The approach  to Yokosuka

After being on patrol for up to 42 days, we were ready for some R&R.  That meant the opportunity to have a good meal with fresh vegetables, a movie that we chose, and do a bit of travel in Japan.  Since we were home based in Yokosuka, we would get back there every other patrol, taking about 10 days to go up and return to the Tonkin Gulf.  Going north past Okinawa, we would normally not see the other islands, but would make a beeline for the left turn south of Toshima Island.  From there, it is about 120 miles to the entrance of the harbor at Yokosuka. The outer peninsula protects the passage most of the way, so it is usually a calm passage, and rather enjoyable with all the lighthouses to let you know where you are.  and of course the radar lets you plot your track, so it’s almost like coming up your driveway at home after you’ve been there once or twice.

The bay narrows to about 5 miles across from 20 miles or so at  the Pacific  Ocean entrance.  As we would get into the traffic pattern, there would be merchant ships going in and out all the time.  The speed of these ships is by custom about 13 knots, so our normal operating procedure was to go up the strait starting on the midwatch, taking about 6 hours to get into harbor.  We would get in line, communicating with them by international signal light, and proceed at the same speed they were.  Nice and easy, no one having any problems.  Except that we got a hyperactive paranoid captain after we had been over there quite a while. 

Suddenly, it was “what’s that light?”  “Who’s this up ahead?”  “CPA 2000 yards? Too close! slow and turn right.”  Captain, there’s an island over there.  We need to stay in the channel.  “Well, slow down. and watch out for that boat.”  Captain, if we slow down, we’ll mess up the dozen or so freighters behind us.  “What’s that light up there off the starboard bow?”  That’s the lighthouse for Oshima point.  We’ll pass it at 5000 yards in about 20 minutes. A constant barrage of questions about things we normally took in the course of events.

With the Captain’s experience limited to pushing matchboxes around on his desk at BuPers for the last 10 years, it took a lot to stay on the bridge with him.  Finally, there were only five of us who would take the midwatch during the run up.  The navigator had to stay fresh for the run in to Yoko, so the other four OOD’s would just trade off.  The way to handle his near hysteria was to announce the identity of  each new light, its Closest Point of Approach (CPA), and the action you intended to take.  That pre-empted his questions, and restored some semblance of order to the bridge.  As long as he didn’t get the idea that you were expressing disrespect for him.  One time he announced that there would be no leave for the wardroom because we all needed to study and improve our attitudes.  Needless to say, there was consternation in the wardroom, and the navigator had a discussion with the captain, who then changed his mind.

With all this nervousness on the bridge, the feeling spread throughout the ship, destroying morale and  giving the crew the idea that the officers were no longer really in charge.  A very bad thing to have happen. The Caine Mutiny had very little on us, except that we didn’t have to contend with a palm tree, and the captain had a separate mess, so he couldn’t get into our strawberries.  We had more strawberry jam than we could use for the whole deployment, but that’s another story.

As the sun began to rise, we would be coming up on the left turn to enter the last five miles into the harbor at Yokosuka.  Lots of small boats, who were very nimble and seemed to just dare us to run over them.  The only way to handle them was by proceeding, and expecting them to stay out of the way.  Since they had a stinkpot engine and a rudder, and they lived on the water all the time, they could turn on 10 yen and leave some change.  The captain spent the whole passage in a state of apoplexy, while we who were used to it just tried to keep him from hopping all over the bridge by being soothing and confident.  When we finally tied up, it was to breathe a long sigh of relief and head for shore as soon as we could. The Officer’s club never felt so good anywhere else, and that first beer never tasted so good.