 65′) and cargo nets from the main deck (give or take 35’) down to the water.

This all took time. So picture 150 sailors strung out over a few miles by this time, that have been treading water for most of an hour with the closest land only 2 miles away –straight down.

When the motor whale boats slowly pass by the sailors so they can grab on to the knotted lines they hold on for dear life.

The motor whale boats bring the sailors along side the Holland on the starboard side forward of the power boom and next to the cargo nets.

The sailors grab either the cargo nets or the knotted lines and start climbing to get aboard ship. These sailors have been towed over a mile through Open Ocean and are extremely tired. They keep trying to climb up and just kept falling back in the water too worn-out to get aboard.

Lets review some things:

Saturday night movie was Jaws which had just been seen for the first time by all of the sailors in the water.

  • Marine shark watch which had watched the movie Jaws for the first time last night.

  • Sailors who had been in the water for over an hour, a very long time in open ocean currents.

  • Top level Officers were in discussions about how to solve getting these tired sailors aboard.

holland t shirt ad 2014-03-06_2007The Marine shark watch posted on the end of the power boom suddenly yells in a very loud hysterical sounding voice , “Shark!”

Within minutes all of the sailors in the water scrambled up the nets and knotted lines and were aboard the Holland.

They were no longer too tired to climb.

The XO was happy, since no one was injured, and his goal of keeping up morale had made one step forward.

SWIM CALL THE END 2014-03-04_0819

picexc wonder and power 2014-02-19_1311

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