My first assignment out of the Academy in 1955 was the USS Colahan, a 2200-ton destroyer based in San Diego. My job was Main Propulsion Assistant to the Engineer Officer. I learned much about steam engineering, operations, gunnery, navigation, and how to drive a destroyer around in the ocean safely. Perhaps more important was learning that I could adapt to life at seain a small Navy warship.
One experience I had taught me a lesson I did not have to relearn throughout my career; you might find it interesting. It was a pleasant evening cruising in the Pacific around sunset. The movie equipment was set up on the main deck aft (the fantail) and the crew was assembling there to see the movie.
Shortly after the show began, word came down from the bridge that we were heading directly into a squall; “Clear the main deck.” Sailors picked up their chairs and scrambled to get under cover and below decks. The wind and sea became nasty quickly. After a few minutes, I thought I should go out on deck to make sure that neither sailors nor movie equipment was left on deck. Just as I emerged from a water-tight door onto the main deck starboard side, the ship made a sharp turn to port; the ship heeled over to starboard bringing the main deck closer to the surface of the water. A large wave broke over the starboard side heading at me faster than I could get to safety.
It slammed me to the deck and I found myself bodysurfing at a high rate of speed toward the after end of the ship. I couldn’t get free of the water. As I was ready to be tossed into the dark stormy Pacific Ocean I took a deep breath and held it.
Suddenly the wave was gone and I was tangled in netting. I looked down at the ocean and realized what had saved my life: Nothing But Net! I untangled myself, soaked, and squished my way back forward to my stateroom; my roommate was on watch. I changed into a dry uniform and made my way to the wardroom for a cup of coffee. My boss was there; he asked:
“Everything secure aft?” I said:”Yes sir.”
I was so embarrassed about my stupidity of stepping onto that deck under those conditions – well- I never told anybody.