In 1946 just after the end of WWII, I was stationed on the U.S.S. CHINCOTEAGUE in TSINGTAO, CHINA. We were harbor control in the outer harbor, challenging all ships as they passed through the outer harbor toward the inner harbor. Night and day we challenged all ships by flashing dot-dash, dot-dash (morse code for a-a), the universally recognized request for identification.
The searchlight we used were carbon-arc, about 3 feet in diameter and could be seen from horizon to horizon. It took several minutes to light the carbon arcs and each carbon lasted about 2 hours.
The outer harbor was open to the weather and it was hurricane season. One night the wind kept building up until it reached hurricane force and the chincoteague along with several other ships were blown off their anchors, totally unexpectedly. Complete bedlam ensued. Absolute darkness, huge winds, an unknown number of ships careening wildly, collisions iminent, all ships communications unusable --except the searchlights.
The moment the captain arrived on the bridge he ordered all engines and the searchlights on. It took the other signalman and me several nervous minutes to get them on but when we did, we almost wished we hadn’t. The bow of a huge merchant ship was heading directly toward our bridge. In a few moments their bow would be looming over us and we would be crushed.
The captain ordered “hard a starboard,” in a strangled voice and the helmsman spun the wheel. My memory says he anticipated the order by a fraction of a second.
Our ship was a navy ship, small destroyer size and very maneuverable. Just barely under power, she slowly answered the helm and we slid, bumping and grinding down the side of the merchant ship looming over us. We were port side to port side right where I was stationed. I trained the searchlight on the two hulls and there was not a sound from our crew as we watched our ship narrowly escaping disaster. A small portion of the outer bridge was torn off but other than that we emerged unscathed.
When CASEY’S SLIP needed searchlights for a scene, my memory produced that memorable night and that’s how they got into my novel. http://tinyurl.com/caseysslip
Richard L. Wren
IN HIS NEW CAREER AS AN AUTHOR, RICHARD DESCRIBES HIMSELF AS TALL, DARK, HANDSOME AND A LIAR. A FOURTH GENERATION CALIFORNIAN, A SAILOR, FATHER OF FOUR BEAUTIFUL AND SUPPORTIVE DAUGHTERS, AND HUSBAND TO ONE OF THE BEST WIVES OF ALL TIME. [MORE]