31 August 2006

RIP: Glenn Ford

Glenn Ford died yesterday in Beverly Hills, at the age of 90, according to this article from The Herald.

IMDb lists 109 roles as an actor, from Night in Manhattan (1937) to Final Verdict (1991). The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962), Midway (1976) and Superman (1978) are the only ones I can say for sure I've seen, though I'm sure there are others. According to The Herald:
Gilda was not Ford's only classic noir. He also starred in Fritz Lang's The Big Heat, with Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando and Lee Marvin. He played a police officer who is driven over the edge when his wife (Brando) is killed by a bomb intended for him. He pursues a relentless course of vengeance, leaving death and mayhem in his wake. He was reunited with Lang and Grahame on Human Desire (1954), an impressively seedy tale of adultery and murder.

Other films include A Stolen Life (1946) and Frank Capra's Pockeful of Miracles (1961), both of which co-starred Bette Davis; The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), with Marlon Brando; and the westerns The Man from Colorado (1948), The Fastest Gun Alive (1956), Cowboy (1958) and Day of the Evil Gun (1968). He also starred in the 1960 remake of Cimarron.

Neither The Herald, the Scotsman nor the Washington Post lists a cause of death.

Edit: See also this post, from LawDog.

This day in history: 31 Aug

1939: A small German force led by SS-Sturmbannfuehrer Alfred Naujocks staged an attack on the radio station at Gleiwitz, Oberschlesien (now part of Poland). This was one of 21 incidents carried out that night along the German-Polish border, all intended to make it look as if Poland had attacked Germany.

And happy birthday to Amilcare Ponchielli (1834-1886), Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel (1879-1964) - a name well known to Tom Lehrer fans - and James Coburn (1928-2002).

30 August 2006

Kiss me - I'm Polish

You scored as Poland. Your army is Poland's army. Your tenacity will form a concept in the history of your nation and you're also ready to continue fighting even if your country is occupied by the enemy. Other nations that are included in this category are Greece, Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands.



British and the Commonwealth




United States






France, Free French and the Resistance




Soviet Union


In which World War 2 army should you have fought?
created with QuizFarm.com

Competitive eating

It's almost twenty-four and a half years since boot camp, with my company commanders standing there at every meal urging everyone to stuff the food into their mouths, swallow it, and get out of the galley to make room for the next company of boots. ("Don't worry about the taste - it isn't that good anyway.") And I still have to force myself to eat slowly, like a civilised being, and not be the first one to finish at the table.

I've been seeing a lot of articles in the last year or two about the, ah - sport? pastime? hobby? - of competitive eating. Pie-eating contests have long been a common event at fairs, with people attempting to be the first to finish a whole pie. But now there are international events, of which the best known is probably the Nathan's hot dog eating contest at Coney Island; they even show that one on ESPN. The goal there is to eat the most hot dogs - with buns - in twelve minutes, and at this year's event Takeru Kobayashi took the title for the sixth straight year. His score? 53.75 (they go to the nearest eighth). The second-place winner was right behind him with 52, and third place was a distant 37.

There are plenty of other contests, too, involving such things as ice cream, crabcakes, hamburgers, oysters, hard-boiled eggs, and of course pizza. In some contests, such as Nathan's, the goal is to eat the most in a set time; in others, the goal is to be the first to finish a set amount of the product at hand.

So what got me thinking about this? I heard from an old shipmate a week or two ago, and it turns out he's into that sort of thing. Even has a blog about it. The only subs he's likely to blog about are sandwiches (and he's from PA, so he probably calls them hoagies anyway), so don't ask him for any sea stories, but pop on over to Mega Munch and say hi to the Kokomo Wing Eating Champion of Harrisburg.

This day in history: 30 Aug

30 August seems to be a good day for fighting.

1813: A French army was defeated by a Russian, Prussian and Austrian force in the Battle of Kulm, Bohemia.

1813: A force of Creek Indians attacked white and mixed-blood settlers in southern Alabama, in the Fort Mims massacre.

1862: The Second Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas, if you prefer), which had started on the 28th, ended - like the first battle - in a Confederate victory.

1914: The Battle of Tannenberg, fought in eastern Prussia, was a decisive German victory over the Russians.

1942: The Battle of Alam Halfa, which lasted until 6 September, began with a German assault south of El Alamein.

And on the peaceful side, happy birthday to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851), Fred MacMurray (1908-1991), Kitty Wells (1919-TBD) and John Phillips (1935-2001).

29 August 2006


We visited Pattaya, Thailand, in 1988. It was a really nice port for a single man to visit, though I don't think I'd go back with my family. However, prices were nice, especially for jewellery (I paid US$400 for a set of black star sapphires - necklace, ring and earrings - which were appraised at $1700 after I got them home), and the food was good. And there was an A&W Root Beer restaurant, the first one I'd seen in years. I understand quite a few of the crew checked into hotel rooms, then headed straight over to buy a root-beer float or two.

One of the other things we found was an artist who worked from photographs; hand him a photograph and the appropriate quantity of baht, and in a day or two he'd give you back the photo, along with a painting. One of the RM3s brought home a very nice picture of his young son, and the CO, who took the man a Playboy (or other) centrefold*, came back to the boat with this:

He hung it in the wardroom, as you can see, at the forward end of the table, where it must have made a great conversation piece for meals.

Our next stop was Subic Bay, and he had the sail locker there make a cover for it out of nauga (tan, as I recall), with the ship's seal in the centre. From then on, whenever the boat was in port, the cover was put over the picture, and then when we went to sea again the cover came back off. I've often wondered what became of that painting....

