The Star-Herald

Mind the bulkheads

I am a member of several Navy-related pages on Facebook. One is called “USN Hole Snipes (BT & MM).” The BT stands for Boiler Technician and the MM stands for Machinist Mate.  The BT makes the steam on a steam-driven warship and the MM uses it in the engine room to propel the ship.

A lot of the fellas on this page served aboard aircraft carriers, and a good many served on the escorts, destroyers and frigates. One of the posts mentioned about walking on the “bulkheads” — Navy speak for “walls.” As I was reading this post it brought back memories of my one and only foray in the North Atlantic, even though it wasn’t that far north.

We had left Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, about four days before and sailed with the NATO fleet into the northern part of the Atlantic. Off the New York coast, my ship, the USS Talbot, a Brooke-class FFG, was sailing with a Dutch oiler (fuel tanker), a Canadian frigate, a German frigate, the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and two British frigates, along with the USS Truett and USS Miller, both FFs, and an old destroyer that had survived World War II. The seas got progressively worse, to the point the British decided not to continue to Halifax, Nova Scotia, the port where we were bound.

The next morning, when I was awakened to do my job as oil king, I found out from one of the radio men that the old destroyer had only made eight miles in 24 hours. She was something like 25 miles ahead of us, so I knew what that day and night would hold for me.

I transfered fuel from storage to the main suction or day tanks, and took water samples for testing to be sure the chemicals in the boilers were where they should be. Then at noon I took the daily fuel report and fuel transfer request to the captain on the bridge. Every six hours I transfered fuel to the day tanks, as when the ship was underway the boilers would burn anywhere from 800 to 1,400 gallons per hour, depending on the speed.

That afternoon, I went to the bridge to let the captain and the officer of the deck know I was done. After this I figured I may as well sight-see a bit because, due to the sea state, we were on holiday routine.

When I looked out the forward and side windows, I saw a solid wall of very green, very cold-looking water. About 45 seconds later, after running uphill, I looked again and saw massive whitecaps all around as the ship balanced on top of a huge wave. All of a sudden, just like a huge roller coaster, we started down the north side of the wave. Now balanced as we were on top, the sonar dome on the bottom of the bow and the screw (propeller) were out of the water. When we were far enough down the face of the wave, the screw started to bite the water, which made that whole 414-foot ship move something like a trout out of water.

That wave was far from finished with that ship, though.

Just as we reached the trough of the wave, it broke and struck on our O-1 level, which was one deck above the main deck where our missile launcher was. I was still on the bridge, looking out the front windows, when the wave broke. Now, a Brooke Class Frigate could roll 60 degrees before capsizing. When that wave broke, we rolled to 57 degrees.  

As soon as we were back to an even keel, the engineer of the watch in the engine room asked for me “on the double.” When I went down the ladder to the main deck, to my chagrin, I saw footprints on the bulkheads.

So, now that this story is out, and it is all true, if you see a sailor walking around looking as if he has just tied one on, don’t pass judgement to quickly. He just hasn’t lost his sea legs yet.

In the (maybe) words of Captain Hook, “Arrrrrr, me maties, those be the days when ye can Remember When . . .

Guy Woodworth, a Presque Isle native now living in Limestone, is a 1973 graduate of Presque Isle High School and a four-year Navy veteran. He and his wife Theresa have two grown sons and five grandchildren. He may be contacted at

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