We spent several days in Port Orchard, WA, playing tourist and visiting friends we hadn’t seen in a few years.
First Reader is originally from Colorado. Several times on our day rides, we’ve taken tours of her home town, where she points out all the things that have changed with a bit of nostalgia in her eye. Now it was my turn. Our first day in the area, we took a short ride into the touristy part of town to have coffee (the most important meal of the day), breakfast, and make a plan for the day. Being a US Navy veteran, my eye was drawn across the bay to Bremerton. We found a long-term parking lot and headed to the foot ferry.
The Bremerton Historic Ships Association maintains the USS Turner Joy (DD 951), a Vietnam-era destroyer. Turner Joy has a storied history. The ship, along with the USS Maddox (DD 731), was the primary vessels involved in the Gulf of Tonkin incident that launched the Vietnam War in early August of 1964.
The Turner Joy is a destroyer, which makes it about a fifth the size of the ships I was stationed on. And it’s a Vietnam-era vessel, which means that the amenities were a bit more primitive than what I endured during my enlistment. The racks, or bunks, in the berthing compartments, hinged off the bulkhead and were partially suspended by chains. They were narrow with barely room enough for one person to lie down. The ladder grips were chains, not the rails that adorned later ships. The ladders were incredibly steep, and old habits came back. Don’t forget to drag your heel on the riser as you walk down, so you don’t miss your step. And hold onto those chains.
The ship bobbed a little as she sat tied to the pier, but that’s normal. Even with that little bit of motion, First Reader had a hard time getting her “sea legs.” Watching her brought back memories of my first voyage across the Pacific Ocean. I had weathered my first refresher training cruise (REFTRA) without incident. Partly because we stayed relatively close to San Diego, but mostly because we were kept busy enough that who had time to do more than eat, run drills, stand watch, and sleep. In no way did that little excursion prepare me for the trip to Hawai’i that followed.
That passage was my very first deep-sea voyage, and boy did I get a wake-up call. Almost as soon as the USS Cape Cod (AD 43) passed the continental shelf, the seas changed. Gone was the dark blue of the shallow water. The surface turned a deep, midnight blue that seemed to reflect no light. For an environment with little discernible life, the ocean is immensely diverse. Dolphin schools and whale pods followed the ship providing the crew with a break from the monotony of ship life.
The worst thing about the whole journey was me, trying to get my sea legs. There’s a little trick to walking on a moving surface, and it took me almost five days of dizziness and headache to learn. The feeling is reminiscent of a roller coaster, or a “whoop-de-doo” road. You know, where the bottom drops out from under you with no warning, and you feel almost weightless for a split second. It’s kinda cool at first, but after days and days, it gets old. I finally figured it out a couple of days before we reached Honolulu. The trick is, you have to spread your stance a little (or a lot, depending on the waves). After that, the voyages were a lot better for me.
The best part about that tour was watching the sailors as they performed the necessary maintenance that always needs doing on a naval vessel—chipping paint and buffing decks. The best part about this ship is the lowest rate I saw out there on the chipper was an E6, or first-class petty officer. That brought a grin to my face. Out in the fleet, most PO1’s stood around with a cup o joe in one hand and a notebook in the other, taking note of what “needed” to be done.
After that little walk down memory lane, we headed back to the hotel. The friends we had come to visit worked, so they picked us up and took us to their place, gave us the quarter tour, then fed us our first home-cooked meal in almost two weeks. We were in heaven.
The next day, we took care of business—more laundry, shopping for bottled water, and road snacks. That evening we got a tour of the area. We got to see the Seattle skyline, and other places and things most tourists don’t get to see.
The next day we would head down the coast. Stay tuned for that adventure.