* Can anyone identify it?

26 August 2006

Don't try this at home

This guy should be a submariner. Really. He should. Who else would try to eat a one-pound hamburger on a whole-wheat bun - with 54 different toppings? Ten types of cheese. 27 toppings. 17 different sauces. Total weight five pounds. In less than 30 minutes. After already eating a normal burger.


This day in history: 26 Aug

1346: English longbowmen, under Edward III, defeated a much larger French force at the Battle of Crecy.

1883: Krakatoa, a volcanic island located in the Sunda Strait, west of Java (despite what the makers of this movie may have thought), exploded, creating tsunamis that killed over 35000 people on the neighbouring islands of Java and Sumatra.

And speaking of volcanos, I missed another interesting anniversary a couple days ago - the famous eruption of Vesuvius, on 24 Aug, AD 79, which destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

24 August 2006


Son of a gun. Here it is the 24th already, and I just found out this is National Sandwich Month. I feel cheated, somehow, even though I've had plenty of sandwiches; my normal lunch at work is two of them, of whatever kind I decide to make.

This dude, however, has been celebrating all month, with a different kind of sandwich every day. Check it out - some of them look great!

And what I'd really like is one of those smashed sandwiches they sell in Toulon....

Do not feed the apes

“Do not feed the apes.” It should not be a surprise to anyone who knows me that my immediate reaction was, “Do not feed the apes to what?”

They aren’t really apes, of course, but monkeys; a tailless species of macaque (Macaca sylvanus), to be precise. They’re native to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria, and there’s a small population of them in Gibraltar – the only primates (other than Homo sapiens) living free in Europe. They grow to around 22-33 pounds and 22-28 inches long, and live around 20-31 years.

The African forests where they live are being reduced by logging, with the expected impact on the monkeys, and the local farmers view them as pests. The IUCN Red List calls them vulnerable (only one step above endangered), with only around 1200-2000 left.

There are some 300 of them in Gibraltar, living in five troops. From 1915 to 1991 they were under the care of the British Army, with an officer appointed to supervise them and money for their food built into the budget. Since the Army left, the government of Gibraltar has been responsible for them. Popular rumour has it that as long as the monkeys live in Gibraltar, it will remain under British rule; supposedly Winston Churchill had more monkeys imported during World War II to ensure continuity.

This mother and infant are perched on a rail well up the west side of the Rock. (You should be able to make out my boat moored to the south mole, just to the left of the mother’s shoulder). Quite a drop behind them, but whoever heard of a monkey with acrophobia?

Don’t know if this is the same pair – I saw several babies when I was there - but here they’re strolling through the crowd of tourists who aren’t supposed to feed them, over near St Michael's Cave. Cute little buggers, but I wasn’t about to follow some people’s lead and let one sit on my shoulder for a photograph....

23 August 2006

This day in history: 23 Aug

1305: Sir William Wallace was drawn and quartered at Smithfield, in the City of London.

22 August 2006

Naval Submarine Base New London (David J Bishop)

I found this nifty little book at Walden last spring, and grabbed it immediately. It's part of the Images of America series published by Arcadia, and follows their standard format - a small book (128 pages) full of historic photos (I counted 180, plus several drawings) of the area in question. The author is a former curator of the Submarine Force Library and Museum, and he used pictures from both the museum's archives and his own collection.

One good point about this book is that it includes something that other books from this series I've seen don't include - maps. At the front is a reproduction of part of an 1868 map showing the Naval Yard (bisected by the Ledyard and Groton town lines), and scattered throughout the book are five more maps, drawn by the author: 1868, 1915, 1919, 1944 and 1988. These two-page maps are all drawn to the same scale and cover the same area, so it is easy to compare them and see how the base grew over the first twelve decades of its existence.

Commodore Timothy Hunt was the first commandant of the Navy Yard, taking charge on 19 Jul 1868. The base had 26 more commanding officers over the next 47 years, ranging from a rear admiral down to lieutenants, chief petty officers, and even a pay clerk.

The first section of the book shows some of the houses that used to stand inside the area now covered by the base. My favourite from this section is a 1941 photo showing the south end of building 83 (originally SubScol student barracks, and now the PSD building), with the boundary fence running a few yards away from it and a house and yard where the Thrift Shop car park is now.

Then come pictures of the early days at the New London Navy Yard - including a picture of the Navy's first battleship, USS Texas, moored alongside to load coal in July, 1900. The Navy Yard became a sbmarine base (commanded by Cdr Yates Stirling) in June, 1916, and an order issued in September of that year established a complement of 76 men whose duties were to "assist submarines in routine repairs and to perform such jobs of construction and remodeling on the base proper as were within its scope."

The base grew considerably during World War I, and crossed the State Highway (now Shark Boulevard) to include a strip of land on the east side of the road. The old T-shaped wharf was replaced with individual piers, and the 81 new buildings included the power plant, a rather nice-looking student officers' quarters (on the site of the current gym), and a stable and water tower (where the BOQ is now). In those days SubScol was located in Building 3, which sported large porches running the length of both floors.

Photos from the '30s include the conversion of USS O-12 (SS 73) into a strange-looking vessel called the Nautilus, to be used for Sir Hubert Wilkins' attempt at reaching the North Pole. There are also pictures showing the old escape trainer in use. (It was already closed, alas, by the time I went through BESS in '82.) My favourites from this section, though, are the photos showing the hurricane of 1938 and its aftermath; one shows two boats tied up to a completely submerged pier (Pier 6, IIRC), with their mooring lines disappearing down into the water, while another shows Building 1 with its roof blown off.

