Commentaries, Reminiscences and Sea Stories
John Prough

Work? Logs of a Tech Rep. on the USNS Bowditch
or When I learned that Computers are Magic
By John Prough, former Sperry Tech Rep
Posted on 3/30/2007

It has been noted and commented upon by various shipmates on the USNS Bowditch (and by extension its sister Tags ships, the Dutton and Michelson) that the Tech Reps did not seem all that busy. It was suggested in the short lived but interesting newsletter circulated on the Bowditch in late 1967 into 1968, that the steward should make more noise when checking the Tech Reps. rooms. “They could be dead and no one would notice for a couple weeks.” This would have hurt to the quick, if I could only stay awake enough to read the whole thing.

My personal opinion is that if a Tech Rep was not able to sleep for at least 10-12 hours a day, he better be able to find something to occupy his time—because most of the time working on his equipment was not likely. The General Instrument Tech Reps. seemed to spend more time working then the rest of us. Maybe that is why there were three of them. My Sperry colleague on the SINS also had more to do than I did on the NAVDAC. The Bunker Ramo guy seemed to be closer to me on the work schedule.

But, like a fire extinguisher, we would be appreciated when something bad happened. Break Glass – Wake Tech Rep. should have been clearly printed on our doors.

I had a major concern over the meals on the Bowditch. They were too good. I didn’t need the calories that came with those good meals. So I shifted my waking hours to avoid breakfast and lunch. I would get up no later than 4PM, shave/shower, and go up to dinner at 4:30PM, though I tended to think of it as breakfast. After eating, I would take a look at the ocean, which strangely seemed to look pretty much like it did yesterday, last week, last month….etc. Though when the storms came, it was more interesting – terrifying – but interesting. Particularly, when waves came crashing down on top of the bridge – 60+ feet above the waterline. A couple of the helmsmen were my Judo students, and I asked them if they ever saw any other ships while standing their watches. Answer was never except when we were coming in and out of port.

At 6PM I ran my daily Judo class in space at the bottom of hold #1. When we were in Swansea Wales in September 1967, I had asked the powers that be on the ship if they would like a Judo class, and no one had any reason to say no. So I hopped on the train to London, found a supplier of Judo mats (called Tatami), rented a lorry, and brought 18 Tatami (each 1x2 meters and 2 inches thick) back to the ship. Carried them over the side and down to the bottom of the hold. Reversed that when the ship came into Hoboken in fall of 68.

The Judo class had a small but dedicated group, some who worked shifts would have to wait to rotate back to having 6PM off. They all learned to take falls very carefully since the Tatami did not hide the steel deck very much. The class would finish at 7:30 PM. Just in time to take another shower, and get a chair at the 8 PM movie. The movie was always a surprise. Some were pleasant surprises and some…I never knew that Stewart Granger was such a big star in Spain. Many were what I referred to as NATO movies. The producer was Italian, director German, cast a bunch of unknowns from unknown countries with the original language Greek and dubbed into English. If it was in color, that meant no script. Couldn’t afford both color film and a scriptwriter.

After the movie, I would hang out in the Crew’s Rec. room or visit. Around about midnight people seemed to be sleepy. While I was wide awake. So I retired to my room, put on my headphones, punched up some music on my tape recorder, and read until 4 or 5 AM. Then checked into my bunk until dinner.

As we came closer to an in port, I would start getting up earlier, so that when hit the beach I was getting up during the daylight hours.

The equipment I was there to baby sit was the NAVDAC Mark 1 Mod 0. This was the navigation computer, which took data from the SINS (Shipboard Inertia Navigation System) and calculated where we were every 10 seconds. It then printed out our location on a printer next to the computer and one in the room behind the bridge where the Oceanographers were plotting the ocean depths. Of course where we were was Top Secret, and I certainly did not have a need to know, so I was not allowed into the computer room except when the NAVDAC was down. And, it hardly ever was down. So even if I had been inclined to stand and stare at the NAVDAC’s few blinking lights in the frigid computer room, I was not allowed. Wake me when you need me.

