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
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
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
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 #)$$!:” )#*$+!: pier and kick your _@*$&+$ sorry
The brig-rat on the pier looked long and hard at the sailor
on the ship. The ship that was
going out to sea. He didn’t feel
very intimidated. “Oh, go #$* yourself, you !##&)*#.
“Cast off all lines.”
To show his contempt, the brig-rat once again dropped the lines right
over the side of the pier. Baker
again threatened to go onto the pier and kick his @##. The brig-rat waved us good-bye with just his
“Underway. Shift colors.”
The McKEAN finally started backing down the length of Pier 90 and into
Seattle’s Elliot Bay. A few of
the fantail line handlers started to drift away-some went to the ship’s aft
head. Within minutes, a very
excited GMG2 Donnie Hodges came running out of to the fantail.
He yelled at GMT1 Scott Wilder, “Scotty, Baker and Nugent are in a
fight! We need a 1st class to break it up!”
Petty Officer 1st Class Wilder paused, just
for a moment, and said, “I’ll go try to find one.” He disappeared down the
main deck and wasn’t seen again.
The rest of the fantail unit rushed into the
aft head. A
stunned STG3 Doug Nugent was lying on the deck. A pissed-off Baker was muttering
something about his #($$! *& hand hurting.
The ship’s corpsmen examined Nugent and diagnosed him as;
Having a concussion, and
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.
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