The base expanded once again during World War II, of course. New construction during the war included the base theatre, the gym/drill hall, the swimming pool, the Chapel on the Thames, a big new mess hall (on the site now occupied by Bledsoe Hall), and a new hospital (Building 86, now used by Navy Legal). There are interesting photos showing construction of all of these, as well as the boats and other things. Somewhere along the way, between 1919 and 1944, Crystal Lake was filled in and replaced by a tank farm. (The ball fields and package store are there now.) And did you know that Building 161 (next to the Susse Chalet; now, I believe, the Restricted barracks) was originally built as a WAVES barracks?

Post-war construction included a new waterfront. North of the Milkstand parking lot, the railroad tracks used to run right along the riverbank. A large area of river was filled in, and new finger piers were built to support the 16th Reserve Fleet; one aerial photo shows 46 boats laid up along the piers, which reached from the dry dock's berth up to "Pier Norwich."

There have been plenty of other new buildings put up since the war, of course. The new Exchange and Commissary (where the mine depot used to be), the new hospital and other buildings up on the hill, and of course the new library and museum outside the gate. The last photo in the book shows the new, Nautilus-shaped "Submarine Capital of the World" sign which was put up on the south side of I-95 in 2004.

All in all, I found this book fascinating, and I would recommend it for anyone who is interested in the history of the US submarine force.

21 August 2006

Back to work at last

No, not me - the folks at NASA. According to this, Sunday's launch of the space shuttle Atlantis will be the first of fifteen assembly missions required to complete construction of the International Space Station. When it's finally complete, it will be the size of a five-bedroom house, with room to house six astronauts. But there's still a lot of work to do, and the last of the shuttle fleet is due to be retired in just six years. (Endeavour is currently scheduled to make the final shuttle flight.)

According to the article:
The international space station is about to undergo a long-delayed growth spurt with a final round of heavy lifting by NASA's aging shuttle fleet and intense handiwork by spacewalking astronauts.

Construction of the orbital base, 220 miles above the Earth, started in 1998 and was halted in 2003 after the accidental destruction of shuttle Columbia and the death of its crew.

Now the space agency is ready to resume construction, thanks to a July shuttle mission that showed NASA has overcome the launch debris hazard responsible for the Columbia tragedy. The goal is to finish the job before the shuttle fleet, which delivers the parts as well as the people who assemble them, is retired in 2010.

Atlantis is scheduled to take off at 1630 EDT Sunday, 28 Aug, carrying an addition to the space station's power-generation system. The eleven-day mission will be commanded by Brent Jett, a former Navy pilot, making his fourth shuttle flight.

20 August 2006

Hither and yon

Just found this site. Apparently, if you register as a member, you can do other fun things, but even if you don't you can make maps of the states and countries you've visited.

I've been to 38 states, plus DC:
And I've been to a few foreign countries, too:
That huge red blob for Canada looks impressive, but really it's just British Columbia (Nanoose Bay), Ontario (a shortcut from Niagara to Detroit) and Nova Scotia (Halifax):
And a close-up of the European map:(I love those tiny little white dots for the places I haven't been - Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican.)

Chocolate-covered what?

One of the joys of the '60s was listening to the Smothers Brothers. Whether on vinyl or on TV, Tommy and Dickie had some of the best comedy routines there were. And, of course, there was The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, their variety show which CBS so rudely canceled on them, with Pat Paulsen running for president. (Too bad he's not still around - I would have voted for him last time....)

One of their songs concerned Tommy's alleged adventure with a vat of chocolate. I'm not going to try to repeat the whole thing, with the repeated lines, the interruptions and the chorus (I don't remember it all anyway), but it amounted to something like this:

T - I fell into a vat of chocolate.
D - What did you do when you fell into the chocolate?
T - I yelled "fire" when I fell into the chocolate.
D - Why'd you yell "fire" when you fell into the chocolate?
T - Because nobody would come help me if I yelled "chocolate!"

And now I find this item from a couple days ago. In Kenosha, a town I used to visit all the time, of all places....

Edit, 22 Aug: Dang. Should have known somebody would beat me to the connection. And this bloke has pretty much the entire Smothers Brothers chocolate routine, for those who are curious. (He posted it in reference to a similar, but fatal, accident in 2002.)

Bolivian dinosaur tracks

Did you know that the largest site for dinosaur footprints is in Bolivia? Unfortunately, however, that the site is in danger from erosion:
"It surpasses anything I've ever seen," said palaeontologist Christian Meyer, the director of Basel's Natural History Museum, who led the first team of scientists to map the site in 1998.

Around 68 million years ago herds of dinosaurs used to flock to Cal Orck'o, then a lakeside, in search of food and fresh water.

They left behind an extremely rich geological record: 350 trackways of over 5,000 footprints belonging to 330 different species.

Not to fear, though; a Swiss engineering firm, Gasser Felstechnik - the folks who recently secured the rock above the highway leading to the Gotthard tunnel - have been called in to protect the footprints.
To combat the damage caused by rainwater seeping through the cracks from above, the cliff-face at Cal Orck'o has been covered with a layer of clay and plastic. Plants have been ripped out and a layer of protective Goretex-like webbing is being tested. Detectors have been installed to measure movement.