There were only two or three opportunities for work during the entire year I was on the Bowditch. One was when we came out of dry dock in Malta and during the short sea trial afterwards. When power and a/c had been returned to the ship, the plan basically called for a through cleaning of the computer and a reseating of all cards and test routines run to verify everything was ok. I was staying at a hotel during the dry dock since there was no way to stay aboard. The happy campers from Brooklyn came out about 10 days early for reasons unclear to me. I would visit the ship every 2 days to pick up my mail and check the status of the computer room. I ran into the leader from Brooklyn and he wanted to know where I had been. They couldn’t find me. So I gave him the telephone number of the hotel and told him I would be there 20 minutes after he called me. As soon as there is power and a/c please call me. But, I couldn’t see what benefit it would be for me to stand around and watch them sandblast the bottom of the Bowditch. This little exchange went on a couple more times, when one day I came in and the power and a/c was on, and so was the NAVDAC! So I immediately powered it off, and did what needed to be done. I asked Mr Big Shot GS13 why he hadn’t called me and why did he power up the equipment before a cleaning had been done. He was a power tripper of the worst kind, an incompetent.

When we were on the sea trial, he jumps me about 10PM with the news that my NAVDAC was not working, they couldn’t synch on the Loran slave station. Wanted to know where I was that he couldn’t find me. Asked him if he had bothered to look in the movie. But, that never crossed his mind. So I went down and ran diagnostics and nothing seemed to be wrong. Then the thought occurred to me as to which slave they were trying to reach. Went up and talked to the guy testing the Loran and he said the station in Turkey since we were too far east in the Med to get the Spanish slave. So I told him to wait until we get back to Malta and he should be able to reach the Spanish station since the NAVDAC isn’t programmed for Turkey. Told Mr. Big Shot and he demanded that I immediately program in Turkey. So I told him that the last time he was on the ship he took the secret number back to Brooklyn with him since we didn’t need it because we never would use the Turkey station.

As predicted, when they got back near Malta, they easily tested the Loran system using the Spanish slave station.

The one other time I worked that I can remember started on Christmas Eve 1967. One of the NAVDAC ET’s was standing watch in the computer room. Feeling sad about spending the holidays away from family and friends, he decided to do some PM (Preventive Maintenance). Being of the sleeping dog school, I would have recommended against this commendable initiative. He started by removing the covers on the NAVDAC so that he could vacuum up any dirt or dust.

Now the NAVDAC on the Bowditch was the prototype Mark 1 Mod 0 or something like that, I cannot quite remember. There were only five of them made. There was one on each of the TAGS plus one at Sperry and one on the USS Compass Island. The package design was different from the production models that went on the Subs. Originally the Mark 2 on the early boats such as the USS George Washington. And on the later Polaris Boats like the USS Will Rogers it was the NAVDAC Mark 4. I spent an “interesting” sea trial on the USS Will Rogers, but that is a different story. The Mark 2 and Mark 4 were the typical 19 inch rack mounted equipment. The Mark 1 was much more horizontal in its layout. See the very rough sketch. In fact I went aboard the USS Compass Island to see what it looked like. I was shown into the room by one of the senior Sperry reps. I asked him where this Mark 1 was, and he said “you are leaning on it”. And sure enough, I was. I had seen the other NAVDACs at Electric Boat. This didn’t look much like its children.

But to get back to Christmas Eve in the Med., as the ET was cleaning up the computer, the Oceanographers called down from the bridge and asked “what’s going on down there?” Told him to look at the printer. The Printer was printing out gibberish rather than our location. Looking back it had been working fine and then a little gibberish and then total gibberish.

Well he came and explained the situation to me, but I was not allowed into the room with the computer. This was because the fearless leader from Brooklyn had not bothered to tell the ship that my Top Secret clearance had come through. So I could not see where we were even with a need to know. So sitting with the schematics in my room, I sent the ET in to look at various things. It soon became evident that the problem was in the Re-circulate Command. This command was suppose to send bits out of one end of the accumulator register to the other end. Trouble was it was getting creative when it did this. A zero would go out and a one would come in. It was never the opposite, i.e. a one going out and a zero coming in. This was a puzzle. We switch all the cards that this command used without any change occurring. Kept trying different things without success.

So the ET decided again on his own while I was catching some sleep, to swap out the entire rack where the Re-circulate command logic was located. This resulted in a new problem, the half-adder was no longer adding. This meant that the computer would not run since it had no way to find the next instruction. The main memory was a Drum Memory so the next instruction address was 4 down from the current location. Could not add 4 to the current address because there was no half-adder. About this time we went off site and I got to look at the problem first hand. Didn’t help much, we couldn’t get it to run at all.

