Sunday, February 15, 2009

Reminiscing of Puerto Rico

Reminiscing about my first sea tour on USS PROVIDENCE (SSN-719).

Facebook is pretty cool for the way it's putting me back in touch with old shipmates. I uploaded a bunch of photos from my second and third boats, and whenever I reconnect with someone on Facebook, then I'll go through my pictures and tag them in the pictures.
Aside for those who aren't familiar with Facebook: You can "tag" photos you upload to Facebook so that as you roll the cursor over people in the picture, it will pop up the name of that person. You can click on their name, and it'll take you to their Facebook profile. Also, on a given person's Facebook profile, you can click on "Photos of [name]" and it'll show you all the photos that person has been tagged in on Facebook.
It's taken me a while, but I finally reconnected with one of my fellow junior officers from my first boat. It occurred to me that I don't have any photos to upload or tag from my first boat because it was before the days of digital cameras. Everything I have from that tour is on film and in photo albums or boxes in the closet.

So today I pulled some of those old photos out and scanned them to build a 719 photo album on Facebook. It sure brought back memories.

Back in late 1997 and early 1998, we were doing our deployment workups with the JOHN C STENNIS carrier battle group (before they started calling them "carrier strike groups"). That was back in the days before they closed the bombing ranges on Vieques Island, so we did a LOT of operations out of Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. I actually had more experience driving the boat in and out of "Rosey Roads" than I did out of our homeport of Groton. I lost count after 12 or so maneuvering watches.

Pierside in Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico
Circa 1997

Rosey Roads was a fairly nice place for a port call - not my absolute favorite, but certainly not at the bottom of the list either. Shore power wasn't all that reliable there, and I had my worst duty day in my entire career during a port call there.

Sea Story Tangent...

It all started with us having to snorkel and dead-stick berth shift (explanation: not start up the engine room, just have tugs pull you away from the pier, move you around and push you into your new berth) to make room for another boat that had to load some exercise weapons. After we finished the dead-stick berth shift and got the brow across, the Captain gave me (the Engineering Duty Officer) permission to bring on shore power and secure snorkeling. Then he, the XO, and the Eng all got in a rental car together and took off for San Juan. It was a liberty port call after all. Oh, and this was before the days of everyone having a cell phone, too, so once they left in that car, I had NO way of contacting them.

Aside: These are the types of horror stories that make junior officers dread their Ship's Duty Officer qualification boards. They always have some sort of question that puts them in the hot seat, forced to make a series of difficult decisions without being able to get in contact with the CO or the XO for guidance or permission.

I've always been a believer that you learn more by DOING than by reading books. You need to let junior guys DO things so they can learn. I had a young sailor working on his quals who needed to shift the electric plant to an aft shore power lineup, so I let him.

The pain and agony of this story is much better told in person with people who are properly cleared and nuclear trained so they understand all the gory details, but to make a long story short, the sailor tried to parallel the ship's power with shore power WAY out of phase and tripped the breakers in the shore power bunker at the foot of the pier.

...Yes, that would be the shore power bunker with the barbed wire fence around it and the big padlock on the gate.

...No, the people at Harbor Ops could NOT find the port electrician with the keys to the bunker.

...Yes, it was DARN hot and humid in Puerto Rico that Saturday.

...No, we don't run the air conditioning when we're snorkeling (running the diesel generator for emergency power) and have no shore power.

...and that was just the beginning of a very BAD day. It went downhill from there. I can't really get into the other engine-room details, but when the Captain, XO, and Eng eventually returned to the ship late that evening, it wasn't pretty. I had never seen the Captain so pissed. He was literally hopping mad and secured my liberty for the rest of the port call (that's called being put "in hack").

End of Tangent.

Anyway, I WISH I could say that was the ONLY port call we had in Rosey Roads that involved NOT having shore power.

The other downside was we almost never got BOQ rooms there. The aviators were always down there doing exercises with us, and they always had priority for the BOQ rooms. We had racks to sleep in on the boat - they didn't have racks in their airplanes, go figure.

In spite of the somewhat unreliable shore power and lack of BOQ rooms, Rosey Roads was an okay liberty port. It was fairly cheap. There was great scuba diving. There were the rain forest tours. There was El Morro Castle. There was the Bacardi factory tour with the free samples. We called trips to Puerto Rico back then "rum runs" because everyone would be allowed to bring back two bottles of rum. We would lock up all the rum in one of the torpedo tubes for the transit from PR back up to Groton.

Tangent about El Morro Castle.

The following year, my wonderful wife and I were married and left for our honeymoon in St. Lucia. Our trip took us first to a several-hour layover in San Juan, Puerto Rico, so I thought it woud be fun to hop in a taxi and go see El Morro.

The taxi driver didn't speak any English and had NO clue what I was talking about. Only, he didn't give me any indication he didn't know what I was talking about, he just smiled and shook his head yes to anything I said. He proceeded to drive down the strip of resort hotels along the beach, stopping at each hotel and pointing as if to ask "is this your hotel?" I kept saying, "No. EL MORRO."


Note the image of the watch tower on El Morro.

Here's the real thing.

Luckily, I had been to El Morro enough times that I just pointed left and right to tell him which roads to take and got us there.

It's pretty amazing to walk through that old fortress and think about all the history there. Sir Francis Drake attacked the fort in 1595. It's been attacked by the British, the Dutch (in 1625), and the Americans (during the Spanish-American War in 1898). Later, I went to a 007 movie, and I laughed out loud when El Morro appeared as a bad-guy stronghold and was blown to smithereens with computer graphic animation.

Anyway, it's time to bring this post to a close. I have a few more pictures I want to scan and upload later and will probably have a sea story or two more to go with those. Stay tuned...


Sagey said...

You forgot to mention that when we did finally arrive at the castle, it was CLOSED! So no, it wasn't fun walking around that historical spot because we didn't walk around it. :-)

JoLee said...

and the BEST thing about PR....Dad got to play Delivery Boy with THEE Engagement ring for LW & you DID get HIM a room @ the BOQ. WE fondly remember his "delivery vacation" to visit you in PR. AND we got a fantastic DIL because of the delivery. xxoo

The Silver Fox said...


I love it!

Anonymous said...

Ahoy! I was just pointed to this here blog via a friend of a friend. Never got to see the sites in ol' San Juan. We were to busy seeing the "sites" at El Papa G's. Wonder if that's still there? We did some major damage to it back in '86 & '88( the Seabees were none too happy ). This was my first port of call, as well. We hit it in '86 aboard the USS SKIPJACK SSN-585. I also wonder if the "TARGET" ship is still out there, off the beach, across the cove...