The Swiss team is intending to sink up to 900 five-metre long, zinc-plated nails into the rockface to prevent its collapse. But this could be problematic.

"We are still trying to find machinery and heavy equipment to stabilise the wall, but nothing is available in South America," Meyer said. "But our main goal is to stop quarry workers from continuing to blast away – sometimes they are only 20 metres from the wall," he explained.

19 August 2006

Isaac Peral

Every American submariner knows the names of H L Hunley, John Holland and Simon Lake. One inventor whose name isn’t heard often in the States is Isaac Peral y Caballero.

Peral was born 1 Jul 1851 in Cartagena, Spain. He entered the Colegio Naval Militar de San Fernando, in Cadìz, in December of 1866, and was commissioned in the Spanish Navy. He earned several medals during his career, including the Grand Cross of the Naval Order of Merit. In addition to fighting in the Ten Years’ War (1872) and the Third Carlist War (1874), he served in the Philippines as a geographer and as captain of a gunboat.

In 1882 he was appointed professor of mathematical physics at the Escuela de Ampliación de Estudios de la Armada. It was there that he began work on designing a submarine. El Peral, built in Cadìz, was completed in 1888 and was specifically designed and intended for military use.22 metres long, she displaced 79 tonnes surfaced and 87 tonnes submerged, and was powered by two 30hp electric motors. In 1889 she became the first submarine to successfully fire Whitehead torpedoes whilst submerged, shooting three of them during trials. Internal politics, however, kept the Spanish Navy from pursuing the project. Peral, discouraged, left the navy in 1890.

Peral invented several other devices, including an electrically fired machine gun, and wrote two books on astronomy. He died in Berlin of a cerebral tumour on 22 May 1895.

El Peral is currently on display near the waterfront in Cartagena.

The Balao-class submarine USS Ronquil (SS-396), commissioned in April, 1944, completed five war patrols during World War II. In addition to earning six battle stars for that war, she also earned the Vietnam Service Medal for a WestPac deployment in 1970-71. Ronquil was decommissioned on 1 Jul 71 and transferred to the Spanish navy. Under the name Isaac Peral (S-32), she served until being finally paid off on 3 Apr 84. This photo shows Isaac Peral in Barcelona, Spain, in 1983.

This day in history: 19 Aug

1942: Canadian and British forces raided the French port of Dieppe.

1960: Two Russian dogs, Belka and Strelka, orbited the Earth on Sputnik 5.

Oh, and happy birthday to Jonathan Frakes.

18 August 2006

A sight to see

Wow - look at the pair of tits on THIS!

Friday cat - 18 Aug

Here we have Sextus (aka The Incredible Sneezing Cat) trying to decide if it's really safe to be on the same bed as a guinea pig. Apparently it wasn't, because he left shortly after these pictures were taken.

17 August 2006

This day in history: 17 Aug

On 17 Aug 1896, a woman named Bridget Driscoll was struck and killed by an automobile whilst crossing the grounds of the Crystal Palace - possibly the first person to die in an accident involving a petrol-powered vehicle.

What's for dinner?

One of the great joys of going on deployment (or for that matter, hitting a liberty port) was trying the food in different places. Oysters in Nanoose Bay, miso and yakitori in Yokosuka, a multi-course meal at the Sung Dynasty Village in Kowloon (Hong Kong), haggis in Glasgow, bifsnadder in Trondheim, swordfish and a glass of white port in Lisbon, moussaka and souvlaki in Crete, pizza quattro stagioni and a mezzo of white in La Maddalena, paella (the real Spanish rice) and gazpacho in Cartagena, fish & chips in Dunoon or Gibraltar....

Do you like Indian food? There was a wonderful place in Tokyo, though I'd never be able to find it again (if it's still there). I remember watching YNC eating the tandoori chicken, with huge tears running down his cheeks. He said it was good, and he finished it all, but his idea of spicy food was the boat's spaghetti sauce.... My favourite Indian restaurant was the Bombay, in Dunoon; I ate there at least once every payday.

Here we have plates of insalata caprese and bruschetta, as served at Ristorante l'Aragosta, in La Maddalena.

L'Aragosta is one of my favourite restaurants in the world*. It's not a fancy place, and it doesn't have a big menu, but what it does have is a lot of good, authentic Italian food. I first discovered it in '93, during my first visit to La Madd, and friends and I went there several times during the '01 and '03 deployments. A starter or two, a mezzo (or even a litre) of wine, and whatever struck our fancy from the rest of the available selections.... And then we'd wander down the street to a gelateria for dessert.

Another restaurant I really enjoyed was the Trading Post, in Glasgow, though it doesn't seem to be there any more. (I couldn't find anything about it on Google, anyway.) It was in the basement of a building near the river, just a few blocks from the train station. The decor, to go along with its nam, was Wild West - traps, guns, 19th-century photos, a bison head behind the bar and a moose head in the dining room (or maybe it was the other way round), &c. The tables were about four feet square, with most of the space taken up by a grill in the centre. The waitress would come along and drop off menus, then return with a basket of bread and a bowl of garlic butter; she'd light the grill, take your order, and then leave you to toast your garlic bread while she fetched the meat. The meat went onto the grill, and you took it off when it was done the way you liked it - no complaints to the chef that it was under- or overdone! The rest of the meal came from the all-you-can-eat salad-and-veggie bar, drinks came from the bar, and after you finished the meal you were taken into the lounge to order dessert.

* Others being the Trellis, in Williamsburg VA, and Uncle Louie's, in Norfolk VA.