After a couple days of trying various things, I concluded that it had to be a timing problem that I couldn’t see on the scope. Drum memories are notorious for being very sensitive to the clock signal. If it was off just a little, things tended to come to a swift halt. But the NAVDAC was less sensitive than say the Packard Bell 256, a computer which was used at the Sub-base for simulators. The memory on the PB256 was a acoustic wire. This was a wire wound inside a printed circuit board case. The boards were big, around 15inches on a side as I remember. A little relay would hammer the wire at one end and a microphone at the other end would hear the hammered “1” about 50 milliseconds later. It worked like a drum memory without the moving parts. But it was very sensitive about its clock signal. If its timing was just a little off; no PB256. They had not bitten the bullet and paid Dr. Wang to use his invention; Core Memory.

BTW we were working on this all through the end of 1967 Barcelona in port. The EMO had told me not to kill myself by working day and night on this, but to get some beach time. I thank him for his consideration. Particularly, since we were not making much progress.

The prints had stated that the resistor that form the RC decay for the NAVDAC’s timing card was suppose be something like 64K ohms except for NAVDAC s/n 3 it was suppose to be 81K ohms. Well we were s/n 3 so he had rewired the timing card with 81K. I decided to wire in a resistor decade box and start stepping the resistance until we found the magic number where the half-adder worked. Just then we had sailed and were back on site, so I was kicked out. I told the ET that they know what to do, let me know when they found it. I went back to my room to contemplate the problem. After about an hour they came in and told me they had the half-adder working. The documentation lied, s/n 3 wanted 64K ohms like everyone else.

But, now we were back to the first problem of the creative Re-circulate command. It was now about 2 AM. I did not have any more idea of what to do to fix that problem. So I told the ET’s to clean every thing up, put it back together and hit the rack for some sleep since we were all tired. We would try it again at Noon. Following my own advice I went to bed. About half hour later they woke me up with the news that they had fixed it. So I immediately asked how did they do that. They put the covers back on!

Now the NAVDAC Mark 1 had two horizontal cabinets with three (as I remember it) racks of logic cards etc in each case. The bottom rack of one case had the drum memory spinning in it. It also had a slightly tilted top, which was the control panel for the computer. The control panel was a few switches and some lights representing various registers. The bottom of the other case had the power supply. This computer was an early 2nd generation design. By that I mean the first generation computers used vacuum tubes for the logic circuits. The second generation used transistors. These were great big transistors that you could see and touch and replace when necessary. The third generation started the movement into integrate circuits, and so it went. So this was an early 2nd generation in that not all the vacuum tubes had been replaced. Power transistors were a little slow in the development curve compared to their lower current cousins used for the logic cards. As a result they still used a tube to supply that clean dc voltages for the computer. To make sure that this tube did not over heat the computer, they had installed a fan in the cover for the power supply rack. This fan blew room air (a chilly 68 F) across the tube where it vented through a grill on the opposite cover.

The covers on this computer each had about 47 screws holding it to the frame of the computer. I asked someone why so many screws when maybe 12 would certainly hold the covers on the frame without any problems since there was no load on the covers except for their own weight. His reply was that they had that many screws to keep it “Navy Proof”. A dozen screws would be too tempting for some sailor to see what is in there. Whereas having 47 screws it was just too much trouble to bother with. Well, Christmas Eve had increased the design criteria. He had taken off all the covers and this started the Re-circulate command on its road to error. When they put them all back on, the problem went away.

So we had them take them off one at a time. When we removed the cover with the fan, the Re-circulate command problem. Now it was more than just taking the cover off, you also had to unplug the fan. The power cord to the fan had a quick disconnect plug a few inches from the fan. The power went from that plug straight out of the cabinet to a wall plug of 110vac. Now I know what you are thinking. It was a heat problem all along. But the cover with the fan running could be laying on the deck blowing air into the tile and the computer would be happy and do its little position calculations correctly. Unplug the fan and the Re-circulate went screwy in the other cabinet!

That is when my revelation came to me: Computers Are Magic! There was no physical or logical connection between that fan and the Re-circulate command logic. Next time the incense and holy water or whatever other hocus pocus was necessary. I have slept soundly at night knowing this for the almost 40 years of working in computers since then.

