What I really liked about the Navy was all the cool things I got to see and do.
Especially the places we got to visit.
In 2001-2002 we started off in the shipyard in Pascagoula, MS, where we built and took possession of our ship. We finally got underway on our maiden voyage up to our homeport in the spring of 2002.
Our first port call was in San Diego, CA. It was nice being in San Diego, affectionately called “San Dog” in the fleet, but I admit I was really looking forward to our second stop which was San Francisco. The morning we were scheduled to pull into port we all put on our whites to proudly “man the rails”.
Manning the rails is an old naval tradition evolved from the centuries old practice of “manning the yards” where men on sailing ships stood evenly spaced on all the yards and gave three cheers to honor a distinguished person.
Nowadays, US Navy ships will man the rails when honors are rendered to the President, heads of a foreign state, or a member of a reigning royal family. Manning the rails is also expected when entering a port, or when returning to the ship’s homeport at the end of a deployment.
So there we were, resplendent in our dress whites, standing in a line arm’s length from each other, occupying all space around the gunwales * on the weather decks.
I was standing back aft, on the flight deck, with a large group of other shipmates; the excitement tangible knowing for many of our young crew that this was our first port. We were all ready for a little freedom after being at sea for so many weeks.
As we went under the Golden Gate Bridge I looking up at it and feeling awe; we had worked so hard to get this ship sea-worthy, and we had put up with so much crap from an awful upper chain of command to get to this point. And here we were, about to get away from them for another port call; the feeling was pure exhilaration.
After we passed underneath it I looked back and the rising sun reflecting off of it was so gorgeous; I will never forget that sight. The dark blue of the water, the bridge over it a bright copper red, glowing in the dawn light. The contrast was amazing, and made me catch my breath.
As we passed Alcatraz I realized what a fitting metaphor it was for my life; I had locked up ugly secrets inside me for the past year, and I knew there was no escape from that prison. I knew if I gave up what I was hiding I was going to sink with it; and in a few short months I would.
Anyways, I’ll speak of those things more in depth in a later blog post. These aren’t easy things to hear. Or to speak of.
San Francisco, meanwhile, was a lovely place to visit. We pulled in to berth in the cruise ship area in Pier 35, just to the east of the tourist-friendly Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf district. I went out into Chinatown and walked the streets, joining up with my best friend Dave to go bar-hop. Hey, we’re sailors, as well as US Navy Snipes (marine engineers) so a good party was to be expected. After a few bars we decided to stop at a convenience store for some Mandarin Absolute, which, when added with orange juice made a killer screw-driver. We went down by the water’s edge and sat on a bench and just relaxed, watching a just-married couple down by the water’s edge. Dave laughed as he hooted “Good Luck!” at them. We were so young; I was 22 and he 32. And, yet, we both felt so old. I think the military has that way with some folks, of aging them beyond belief in a short amount of time. Nothing lasts. Not the length of life, or liberty, as we all packed ourselves back on the ship a few days later.
We got back underway, well-rested, but restless; our next destination: WA-State, and our new homeport, Naval Station Everett, north of Seattle. The tempo onboard the ship picked up as we got closer; everyone was excited to be so close to home!
* Gunwales (pronounced “gunnels”) are the upper edge of the side of the ship, and provide a stable platform for safety rails to keep folks from falling overboard.