16 August 2006

Where should I spend my summer?

You Should Spend Your Summer in Europe

You're in to almost all forms of culture - art, music, architecture, food...
And spending a summer at the beach sounds pretty darn boring to you.
So head off to Europe, where you can have your tiramisu (and even eat it on the beach!)

Very accurate. But enough of these silly things....

What kind of American English do you speak?

Your Linguistic Profile:
60% General American English
15% Yankee
10% Dixie
10% Upper Midwestern
0% Midwestern

Hmm.... Grew up in the Midwest, but then I joined the Navy and started meeting people who talked differently; Coke was "pop" when I was a kid, but I got so used to hearing it called "soda" that that's what I always say now. Wife used to live in Ireland, and I used to live in Scotland, so I've picked up a few non-American usages, too. And my speech has been affected by some of the thousands of books I've read through the years, too.

How about you?

Air Force bake sales

By now, I'm sure, everyone's familiar with that old bit about "It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber."

Well, the USAF still gets plenty of funding, but it seems the RAF and the RN are running a little short. So short, according to this article from the Daily Mail, that:
The cash-strapped Royal Navy is planning a major merchandising campaign, stamping its world-famous White Ensign logo on everything from rum to underwear.

Senior commanders have approved a high-profile licensing strategy hoping the traditional cachet of the senior service will help sell ranges of clothing, toys, sports gear and drinks.

Despite the Navy having to scrap warships and aircraft due to budget pressures officials insist the move into merchandising is designed to boost its public profile rather than raise desperately-needed funds, and profits will be ploughed back into public relations rather than paying for combat capability.

As for the other services,
The RAF has struck a deal with rival branding company 4kids and is hoping ranges of Air Force clothing, bed linen, stationery, watches, lunch boxes and even power tools will be on the high street soon.

The Army is already selling branded running shoes and sportswear, but has yet to embark on a wider merchandising programme.

Stand by....

15 August 2006

Ancient whales

The Loom has a very interesting post today about Janjucetus hunderi, a late Oligocene (25 MYA) relative of the baleen whales from a time before baleen had been developed.

Thanks to Afarensis for the tip.


One of the guys I work with is away for a few months. This is just a part-time job for him; in real life he’s a TMC (excuse me, I mean MMC), and he’s TAD to a boat that had to deploy without a TMC of its own.

I think just about every boat that deploys has at least a couple riders on board – people borrowed from other boats, either to fill a gap (like this chap) or to provide the rider with some needed experience. I was such a rider once, in fact, though not on a deployment; my first boat was in the shipyard being built, so I was sent to another boat for two weeks to get a little sea time. It turned out to be an interesting two weeks, too: ORSE workup and ORSE, made even better by the fact that we washed the diesel somewhere in the first week. (The head valve failed to close, for some reason.) That meant having to go back into port to have the diesel inspected for possible damage. Not a bad thing in itself, but we found ourselves on our way into Norfolk harbour, at midnight, in a can’t-see-the-bow-from-the-bridge fog, with no radar.... (Ten years later I found myself back on that very same boat, this time with PCS orders, but that’s another story.)

My favourite rider story comes from a WestPac. We had an STS3 on board, TAD from a boat in the yards for overhaul. Don’t remember if it was his idea to volunteer for the deployment, or his boat’s, but he didn’t like us one bit – he was constantly going on about how much better his boat was, his crew, &c. Our sonar girls got fed up with this nonsense, of course, and turned to Radio for help.

And so it happened that when I went up to Radio one day to relieve the watch, Robby met me at the door with a very special message. The sonar girls had suggested that a message saying this kid was being permanently transferred to us would be a good joke, and Robby had done a bang-up job of it. The message purported to be from BuPers, and said that the kid’s transfer had been approved, that STS2(SS) Thingummy was being sent to his boat to replace him, that STS2 would be arriving in Honolulu on such-and-such day on such-and-such flight, and that actual transfer orders for the kid would be forthcoming. Even had a fake TC number for STS2’s orders.

As expected, we went to PD during my watch. After we went deep, I routed the boards with the real traffic, then went back and got the phony message, stamped it for routing, added fake CO/XO/Nav/Commo/RMCS chops, and went looking for the kid. I found him in the crew’s mess, plopped down across the table from him, handed him the board – open to The Message – and told him to read and initial, and to add a ‘C’ after his initials if he wanted a copy of it for his own records. He asked what it was, and I told him it was approval for his transfer to us. He looked absolutely horrified.

It just so happened that he had been sitting at the aft table, next to the chiefs’ table, when I found him, and both PNCS and HMC were sitting there, enjoying their coffee. PNCS pricked up his ears when he heard the word transfer, and said he’d need to see the message. I let the kid finish reading it, made him initial it, ensure he’d marked it for a copy, and then handed the board to PNCS. Then I went around the table, scooted in next to Doc, and whispered to them that it was a fake. PNCS chopped it, marked it for a copy, and handed the board to doc, who did the same. Both of them cheerfully congratulated the kid on his new status, while I left as quickly as I could.

I somehow managed to get all the way up to Control, well out of the kid’s earshot, before I broke out laughing. The COB was in Control, sitting on the edge of the conn shooting the breeze, and of course wanted to know what was so funny. So I told him the story, and handed him the board to read. He was just finishing when the forward door to Control opened and the kid walked in. This particular COB was a QMCM with over 34 years of service, one of the two best COBs I’ve ever served with, and he didn’t miss a beat; he chopped the message, told me he’d need a copy, then looked up at the kid and said, “Congratulations – welcome aboard!”