I wrote a report back to Sperry to warn the other TAGS not to disconnect the fan in the NAVDAC. Total time spent working on this about 12 days. Of course some of them counted double since I had to work during the in port.

How I Got on the "Special Ships"
Posted on 3/30/2007

When I first got out of school, I was working for a division of United Technologies called Hamilton Standard, now Hamilton something else. They were mostly famous for making most of the airplane propellers in the western world. I was working with a guy who told me all about the "special ships". He had been on I believe the Dutton, but only lasted 3 months before he quit. He missed his girl friend too much and couldn't stay away for a whole year. I thought he was nuts. So did his girl friend--she wouldn't marry him. So I remembered them a couple years later after having moved to Huntsville Ala and working for Boeing on the Apollo. It was a nice project, I was doing simulations of bad things happening to the Saturn V and seeing what the recovery options were, if any. But, Huntspatch was not a very pleasant place to work. 4 years before I got there it was a sleepy little southern county seat of Madison county--one of the most productive cotton growing counties in the world. They had 25000 people. When I got there it was 125,000. The infrastructure had not even begun to catch up. So I started looking to get out of there and remembered Sperry. So I sent them a resume with the request to work on the Special Ships. They even got a free ride for the interview. I was in their area on another interview. So I moved back north where us God damn Yankees belong. It was explained to me that the best I could hope for was to be a Yankee. A Yankee was some northern who moved south and just loved it. A damn Yankee was a northern who moved south but complained a lot but wouldn't consider going back. A God damn Yankee was a Yankee who couldn't wait to go back.

Any way, I came up and they sent me to Electric Boat to work on the NAVDACs. and other projects. I went on the 2nd sea trial of the Will Rogers because they wanted support for the SPC which drove the Type 11 periscope. I explained that I didn't know squat about the SPC. They said, no problem it never has anything wrong, its a pretty simple system. The NAVDAC sends a request for the periscope to point at a patch of sky where there should be a bright star. Then using the joy stick you move the star into the box and push a button. Shoot a couple stars and you have a new fix to reset the SINS. The SPC program was hard wired, so nothing could go wrong. Right!! Mr. Murphy was waiting for me big time.

To test the navigation system required a separate and independent system. This was furnished by a small company called Radist Inc. (sp). They would set up a couple antennae towers and as long as you maintained radio contact with the towers you knew where you were in relation to them. That meant that we had to maintain periscope depth to keep our Radist count going. We cleared Montauk into a nice gale. Which put the Sail of that round bottom sub in the wave troughs. We were taking 20-30 degree rolls continuously. And with the extra 100 people on board, that wasn't too pleasant. But, then they came to test the SPC, and every time they requested a star it would go into oscillation. So there I was laying on the deck with one leg looped over my scope so it wouldn't roll away, the other leg looped over something welded down so I wouldn't roll away, trying to figure out what was wrong with the SPC that I knew little about. Spare parts mostly still in Groton. Every half hour the Navigator checking my progress, every hour the Captain checking my progress, BTW they were not very friendly.

After two days of this, they gave up on me and dove to test for leaks--which was interesting. Particularly when the floors started to buckle and the boat creaking just like in the old movies. But, I still had to play doctor for 3 more days while trying to find something wrong that I could fix. While the periscope would swing like crazy I could not find anything wrong with it.

When I got back to Groton after 5 lovely days with the US Navy, I found out that my friend was going to marry my girl friend. It was only 5 days! A real expert came up and it took him 2 weeks to find out what was wrong with the SPC. Trouble he had was the same as mine, couldn't find anything wrong. But, then he was sitting at a pier in Groton and not in a gale at periscope depth. Then he thought of the answer, went over to the MRS which supplies the various systems on the boat with Roll, Pitch and Yaw signals. Put them into calibrate mode, and sure enough Roll was out by 12 seconds of arc. SPC was fine it was getting bad data!

Then I worked on the only government project that I thought was done just about right. This was a simulator for the deep submersible Trieste II. There was not any room on the Trieste to train new crews except someone could sit on the step and watch. So the Navy gave a contract to Sperry to build a simulator in May of 66 and it was delivered 1 week late at the beginning of October 66. It used a couple surplus PB256 computers the Navy already owned. Sperry Marine systems had designed the Trieste's controls and electronics so they made a mockup that appeared to be just like the Trieste's. I was sent to help with the software support. The week before the first delivery date I worked 64 hours of overtime or 104 hours that week without working either weekend. It was also the last time I got paid for overtime. It was a cost Plus contract. So Sperry didn't mind paying us overtime. They add the overhead to what we cost and bill the Navy. But, we finished it almost on schedule and it worked.

