UNDERWAY.....Belay my last... 
By Dave Hood, GMT2, USS McKean (DD 784)  

    In the late 1970’s the U.S.S. McKEAN DD-784 called Seattle’s Pier 90, a downtown municipal pier, home.  Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Bremerton was across the sound, Naval Support Activity Sandpoint (the former Naval Air Station Seattle) was on the other side of the city.  Except for another FRAM, the USS HIGBEE DD-806 and two minesweepers, the USS CONQUEST MSO-488 and the USS ESTEEM MSO-438, we were all alone.  The closest naval facility was the Navy Brig, just on the other side of the fence from the Pier 90 complex.

      In the spring of ’77, we were getting ready to depart for SoCal. The other vessels at Pier 90 were on deployment and we needed line handlers. We called the Navy brig and requested a Master-at-Arms (MAA) and four prisoners. We called them “Brig-rats”.  We were supposed to get underway in the morning.  Liberty expired early for engineers so they could fire up the plant and it expired at the normal time, 0700, for the rest of the crew.  Officers’ Call was held at 0705 and Quarters was at 0730. We were told that we were to set the Sea and Anchor detail at 0900 and were to get underway at 1000. At about 0930 a van from the Navy brig brought down two brig-rats, escorted by a MAA. One prisoner was assigned as a forward line-handler, the other aft.

      By 1000 we had yet to receive the word to single-up all lines. The aft brig-rat was bored and started yelling to us, “What the hell is taking you guys so long?” We ignored him. The fantail phone talker told us that Main Control was reporting some engineering problem but that they hoped to get it fixed.  By 1100 the brig-rat was pacing back and forth and yelling, “What’s taking you jerks so long? I’ve got things to do.”

      On the McKEAN, the fantail Sea and Anchor detail was manned by Weapons Department. WA Division (Sonar, ASROC and Torpedo) manned line 4. The round barrel Gunners’ Mates manned line 5 and the Fire Control Techs handled line 6.  The senior GMG was a crusty 2nd class named Dave Baker. Baker was a former Marine tank commander in Vietnam. He didn’t fit into post-Vietnam civilian life to well so he joined the Navy and was the Mount captain of the aft dual five-inch gun mount, Mount 52.  He was one of those sailors whom without, the ship couldn’t function.  He was the personification of the perfect fleet-sailor. Hard-charging, hard-hitting and hard-drinking.  He was very good at sea and very bad in port.

      The brig-rats attitude in general, and his last comment in specific, really pissed Baker off.  Baker leaned over the lifelines and told him something like, “Why don’t you shut the #*%& up, you worthless sack of ($@”.”  Now there was probably a reason why this particular sailor was a brig-rat. It may have been because he wasn’t too smart and he had an attitude on top of all that stupidity.  A smart sailor, when cussed at by a salty 2nd class fleet-sailor would have kept his mouth shut.  Not our brig-rat. “#%&& you, you #($$!(* ()^&#$ #*%&#). Why don’t you come out on this #($$!*()^&$ pier and I’ll kick your #*%&$(? @$*.” Baker was about to respond when the word was passed, “Secure from Sea and Anchor. Quarters for the crew.”  The brig-rat heard this and yelled out, “You guys are really $&%(#$-*).”

      At quarters were told that there was a problem in engineering and that it was expected to take several hours to fix the problem.  The captain decided to grant liberty to non-engineering personnel. Liberty will expire at 1700. I had the duty and I was stuck aboard.  The MAA loaded the brig-rats back into the van and were driven back to the brig.  Our particular brig-rat yelled out the van’s window, “Stupid jerks!”

      About half of the crew was married and lived on the beach.  Most of the wives worked so there was little point in the crew going home.  They headed for the bars.  Baker went to the bar too.  He took with him a pocket full of cash and a sour attitude. 

      The engineers fixed the problem.  Liberty expired at 1700.  Sea and Anchor was at 1730. A new MAA delivered the same brig-rats at 1745.  Ours yelled out, “Are you stupid %*#&$%@ going to get this piece of $*%^ boat underway this time?”    

    Baker ran up to the scuppers and yelled back, “Look, you $(%%*# miserable sack of #($*. Shut the $%* up or I’ll come out to that pier and kick your $(%%@() @**.”