Broke? This kid was so broke, he was leaving a little trail of crumbs everywhere he went. The rest of us were prepared to keep up the joke indefinitely, but unfortunately it was only an hour or two before STSC told him the truth. Seems he was afraid the kid would break down and cry if he didn’t....

13 August 2006

For the old folks

Anybody over fifty who hasn't already done so should go over to The Cook Shack and read this.

For that matter, you folks under fifty ought to read it, too....

Swill for the crew

My daughter’s comments on the food at Girl Scout camp got me thinking about food on the boat. It’s often claimed that submariners get the best food in the Navy. Both submariners and skimmers say this; in fact, the first time I heard it was from my brother, a retired skimmer, when I told him what my career plans were.

As far as the quality of the food went, it was pretty much the same on boats as elsewhere – it depended on the cook. We had some really good cooks on my boats (such as Mike on my first boat and Dee on my last) and some really bad ones (whose names shall remain unmentioned) as well. I spent three years on a skimmer, and the main difference I noticed was the concept of portion control. On the boats, portions were liberal and adjustable (“A bit more of that, please.”), and seconds were available. On my last boat, in fact, the food was set out on the serving line, and you went through and helped yourself, taking as much as you wanted. On the skimmer, on the other hand, you were given one “serving” of each food item (and only one entrée choice), and seconds were usually out of the question. (Though when we were authorized to eat on Emory S Land, during my last deployment, a lot of items were self-serve.)

Another noticeable difference was the fact that on board the tender, the galley and mess decks were secured between meals – you couldn’t even go get a cup of coffee or a glass of milk. On the boat, of course, the drinks were available 24/7 (until the milk ran out, anyway), the bread and PB were almost always available, and there might even be something in the day box. The cake the cooks made for dessert didn’t get finished during the meal? What’s left of it stayed out, available for anyone who came along later and wanted a piece.

The skimmer was where I learned to like barbecue sauce – I always took the barbecued beef cubes because the accompanying entrée, whatever it was, was something I liked even less. On my first boat, my favourite dish was a fried-chicken variant called Maryland fried chicken; I tried to get a copy of the recipe later, but it wasn’t included on the deck of recipe cards they used on my last boat. On the other hand, the cooks on my last boat prepared a wonderful dish called beef Napoli that I’ve never been able to find a recipe for; it involved chunks of beef, pepperoni, tomatoes, onions and green peppers. And I think it was my second boat that introduced me to Monte Cristo sandwiches.

Under way, meals were served every six hours, and the type of meal served depended on the time of day (according to ship’s clocks) – breakfast 0500-0600, lunch 1100-1200, supper 1700-1800, and midrats 2300-2400. Watch reliefs occurred in the middle of each meal, so the oncoming watch could eat before relieving the watch, and the offgoing could then go eat after being relieved. Since most people, as I noted in a previous post, were on an 18-hour schedule, this led to some interesting meal plans.

For instance, one day you might wake up, get out of bed, and go eat breakfast (sausage and eggs, say, and French toast) before taking the watch. You would then get off watch six hours later, and go eat lunch (hamburgers and fries) before hitting the rack and sleeping through supper. Wake up again, with help from the messenger of the watch, and go eat midrats (leftover pork chops from supper, maybe, or tinned ravioli). Get off watch, eat breakfast (pancakes and bacon), and go back to bed. &c, &c, &c. Do this long enough, and you get used to the idea that anything that’s good for one meal is also good for any other meal.

Food got interesting nicknames on the boat. The tinned ravioli mentioned above, for instance was known as “pillows of death.” Hamburgers were universally called “sliders,” presumably because of their behaviour on the grill; my boot-camp company commander referred to hot dogs as “rollers,” though on the boat those were usually known as “training aids.” (Think about it....) Salisbury steaks were called “trail markers.” The Navy version of chicken cordon bleu was “fried hamsters” (as was the beef version). And breaded chicken patties were called “chicken pucks” on my first boat, and “chicken wheels” elsewhere.

All this talk about food is making me hungry – think I need to go check the chill box now....

12 August 2006

She's back

We took our older daughter to Girl Scout camp a couple weeks ago

(she's the one with the blue cap), and picked her up yesterday afternoon. As expected, it was a lot quieter with her gone, but we're glad to have her back. The theme for this unit was theatre, and she had a great time. She earned a badge, too, and a Cadette badge at that. (She still has another year as a Junior before becoming a Cadette.)

Apparently, however, the best part of camp was the food. Hot dogs, pizza, mac & cheese, yogurt at breakfast, &c. The lasagna was especially good. ("Strange," says my wife, who distinctly remembers trying - without success - to get her to try lasagna a couple months ago.)

She did miss her favourite teddy bear (the one friends brought to her in the hospital when she was only a few hours old) and her guinea pigs, but I think she's all ready to do it again next year. So is her sister, who has been doing day camp (at the other local Girl Scout camp) most of the summer.

And I'm sure we'll be ready for another couple weeks of peace and quiet....

11 August 2006

This day in history: 11 Aug

11 August, 480 BC: The last stand of the Spartans and Thespians at Thermopylae.

10 August 2006

Fish stories

This post over at A Geezer's Corner has links to some interesting tales about fish - people in boats running afoul of sturgeon on the Suwanee River, a fisherman getting speared by a marlin, &c.