I could have stayed with that project and followed it to Hawaii on expenses, but I wanted the Special Ships, and the next June I was on my way.

Trial and Redemption
Posted on 3/23/2007

I remember one incident in one of the Barcelona inports where one of the navy sailors (a short PO3 with very blonde hair) had a to do with one of the MSTS sailors while coming aboard in the wee hours. Being drunk he decided to tell his side of the story directly and immediately to the CO. So he went to the CO's cabin and pounded on the door. Which woke the CO up and he was half way to the door when the sailor kicked the door open and started babbling to the CO about how it wasn't his fault etc.

It is my impression that on a navy ship they would have come down hard on this sailor. On Bowditch it got him sent to Captain's Mast. The CO took what I think was a reasonable view and simply confined him to the ship during the next inport--come to think of it, doesn't that fall under cruel and unusual punishment>

I believe the same sailor had also gotten the XO's gratitude in Rota Spain. As you must remember, we were in Rota about 12 hours to drop off some equipment for calibration. The Oceanographers were sent home on the grounds we were headed straight to Malta. Then they changed their minds and decided to run a line from Rota to Malta. So the CO took off to round up the Oceanographers, most of whom had already left the ship. He caught some in the Officers Club but had to try and catch the rest at the Seville airport. Some refused to return and continued home. But, they had enough to get to Malta with.

While that little drama was unfolding, the XO was officer of the day/deck, whatever. You guys [Navymen. -Admin.] were restricted to ship but the Tech Reps and MSTS sailors were not. So most of them proceeded to the nearest club and started drinking hard and fast since there was no need to pace yourself, we were headed back out in a couple hours. Since we came into Rota around dawn, we had a bunch of drunks by noon. When the base SPs brought back the same drunk MSTS sailor for the 3rd time (he would come back aboard, walk forward and hop back on the pier which was even with our deck), the SPs had with them their boss a Lt.Cmd who was under a full head of steam, smoke coming out of both ears, in other words he was pissed off big time. The XO told me "I saw him coming and knew I was about to catch hell". When the SP Lt.Cmd came aboard, this PO3 snapped to attention and gave the best salute he had ever seen in the Navy. The Lt.Cmd's. temperature dropped immediately. And he only chewed on the XO a little bit and more along the line of can't you Navy guys control the MSTS drunks. The crisis was abated but I believe we were told that the USNS Bowditch was no longer welcome in Rota.

The Texas Bar
Posted on 3/22/2007

This is a story told to me by the guy I replaced. He was sitting in the Texas Bar in Lisboa one hazy lazy afternoon when an American couple walked in. They had probably thought it was cute to have a bar in Lisbon named after Texas, and so they decided to go in and have a drink. The waterfront in Lisbon always looked postcard safe, but it was the waterfront after all.

They got about 2/3 of way down the bar, when it dawned on them that maybe this was not such a good idea after all. So they turned around and were walking back out, when they passed a semi-coherent sailor sitting at the bar who saw a woman passing by, so in a friendly gesture grabbed her breast. Saying "hi baby, let me buy you a drink." Now the woman's husband becomes upset at this warm welcome and starts fighting with the sailor. The sailor has no idea why he wants to fight, but he joins in the festivities. Everyone in the bar starts watching this mildly interesting show on their way to oblivion. The woman is screaming, the husband is rolling around on the floor, when the "girls", feeling sorry for them, pull the combatants apart and push the couple out the door. And peace descended on the Texas Bar once again.

The "Deadly Duo" Go Ashore
Posted on 3/22/2007

This happened in either the March or April visits to Lisboa. The Chief Engineer and the EMO went ashore to have a few drinks. Well they were feeling no pain and decided to return to the ship. They flagged a taxi, but had a hard time trying to say "Docka del Marina" in any fashion that the taxi driver could understand. So the driver, trying to be helpful, suggested that perhaps they wanted to go to Maria Cardovas, which was a Fado club. They thought that sounded about right, and off they went. Well they figured out that this was not the boat to the ship, but another drink or two wouldn't hurt so they went in. Since they were already 3 sheets to wind (I am trying to get all the cliches in at once), they sat them at a table by the door. The Fado singer was way down in the center of the room. After they had finished one bottle of Johnny Walker Red and were working on the 2nd bottle, since they had been buying drinks for the people around them, and generally being a jolly pair, the Fado Singer was now standing at their table singing. They finished off the second bottle and decided to try the ship again.