    Our brig-rat knew the ship was going out to sea and there was little chance that Baker could carry out his threat. “Oh, go $(%* yourself!”

      When a ship is moored, it’s mooring lines are “doubled-up.” Each end of the standard manila mooring lines, about 200’ long, has an “eye”-a spliced loop-in each end. The eye goes out through chock and then is secured to a bollard on the pier. The center-section of the line is wrapped around bitts on the ship’s deck. Standard method is to run BOTH ends of the mooring line out to the bollard, hence, mooring lines are “doubled-up.”

      The command, “Single-up all lines,” was given.  The line handlers gave slack and told the brig-rat on the pier which line he is to remove from what bollard.  Now a thoughtful pier-side line handler knows enough to walk the line as far down the pier as he can. To keep the line as dry as possible a good handler will then toss it as far as he can towards the ship.  A lazy handler will simply drop the line in the water and let the line handlers haul in a soaking wet mooring line.  Guess which category our brig-rat fell into? He dumped the single ends of lines 4,5 & 6 right into Elliot Bay, year-round water temperature, 50~60 degrees Fahrenheit.  Baker had enough.  “You stupid, lazy, worthless sack of #&^$. What the ^$(# is wrong with you, you (#&$^@_ !((&)#&? Walk that ($&$@*( $&@)&”_ line down the pier and keep it out of the !~?+<*$ water or I’ll go out onto the #)$$!:” )#*$+!: pier and kick your _@*$&+$ sorry !++!”

      The brig-rat on the pier looked long and hard at the sailor on the ship.  The ship that was going out to sea.  He didn’t feel very intimidated. “Oh, go #$* yourself, you !##&)*#. *#&$ you!” 

      “Cast off all lines.”  To show his contempt, the brig-rat once again dropped the lines right over the side of the pier.  Baker again threatened to go onto the pier and kick his @##.  The brig-rat waved us good-bye with just his middle finger.

      “Underway. Shift colors.”  The McKEAN finally started backing down the length of Pier 90 and into Seattle’s Elliot Bay.  A few of the fantail line handlers started to drift away-some went to the ship’s aft head.  Within minutes, a very excited GMG2 Donnie Hodges came running out of to the fantail.  He yelled at GMT1 Scott Wilder, “Scotty, Baker and Nugent are in a fight! We need a 1st class to break it up!”

    Petty Officer 1st Class Wilder paused, just for a moment, and said, “I’ll go try to find one.” He disappeared down the main deck and wasn’t seen again.

      The rest of the fantail unit rushed into the aft head.  A stunned STG3 Doug Nugent was lying on the deck. A pissed-off Baker was muttering something about his #($$! *& hand hurting.  The ship’s corpsmen examined Nugent and diagnosed him as;

1)      Drunk

2)      Having a concussion, and

3)      Having a possible skull fracture.

    He notified the bridge that Nugent would require medical beyond what the sick bay could provide.  The bridge had radio notify the local authorities that we would require an ambulance at Pier 90.  Main Control was told to shift from “Back 1/3” to “Ahead 1/3” and the ship started heading back towards the pier.

      In the meantime, the brig-rat is pretty proud of himself. He just insulted the crew of the despised Navy’s warship and got the better of a 2nd class Petty Officer.  As soon as the ship started backing down the slip and out to sea, he got into the passenger seat of the van, pulled his ball cap down low over his eyes and went to sleep. 

      As the ship pulled back alongside it’s normal berth the word to get the heaving lines across was given.  (A heaving line is a nylon rope, about 100’ long. One end it tied to the eye of the mooring line.  The other end is knotted around a lead weight and is called a “monkey’s fist.” It is tossed out onto the pier and is then hauled ashore taking the mooring line with it.)  The fantail’s first heaving line went right through the passenger door window of the brig’s van.  It’s debatable what actually woke our particular brig-rat up; the sound of breaking glass inches from his head or the monkey-fist landing in his lap.  Irregardless, his first awareness was when he looked out the now shattered window and saw not only the ship pulling back into port but his sworn enemy, Dave Baker, holding onto the other end of that heaving line.


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