Refueling in the big swells
1965 – 1966
USS Reeves returning from WestPac
headed back to the States from the deployment in West Pac in late ’65, we were
with a carrier, a destroyer, and another DLG, the USS King.
As we proceeded eastward about two days out from Hawaii, we were getting
huge swells from the North, caused by a storm off the Aleutians, 2000 miles to
the North. This made every activity
uncomfortable, since we were taking these 25-30 foot swells on the port quarter.
The ship would roll to starboard, pitch down, then roll back to port, and
pitch up as the wave passed under us. This
made a pretty monotonous roller coaster ride.
After two days of this, Carrier Air Group Commander (CAG), the admiral on
the carrier, was getting concerned
about the destroyer, which needed to refuel.
We turned the group northward into the seas, and came alongside for
refueling. In order to get fuel from the carrier to another ship,
it is standard procedure to have the provider take a steady course and
speeed, and the recipient comes alongside about 100 feet out on the starboard
side. A heaving line is thrown from
the provider, then a heavier line brings over a cable.
The cable is made fast, then a fueling hose is brought over and coupled
up so that fuel oil can be pumped over.
The hose is coupled up, the valve turned on, and the fuel pumped into the
recipient’s tanks. The ships
remain alongside for up to 30 minutes while the transfer takes place.
During refueling, the
distance between ships is maintained by the recipient ship.
The water running between ships tends to pull them together, so an
experienced hand on the helm is necessary, and the conning officer must be
experienced so that he can anticipate any movement toward or away from the
providing ship and give corresponding orders to the helmsman.
managed to take on some fuel, and so did the King, but the destroyer was
pitching so badly that they finally had to give it up.
The group turned East again, and proceeded.
The next day, the swells hadn’t abated much, but the destroyer was
getting desperate for fuel, so it was decided to give it another try.
This time, the group was oriented to the South, to run before the swells
and see if the destroyer could link up to get some fuel.
The King was ordered into lifeguard station 1000 yards astern of the
carrier, and the destroyer was ordered alongside for refueling.
The King came about to get into station, and the captain had me
bring the Reeves into station about 2000 yards off the starboard beam of
the carrier, preparing to watch the show.
As the King was turning to get into station, there came a call over
PriTac radio from the King, “We have
a man overboard.”. King executed
the Williamson turn to get back to the man, but with the heavy seas, we all knew
that they would not be able to put over a boat.
CAG ordered the ready helicopter to proceed to assist the King with
recovery of the man. We watched to
see what we could do, but mostly we just stayed out of the way.
Finally CAG ordered us into the lifeguard station astern of the carrier.
The helicopter made a pass to pick up the man, but had to hover higher
than normal, and had a hard time putting the horsecollar on the man. They
didn’t dare put a swimmer over, because that would have been two people to
rescue instead of just one. Finally,
they hovered above him so that when the wave bought him up to the peak, he could
get an arm through the collar. You
can bet he was holding on for dear life as they brought him back to the King’s
deck, where he dropped off and the helicopter proceeded back to the carrier.
The refueling went on as normal, although the destroyer did a lot of
pitching, weaving and bobbing – she was being lifted 20 to 25 feet, then
dropped just as far, within every 90 second span of time – and they got enough
fuel that the destroyer did not worry about running out of fuel until we got to
epilog came four years later, when I was relating this story in
the wardroom of the USS Albany, where I was the Missile Systems Officer
and my buddy Mike Worley was the
Electronics Officer. As I related
how King was coming about and noted that somehow the man had fallen overboard,
Mike piped up. “Yeah, the guy was
running to his station – luckily he had grabbed his lifevest already – the
stern dropped out from under him and moved to starboard while he was going
straight, so he just dropped in the water.” Mike was the OOD on the King when
all this happened.
goes to show, you should always tell the truth when you’re telling a sea
story, because someone else in the group just may have been using the same