So they asked for the accounto. Now buying Scotch in Portugal is not the most sensible way to get drunk. They have all that cheap wonderful wine and Port to drink. Besides, most of the Scotch was faked in Tangiers anyway. Well they translated the Escudos into dollars, and the bill was around $200! Since they had cashed checks that day, between them they just had enough to cover the bill. It also had the immediate effect of sobering them up. And, now they had no more trouble remembering "Docka del Marina". So it was back to the ship not to leave it again that inport.

Stories about Captain Bondeson, and Other Crewmen
Posted on 3/14/2007

Carl and Earl,

I think your input about Captain Bondeson is wonderful. It explains much and fills out the man. Perhaps, a good time to add my little bit.

#1 source Chief Engineer on Bowditch 67/68 who's name is of course missing from my memory bank. He said that the only time he ever saw Captain Bondeson excited was once in Bergen Norway. He came to the Navy Commander and said "Commander, arm your men! There is a women on board!" (BTW The Chief Engineer made a wonderful mimic of the Captain's accent that I cannot reproduce on a keyboard.)

So they started searching the ship for the intruder woman. They found her in a 2nd Oiler's room. The Oiler was passed out, and the woman was drinking straight out of a bottle of Seagrams 7. The Captain snatched the bottle out of her hand, stating indignantly "you can't drink here!" She got up walked over to his locker, opened the door and took out another bottle, opened it up, and started to drink that. The Captain was beside himself. The Chief Engineer speculated that since she was Scandinavian is why he took it so personally. But, given Carl's info--maybe there was a deeper reason. In any case they sent for the Bergen Police. The Chief Engineer (who was only a 2 or 3 Engineer at that time) was the official escort from the Ship. He had to ride the boat with the women and the two policemen. They then took official receipt of her from the ship when they hit shore. He referred to the Police as Draculas since they wore a cape like you see Dracula wearing in the movies. The Police didn't speak any English, but the women did. So he asked her what will happen to her. She said, "what these guys--nothing much. They will take me up in the hills, and screw me a couple times each, and drop me off at home."

#2 also Chief Engineer. The were on the European run from Bayonne and ready to leave, when "Shoeshine Johnson" pulled a snap inspection of the ship. Being the type of by the book Admiral he apparently was, he found lots to be upset about. So he stormed up to the bridge and chewed for a while on the sins of Captain Bondeson for having such a rotten ship. When he finally sputtered to a stop, Captain Bondeson turned to the First Officer and said "Yah, we go now!" The last they saw of the Admiral was his scrambling to get over the prow before it was taken away. This was the image I had of the famous unflability of Captain Bondeson. My thought was if you ran up to him and said Captain the ship is sinking, he would reply "Yah, ship is sinking."

#3 The night we lost the Captain, my observation. We were in Barcelona and due to sail at 1pm on Feb. 14, 1968 (easy day to remember). A message came in that morning, that there were replacement crew for MSTS on a flight arriving at 1:30 PM that day. So sailing was first delayed until 6 PM and then to Midnight. The Navy as was normal practice were all restricted to ship on sailing day. MSTS crew were suppose to be on board some interval before sailing, but I'm not sure how many hours. The rest of us Tech Reps and Oceanographers were suppose to be aboard before the ship sailed. But that is another story. At 11:00pm the tugs showed up to pull us away from the end of the pier where we had been tied up. The departing crew were milling around on the pier to wave us good bye. The ship gave a little lurch and the prow moved a little, which seemed to trigger a reaction from some one in the crowd on the pier. Suddenly, this guy staggered over to the prow and ran up, and over the rail and immediately went into the house, apparently headed for some place he knew about. The Navy Commander asked the Purser as to whether all his replacements were on board. The Purser said all were on board. The Commander and a couple others tore off after our mystery guest. They found him in the Chief Engineer's cabin, standing very still and looking about with that look of this isn't right. The Commander asked him "can we help you? Can we help you find your ship?" Seemed like a good idea and went back over the side to a taxi that hopefully deposited him at his ship. It was now Midnight and the tugs were getting itchy. Everybody was ready to go but the Captain. He had gone over the side at about 6:30pm and hadn't come back. So the Commander, First Officer Hess, and the Corpsman got in a taxi and went looking in the bars that people said the Captain was known to frequent. 30 minutes went by, the ship that was waiting for our spot was now also shoving with the tugs. After another 30 minutes the searchers returned and it was decided to sail without the Captain. Mr. Hess took command, and we sailed without any problems to Lisbon 32 days later.

