Sunday, August 16, 2015

Anchors away!

Anchors away!  I ran across this photo, which brought back memories of some excitement on the USS Long Beach, when I served on it.  We didn't actually use our anchors very often, as generally we tied up alongside a pier or wharf.  Occasionally, though, we'd anchor in a port that wasn't equipped to handle a ship our size.  On those times, men from the ship would travel back and forth to the dock on the ship's motor whaleboats.

One such occasion was our arrival in Auckland, New Zealand, in the mid '70s.  Protesters opposed to the nuclear power (and weapons) on board our ship tried to blockade the port, but we came right through them (sinking two small sailboats in the process, but thankfully nobody was hurt).  After the ship anchored a mile or so offshore, the crew had several days of liberty in New Zealand.  At night, some of the protesters sneaked out to the ship and installed homemade steel structures onto our anchor chains, underwater where nobody could see them.  These were designed to prevent the anchors from being raised.

Those devices didn't perform as intended, mainly because the capstan winch that raises the anchors was ridiculously powerful, as was the cast iron bushing that the chain passed through on its way into the chain locker.  When the protesters' devices hit that bushing, the winch didn't even slow down – it just dragged them right through it, squashing and smashing them beyond all recognition.  In the process huge clouds of dust and steam were raised (the squashing generated a lot of heat), and bits of metal were flying in all directions at high speed.  I was standing on a deck above and behind the bushing, and pieces of metal were screeching by me – but I wasn't hit by anything.  A couple sailors on the anchor deck weren't so lucky.  The worst injury was a broken arm, and there were lots of lacerations and punctures.  Nothing serious, fortunately.  The bosun's mates took a while to figure out what the heck was going on.  By the time they got the winch stopped, all the protesters' devices had been dragged through the bushing and destroyed.  They just had to clean the bits of wreckage out of the chain, and kept pulling up the anchor.  Those protesters had no idea of the power and strength of the anchor system...

Seeing the cloud of rust dust on the photo above brought that all back...

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