Sunday, September 24, 2017

Collisions At Sea - Not Necessary

The collisions of USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain are still something of a mystery, since the investigations have not been made public. But more and more information has been disclosed.

Most recently, it has been revealed that equipment installed on every ship to avoid collisions by transmitting information to other ships about position, course and speed, has been routinely turned off. As a result, other ships have had difficulty detecting USN ships by radar.

In a recent statement, the Chief of Naval Operations explained that the Navy's stealth technology makes it very difficult for commercial ships to detect its ships by radar or even visually. Apparently, ships have routinely turned off their Automatic Identification System (AIS) even in crowded sea ways. This may explain why the Philippine container ship that collided with USS Fitzgerald knew it had collided with something, but didn't know it was a ship.

It may be that ship personnel turn off the AIS in crowded waters because it frequently sounds an alarm of a pending collision and this becomes annoying. Something of this sort may have contributed to McCain's collision with a tanker in the approaches to Singapore.

According to Congressional Testimony, the Navy will no longer routinely turn off AIS equipment (

But this can't be a complete explanation for the collisions. My conjecture is that officers of the deck and other bridge personnel have become too reliant on automated radar and steering systems and may not be doing such a simple thing as looking out the window.

I recommend greater emphasis on basic seamanship skills.

Read up,for example, on the Andrea Doria and other examples of collisions at sea.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The First Time I Saw Tampa

The first time I saw Tampa, we were getting ready for war.

It was 1940, I was not quite four years old, but I knew that war was coming. I knew it from the newsreels at the movies. But mostly I knew it because my dad was in the US Army Air Corps, and I saw the P-39's, the P-40's, the B-18's and C-47's flying overhead.

We lived in an upstairs apartment, and Mother sent me down to the front yard every morning to pick a grapefruit for breakfast.

Tampa was a small town. We got around by walking or by taking the street car. Sometimes we would take the streetcar to the end of the line, where we would watch the sea. I was fascinated by the conductor flipping the seat backs in the other direction before starting back the way we had come.

After about six months, we moved to Tallahassee. Another air base. Different airplanes. We were there on December 7, 1941. Moved to Mississippi in 1942 during the war. Didn't get back to Florida until 1969. In 1942, Mississippi was much like Florida - poor, economically backward, racist.

I didn't make it back to Florida until 1969. Operated three ships out of Mayport, Florida.

By 1969, Florida was modernizing and that was a good thing.

Mississippi was another thing entirely.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Puerto Rico, Irma, and International Relations

As Hurricane Irma bears down on Puerto Rico, I am reminded of a friend and shipmate, and also of a blustering captain who may not have been the sharpest knife in the drawer.

It is customary for an officer reporting to a ship to pay a courtesy call on the captain.

In 1957, Navy Reserve Lieutenant Jose Ortega-Otero, a graduate of the United States Merchant Marine Academy, reported to USS Cabildo, where he was to become the Chief Engineer.

When Jose called on the captain, the commanding officer detected an unfamiliar accent.

"Where are you from?" Captain Kelsey asked.

"I'm from Puerto Rico," Jose answered.

"What are you doing in the American Navy?" Captain Kelsey asked in puzzlement.

"I was about to be drafted into the American Army," Jose explained.

Schoolbus History

Interesting event this morning in Oriental celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first public school bus in the state of North Carolina that began operation on this date in 1917.

This was a revolutionary development demonstrating the dedication of the State of North Carolina to public school education in rural areas of the state.

It is a result worth celebrating.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Play Taps For Democracy

This evening's White House announcement of a pardon for former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio could mark the death nell of American Democracy.

That may sound extreme, but Democracy requires rule of law. Otherwise, a dictatorial tyrant can ignore the constraints of constitutional democracy with impunity.

That seems to be happening.

Defense of our democracy will require courage.

Perhaps our democracy will be rescued by the three career generals running the government.

Maybe democracy will be rescued by the Republicans in charge of the Senate and the House.

Maybe not.

One of the most thoughtful voices I know writing about our national turmoil is a retired Navy Warrant Officer named Jim Wright. He used to live in Alaska but now lives in Florida.

He uses clear language, which tends to be a bit blunt. The kind of language sailors use.

Some people may find sailor's language offensive.

I love it, though I (mostly) don't speak that way.

Check it out: (

Monday, August 21, 2017

Another Deadly Collision - This Time Near Singapore

Another Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer assigned to the Seventh Fleet collided this morning at the entrance to the Malacca Strait with a much larger ship, this time a tanker. Significant damage to the destroyer (USS John S. McCain - named for the father and grandfather of Senator McCain of Arizona), which has entered port in Singapore. Ten sailors are missing, and a search is underway. The Navy has ordered a pause in operations to try to figure out what is going on. Some suspicion that there is a systemic fault of some kind.

I have a couple of ideas.

More to follow.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Translation: President Trump Is A Raving Lunatic

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee is a courtly Southern gentleman of the old school. He speaks clearly, but with constraint. So when he says something, it sometimes needs to be translated.

Today in Chattanooga, Senator Corker observed of Trump: "The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful," Later in the day he observed: "We should hope that (Trump) aspires that he does some self-reflection, that he does what is necessary to demonstrate stability, to demonstrate competence, to demonstrate that he understands the character of our nation and works daily to bring out the best of the people in our nation."

I grew up in the South and am fairly good at translation. What he says means: "Donald J. Trump is a raving lunatic."

For what it's worth.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Let's Be Clear: We Don't Need Statues Glorifying Traitors

Charlottesville's decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee was not because he owned slaves - it was because he committed treason against the United States.

Moreover, he knew he was committing treason. As did Jefferson Davis, General Beauregard, J.E.B. Stewart and many others memorialized by statuary.

Remember: we have no statue of Benedict Arnold.

By the way, some of my ancestors owned slaves and some fought for the Confederacy. There are no statues to them nor would I want any.