The word came back, that they should have checked the hospitals. The Captain had been mugged and was in an emergency room.

#4 Not about Captain Bondeson, but Shoeshine Johnson. The Captain who replaced Bondeson after the cruise with Captain Hess was only going to be there for a couple cruises. His name is of course a blank, but he told great stories. He was retiring in August or September 68 when he became 65. He had went to sea when he was 13 and had been sailing boy and man for over 50 years.

He told me a story about Shoeshine Johnson, which was the name the MSTS crews gave to the Admiral Johnson in Bayonne. Shoeshine, because his shoes were always shined to perfection. In any case this Captain told me they were coming back to Bayonne from Germany and had engine trouble almost all the way. They knew Shoeshine would be waiting on the pier for them in Bayonne. The Chief Engineer came to the Captain and said, "Captain we are not going to be ready for the inspection in the engine room. The place is a mess from all the repair work and my crew are exhausted. What can we do?" The Captain told him; "Chief just clean up the area nearest the hatch into the Engine Room, and don't worry about the rest."

So they pulled into Bayonne on one of those horrible simmer days in New York. The Captain greeted the Admiral on the bridge. Asked him whether he would like to hang his jacket in the Captain's cabin. Shoeshine said no, and he was alright as he was. So the Captain said' "I led him up and down every ladder on the ship, and it was damn hot in some of those spaces. Not a thing could he find wrong. But, I saved the engine room to last." By then the Admiral was soaking wet. "So I opened the hatch to the engine room and the customary blast of hot air hit us in the face like a big hot wet blanket. It was enough to buckle your knees." The Admiral looked in from the hatch and said, "it looks fine". He then ended the inspection with everything passed and headed for cooler climes and drinks.

I apparently can remember stories much better than names. Actually my middle brother, Jim, stole all the name remembering genes from me and my oldest brother, Tom. Jim has a great memory for names and faces. I saw him recognize a guy he was in college with from 20 years before. The other guy was as shocked as I was that he recognized him. We were driving across the Blue Water Bridge (Earl will know it) from Sarnia Ontario into Port Huron Michigan at 6 am. Jim glanced over at the customs guy in the next station (not the guy who was asking us questions), jumped out of the car and had a college reunion on the spot. I can't remember people I haven't seen for two days much wise 20 years.

Captain Hess
Posted on 3/14/2007


I have to agree with Earl, you have shed some light in a few dark corners of my memory.

As I remember, I always referred to Captain Bondeson of the Bowditch as "the Captain". The Navy Lt. Commander in charge of the Navy detachment, I always called him "the Commander". It was my understanding that the Captain didn't have any visible duties but was responsible for everything. The Navy set the courses and MSTS ran the ship. We did not seem to see the Captain for the first two weeks of a cruise while he "recovered" from the in port.

I have a few sea stories about Captain Bondeson told to me by the Chief Engineer plus my own observations. I will put them all together one of these days.

When we lost Captain Bondeson in Barcelona in Feb. 68, it turned out that all the other officers, except maybe one, had their Captain’s Papers. And the only guy we could not sail without was the Radio Operator. The First Officer, Mr. Hess, took over for that cruise as acting Captain. I must admit the difference was outstanding between the two of them. Mr. Hess started drilling the MSTS crew in ship handling and other assorted chores. The next life boat drill was not just a grab your stuff and shuffle up to your life boat. He had them lower the boats. Only one went down far enough to be launched, and miracles of miracles its engine started. It then went around and pulled the other life boats down. Though I believe even then one would not budge. Most of us had our eye on a raft in case of a real emergency.

