North of Okinawa , Southbound from Yokosuka to Tonkin Gulf – Fall of 1965


We had just acquired a new Captain, Captain Wentworth.  He  had been introduced around and was chatting with the Department heads on the bridge.  It was a beautiful day,  only a slight swell, and little wind.  We were headed back to our patrol area, about three days away, and I had the conn and was Officer of the Deck.  One of the clerks, a Yeoman third class, requested that he be allowed to take the wheel for practice. He had done this before, and since it was all routine, I allowed him to take over for the boatswain’s mate seaman striker who had been on the helm for an hour or so.  He was a cheerful, likeable young fellow from New York , an ethnic Italian.  A few minutes later, I observed a seagoing tug about 10 miles out with a tanker under tow proceeding north, with a CPA of about 3000 yards to port.  Our heading was 183 degrees, his was reciprocal, and a safe CPA, so no action needed to be taken.  It would be a safe passage.  I was keeping an eye on the tug, of course. 


As I watched, my heading indicator began to swing left, toward the oncoming tanker.  By this time he was  only about 4 miles out, but I could visualize that 3,000 yard cable between him and his tow.  I said to the helmsman, “mind your helm.”  He appeared confused and was turning the wheel, but it was apparent that he did not have it under control, so I said again, “mind your helm.”.  He said “sir, I’m trying, but she won’t answer.”.  At that point, I went into the routine that we had practiced so many times, but this time with a difference.  I commanded the phone watch at the rear of the bridge, “After steering take control, come to 190 degrees.”  At the same time, I did what the helmsman would normally have done, sounded the alarm in after steering so they would know that the order was meant for them to take action.  With the amount of drill we had gone through, the crew in after steering did exactly what was needed, never knowing whether it was real or just a drill – but the new Captain had gotten a quick first hand lesson in just what an excellent crew he had inherited.