To which should be added this story about jumping carp. A paragraph or few:

Silver carp and their airborne antics pose an increasing danger to boaters and recreational users of the river. Silver carp normally range from 10 to 20 pounds, Chapman said, which is “plenty big enough to put the hurt on you.”
Being struck by a carp this size while traveling near 20 mph can be devastating. There have been instances of boaters knocked overboard. Breeding tubercles on the fins of males can cause abrasions and, potentially, cuts.
The Geological Survey lost a $500 satellite phone that was in a container “specifically built to guard against carp attack,” when the carp dislodged the entire container and sent it overboard, Chapman said. Chapman also warned boaters to protect radios, fish finders, fairings and fishing rods in consoles.
Jumping carp have landed on the throttle, causing boats to drastically change speeds, once sending a USGS boat up a muddy bank.

This is getting ridiculous....

Ultimate take-out

According to a recent NASA press release, chef Emeril Lagasse has created some special meals which were delivered last month to the crew of the International Space Station: Jambalaya, mash, green beans with garlic, rice pudding and mixed fruit. Watch for a special episode of Emeril Live, in which he explains how the food was tested, freeze-dried, packaged and sent into space.

09 August 2006

RIP: Dr James Van Allen

Dr James A Van Allen, after whom the Van Allen Belts were named, died this morning in Iowa City IA.

Here is an article from the Iowa City Press-Citizen. A brief quote:

• In 1974 People Magazine listed Van Allen as one of the top 10 teaching college professors in the country. His former graduate students list among their accomplishments experiments on NASA's Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyager 1 and 2, Galileo and Cassini spacecraft.
• Van Allen joined the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in 1948 and served as the organization's president from 1982 until 1984. He has received the AGU's highest honors, including the John A. Fleming Award in 1963 for eminence in geophysics and the William Bowie Medal in 1977 for outstanding contributions to fundamental geophysics and for unselfish cooperation in research.
• In 1994, Van Allen received the 1994 Gerard P. Kuiper Prize from the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society "in recognition of his many contributions to the field of planetary science, both through his investigations of planetary magnetospheres and through his advocacy of planetary exploration." Also in 1994, he was presented with a lifetime achievement award by NASA on the occasion of his 80th birthday and the American Geophysical Union's 75th anniversary.
• Van Allen's many other awards and honors include membership in the National Academy of Sciences since 1959 and the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest honor for scientific achievement, presented in 1987 by President Reagan in ceremonies at the White House. In 1989, he received the Crafoord Prize, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm and presented by the King of Sweden. The Crafoord Prize is the highest award the Academy can bestow for research in a number of scientific fields and, for space exploration, is the equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

The perils of life at sea

"Self-gratification just isn't gratifying any more." -- RMCS(SS), five months into a six-month deployment

08 August 2006

Watchstanding II

As I implied in my last post, submariners normally stand four-hour watches in port. The only real exception that comes to mind off-hand was on my last boat, where I gave my POODs two-hour watches on cold winter nights.

At sea, however, we do six-hour watches. (No dog watches - those are a skimmer abomination.) Most people are in three-section rotation, meaning six hours on watch and twelve off, but a few lucky people are in four-section rotation and there are usually a few poor sods who are port and starboard (ie, two-section rotation). There are exceptions, of course; the CO, for instance, usually keeps "daytime" hours, as defined by ship's clocks, and sleeps from around midnight until around breakfast. Ditto the XO, who may be keeping the same hours as the skipper or may be on the opposite shift. The leading YN and the corpsman don't normally stand watches, being also on a day/night schedule. (We did have one HMC on my last boat who not only qualified, but regularly stood, COW; the requirement was that another qualified COW had to be available to relieve him quickly if he should be required for his normal duties.)

I've been in all categories at one time or another, including (more or less) the last. We were supposed to be home from my second WestPac a week before Xmas, but due to a stubborn valve that didn't seem to want to be repaired*, we ended up leaving Guam on 24 December. A lot of people had submitted leave chits for the holiday period, of course, on the assumption that we would be home. So the CO told the department heads to have a look at manning and watchstanding requirements, and approve leave for those individuals who could be spared and who wanted to fly home.

We had seven RMs at the time. Both of the junior Seconds departed on leave. The two Thirds were driving the boat, the First was standing COW, and my two-bit senior chief was standing DOOW. That left me as the one and only RMOW for the transit from Guam to Hawai`i.

Due to the time of year, of course, everyone wanted to get home ASAP. Basically, we were going deep and fast, coming up just long enough to copy a broadcast once a day and then going deep as soon as we were sure all traffic was on board. So I would go up to Radio, catch the downlink, print out the new messages, and put them on the boards. I'd route the boards to the CO, XO, Nav, Commo, and RMCS, then drop the boards on the wardroom table for everyone else to read later. Then I'd go up to Radio and catch up on my logs, ending with "xxxxZ SECURED THE RMOW." And finally, I'd go out to Control and report to the COW: "Secured the RMOW. I'm going to bed - wake me up an hour before the next PD."

Most sleep I've ever gotten during an underway.

I caught another good deal during my first deployment on my last boat. We had four RMOWs, and three of us were doing the standard three-section rotation. The fourth guy took the 1800-2400 watch each day (after spending most of the day back in the engine room, making it look pretty for ORSE), while we others rotated through him. This meant that he was doing six hours on watch and eighteen hours off, while the rest of us were doing six on, twelve off, six on, twelve off, six on, thirty off. And I got lucky: My thirty-hour off watch included Sunday, the day when we had no training, drills, or other all-hands evolutions.

