Sunday, September 23, 2007

People Catching Fish

I’ve been having a hard time with the Internet this week. The satellite seems to want to cooperate for downloads, but not uploads, so it’s been taking days to post this. I write things out in advance on Microsoft Word I don’t loose the text, but often the repeated attempts to connect or post are distracting and I have to stop to do some actual work. I tried all afternoon two days ago to post a reply to Fetching Jen, but had to stop due to obligations and frustration.

20 SEP 07

It’s been a heckuva couple of days out in the EPAC. We’ve been boarding a tuna boat all night that was packed with crew – almost two dozen. We haven’t found much except two prostitutes, a stack of cash and a case of Johnnie Walker, but we’re still searching. There’s tuna, also – which is more unusual than you might think.

The interesting part is that not only are we here with this tuna seiner, we’re also out here with an American supply ship who we are scheduled to conduct underway replenishment (UNREP) with this morning. We’re sending one of our Lieutenants Junior Grade to command the tuna seiner while we refuel. Unfortunately, I just got the word that they are having engine trouble and we’re going to have to delay the UNREP, though we’ve got some pallets of stuff we’re going to receive (called vertical replenishment; we’re hauling them with our helicopter) while we’re waiting to fix it.

UNREP was first conceived during the Second World War as a means of extending the range of our Navy. It was so innovative that it was actually classified at the time so that other navies wouldn’t figure it out. With UNREP we are able to stay on station longer and remain mission ready. We can get fuel, stores, mail, personnel, just about anything, really.In the eastern Pacific, we don’t get much opportunity to practice it because there isn’t usually a supply ship in theater, but we’ve had one hanging around for the last month or so and it’s been extremely helpful.

USS HALYBURTON (FFG 40) making her approach alongside USNS SATURNWe start out about 1000 yards (1/2 nautical mile) astern of the delivery ship and then move into position 300-500 yards astern, keeping the delivery ship about three degrees to port or starboard to ensure a lateral separation of approximately 180 feet. When we get the signal, we increase speed to a full bell and drive up alongside and cut speed to a standard bell so that we coast into position with the fueling stations lined up.

When we’re in position, one ship or the other will shoot lines across with a special 7.62mm round that is designed to propel a big rubber projectile with shot line attached to it over to the other ship. I did a midshipman cruise on USS MERRIMACK (AO 179), a CIMARRON Class oiler about a hundred years ago and they used to prefer to shoot lines, because they were better at it by virtue of doing it more often. I saw every ship in the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN 73) battle group that way. When there’s a lot ships like that, they’ll take two at a time, one on each side. I also learned semaphore, since outside of UNREP, there’s not much for a midshipman to do on an oiler.

USS HALYBURTON (FFG 40) alongside USNS Saturn, 21 SEP 07Once the shot line is in hand, they’ll heave around on it until the messenger is in hand. That’s the first line across, which the spanwire will be attached to, and sometimes the CO and the master of the delivery ship will send each other gifts and boxes of cookies and things like that. The spanwire is taken to the fueling station and the messenger is tied to the phone and distance line, a line with flags on it to judge the lateral separation between ships and a sound-powered phone line for communications, and hauled back to the delivery ship. The conning officer constantly monitors the station-to-station line-up and the lateral separation between ships and makes small course and speed adjustments as necessary.

As Chief Engineer, I am stationed in the Central Control Station waiting for the station to receive and seat the probe so I can get a fuel sample and begin receiving fuel. I monitor the process and perform visual tests on fuel samples to ensure the quality of the fuel we receive. I let the bridge know when we have about 15 minutes left to go and when we secure pumping.

For more info on UNREP, check the links above or feel free to ask.

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