Mr. Hess, according to scuttlebutt, was a Captain of a Polish Destroyer in the Baltic in 1939 and managed to get his ship out of the Baltic to England while the Germans tried their best to sink him. He was a quiet man with an accent. But, my impression that he was a first class sailor. I will include a couple photos of his version of a life boat drill.

John Prough

Joining the Bowditch
Posted on 3/12/2007

I joined the Bowditch in Belfast before the "troubles" in June 1967.

I did not travel light. I left New York with 7 suitcases and my skis on a perfectly miserable summer day of about 96 degrees and the same in humidity. I was suppose to have a flight on Aer Lingus at 9:30PM at JFK. Traffic was its normal mess, and I got to Aer Lingus about 9:25PM. So I grabbed my 7 suitcases and skis and piled them up in front of the check in counter, told them I would be right back, and rushed off to dump my Hertz rental car. I spotted a Hertz labeled parking slot at the TWA terminal next to International Departures where Aer Lingus was. So I pulled the car into the open Hertz slot, and ran into the TWA building to the Hertz counter. Threw the rental agreement and keys to them, told them their car was outside and bill me. And ran back to Aer Lingus, hoping they had not left without me. Got to counter and found out the flight had been rescheduled to 11:30pm. So I actually had lots of time.

I managed to get one of the few vacant seats between me and the guy in the window seat on the 707. He was ready to talk my ear off, so I pretended to fall asleep as soon as the plane started to move. I did get a little sleep when the two Irish priests behind me finally wore off their two whiskeys around 4 am and shut up.

I flew into Shannon and changed to a plane to Belfast. I got to Irish customs, and the inspectors looked at me, and looked at my skis, and looked at me, and said "be you planning on doing much skiing here in Ireland." I said "sure, where are the slopes.". They shook their heads sadly and said "I think you are going to be sorely disappointed".

Taking the taxi into Belfast was my first time driving on the wrong side, and exciting it was. It seemed like a very pleasant sunny day in Belfast compared to the weather I had left in NYC. I got to the Europa hotel, which a few years later was blown up by the IRA, to notice a headline in the local papers "Heat Wave -- 3rd Straight Day -- Thousands Throng Beach -- Reached a High of 74!"

Since, the Bowditch was not due in for a few more days, I flew over to Frankfort to visit my brother who was stationed in the Air Force at Wiesbaden. I also rented a car in Belfast and drove down to Dublin and then swung up a national highway to the west of Ireland. Another exciting ride, particularly when I came around a corner on this national highway and found 5 girls walking arm in arm in the middle of the road! I can still see the ass of the right most girl as my bumper passed about 18 inches behind her at 60 mph.

Another memory of driving in Ireland was when I decided to drive around Lough Neagh which is the big lake west of Belfast. I am driving along this road on the south side of the lake when I notice the road seems to end in a small river and comes up again on the other side. There is a guy parked about 100 feet from the river. So I park behind him, wait a few minutes, but there is nothing seemly going on. So I get out and walk down to the river thinking that maybe it is shallow enough to drive across. But, no it seems deep enough to preclude that. There are a couple little wooden docks on either shore, but nothing else around. So I walk back to the car and the guy who was already parked there calls out "you be waiting for the ferry, then?" I said "I guess so". So he told me " just go down to the dock and toot, they will come for you." Well being game, I drove down to the "dock" and tooted. I noticed a real old women come out of a house on the other side and walk down to the other dock. I thought she is going to tell me when the ferry is coming back. But, no she gets on her dock and begins to untie it. Then she starts pulling on a rope that I now notice runs between the two "docks". She pulls her ferry over to my side and ties it up. I then very carefully drive onto the ferry. The little English Ford just fit with its wheels on the edge of the ferry. She then unties and I help her pull the ferry across the small river. Cost me 2 shillings for the only rope ferry I ever saw.

I got off in Amsterdam July 68. after the cruise to the Azores helping to search for the USS Scorpion. I had tried to stay aboard at least until dry dock in Hoboken New Jersey in the fall, but they already had someone else lined up to replace me..

BTW for those who were in Hoboken for that dry dock, forget whatever you remember about Hoboken. About the only thing that still around since 68 is the shrine to Frank Sinatra (who grew up there and is still revered--he was actually born in Jersey City next door--which is where I now live). The entire waterfront of Hoboken, and Jersey City have been turned into high rise condos and office buildings. Bayonne still has docks, but that is changing also.

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