(This sort of thing was called the "evening cowboy." That boat was rather fond of cowboy watches, especially for senior watches - DOOW, EWS, ERS, &c - though it was more usual to have a "midnight cowboy" on the 0001-0600.)

At the other end of the scale, I've done plenty of port-and-starboard watches, including six-and-six, nine-and-nine, and twelve-and-twelve; the longest watches are the best. (Why? Because they provide for the longest off-watch periods, of course.) In fact, I spent most of my last two deployments doing port and starboard, twelve and twelve.

For some reason, another RM and I ended up doing port and starboard during one underway on my first boat. We started out doing twelves, but the schedule started slipping, for one reason or another, and pretty soon we were doing what I called Pentecostal watches - relieving "when the Spirit moved." Which led to the longest watch I've ever stood. When Sauce came up to the shack to relieve me one day, I was in the middle of doing something, with paperwork spread from one end of the shack to the other. "I'm busy now - come back in a few hours, will you?" He obligingly departed and came back, to find that I had finished my first project and started another, so that I now had a different set of paperwork spread from one end of the shack to the other. "I'm busy now - come back in a few hours, will you?" So he left again. When he returned, I was ready to be relieved, but then I glanced at the clock and realised that I had been on watch for just shy of 23.5 hours. "Uh - can you come back in about forty minutes?" He gave me a puzzled look, but left, and came back at the requested time. And thus I stood my one (and fortunately only) 24-hour watch at sea.

* The valve was leaking by when we pulled in, so the nice people on the tender fixed it for us. After they finished fixing it, it was leaking by worse than it was before they started work. So they fixed it again. This brought it back up to about the same level as when we first arrived in port, so they fixed it again. And then, IIRC, they fixed it two or three more times.... (This was one of only two, out of a total of six, deployments when I returned to home port late. We were thirteen days late on this occasion, and three weeks late on the '01 deployment.)

03 August 2006


Everybody who's ever sailed in a boat with nuclear weapons on board knows that extra security watches are required. And everyone who sailed in a boat during the '80s - with or without said weapons - is familiar with this statement: "I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on board this ship."

Then one day our skipper decided that if we didn't have nuclear weapon security guards posted, we were in effect officially denying, to anyone who came on board and noticed their lack, the presence of nuclear weapons. Can't have that. No, sir. So we posted nuclear weapon security guards. And for about a year, everyone in the forward duty sections was guaranteed at least two watches every duty day, so we could support the extra watches. Bleah.

There've been good deals, too. When I was on the skimmer, Repair Department wrote its own watchbill. We were in five-section duty, and had enough extra people in each duty section that we could have gone six-section. The skipper said he couldn't let us do that, because Engineering was only doing four-section and the snipes felt they were getting screwed as it was. So the repair boss put out the word that he expected every person (every E6 or below, that is) in the department to submit, every month, a chit for special liberty on a duty day. That was one order I was happy to comply with, and every month I submitted mine: "Respectfully request special liberty on duty day DD MMM YY in accordance with department head's policy."

The best deal I ever had, though, was around the turn of the century*, after they decided that the boat really didn't have to have a radioman, a QM, &c, in every duty section; all that was required was enough people to fill the watchbill and necessary reaction forces. After a lot of talk, we went to what we called "super three-section" duty. This gave us around twenty people in each forward duty section. Each duty day, the watches were divided up as follows:

1. Four people stood the first two watches (two POODs, two BDWs). At 1830, following the after-dinner cleanup, these four went home. They were still in a duty status, so they had to stay home near the phone, refrain from drinking alcohol, and otherwise be ready to be called in if necessary.
2. Eight other people stayed on board overnight and stood the remaining watches (four POODs, four BDWs). The aft duty section supplied sufficient bodies to fill in the reaction forces.
3. The rest of the duty section assisted with duty-section evolutions during the day. Other than that, though, they treated it as a normal work day, and went home - not in a duty status - when their chiefs put down liberty.

The drawback to this scheme was that the COB wanted to make sure nobody was getting screwed by being in group two too often, or was being blessed by being in group three too often. So each duty section had to present its watchbill for an entire quarter at a time, so he could count how many times each man was assigned to each group. This in turn meant that leave chits for the quarter had to be approved before the watchbill was written; anyone who put in for leave after the watchbill was approved had to provide a standby for each duty day he would miss.

Remind me some day and I'll tell you about the sleaziest duty I ever pulled....

* Couldn't resist a chance to use that phrase.

02 August 2006

Anyone for toy dinosaurs?

I had a few when I was a kid, and my daughters have a few now. (No continuity - mine all disappeared a long time ago.) Dr Naish, at Tetrapod Zoology, says
Few people believe me when I say I have what might be one of the biggest collections of toy and model animals.
and has posted photos of part of his collection of dinosaurs and other critters here and here.

I'm certainly impressed....

01 August 2006

Book list - Jul 06

First Cycle - SF, by H Beam Piper and Michael Kurland
Ralestone Luck - mystery, by Andre Norton
Gone-Away Lake - children's, by Elizabeth Enright
The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream - time travel, by G C Edmondson
After the Ice Age: The Return of Life to Glaciated North America - palaeoecology, by E C Pielou
Swallows and Amazons - children's, by Arthur Ransome
Swallowdale - children's, by Arthur Ransome
Peter Duck - children's, by Arthur Ransome
Colors Aloft! - historical fiction, by Alexander Kent
Winter Holiday - children's, by Arthur Ransome

The Alexander Kent book was new to me, but the others were all rereads.