In 1962, Typhoon Karen proved to be a devastating storm...
Sea Stories

Whisper in a Storm

The training and discipline I learned at MMA has stood me well over the years.

There was the trip through Typhoon Karen in November, 1962, for example. I was a 3rd engineer and engineering watch officer on 8-to-12’s aboard the USNS Breton (T-AKV-42) when she left Guam to ride out the storm at sea. The Breton was launched in 1942 as a 495-ft. auxiliary aircraft carrier; mothballed after WWII; and then recommissioned and designated a troop ship and aircraft ferry when I served aboard.

It was toward the end of my watch when we entered the storm’s eyewall. As is customary, I sent the oiler down to make sure the bilges were dry and to get the propeller turns during the shift to give to the navigators. The oiler did not return.

I left the throttle platform and discovered him in the bowels of the engine room with both hands gripped tightly around the railing, frozen by the sight of a 4-ft.-wide crack at the overboard discharge doubler plate. Seawater was pouring in.

I hit the hand rail with my crescent wrench to wake him up, and shouted for him to get the bilge pumps going.
I rang up the chief’s office but there was no answer. It was lunchtime. The officer’s mess was next to the engine room entrance, so I ran up the ladder, into the room, and whispered in the chiefs’ ear that there was a hole in the hull.

He screams out, “Where is the hole?”

The faces of everyone in the officers’ mess turned white. But inexplicably, not a soul from the engine gang left the mess table to help. I ran back down the engine-room ladder and started the process of slowing the engines, getting the boilers under control and the circulating water pumps switched over to bilge suction.

By using the circulating water pumps, we were able to maintain a controllable level in the bilges. We pounded oakum into the crack to slow the flow, and that’s how we limped back to San Francisco.

Typhoon Karen proved to be a recordbreaking storm. But for me, the storm brought the realization that even though I was a mere 21-yearold, what I garnered from MMA had hardened me up to take command and action when needed, which has stayed with me throughout my career.


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