They were three hundred eleven feet long, carried a full compliment of seventy two enlisted, eight officers and smelled like the inside of a locker room at a coal mine.
They were fleet boats. By 1959 most of them had gone through so many conversions that they were like a hundred and five year old bubble dancer who had had twenty or thirty tit augmentations, a couple of dozen face lifts and a handful of nose jobs. Requin had undergone a torpedo room hysterectomy when they made her a picket boat and she got a whomping big fiberglass fairwater when they converted her into whatever she was when I rode her.
They mounted a thirty-six transducer hydrophone array below the bow. I think the navy just had the thing hanging around and they bolted it on the old 481 because they needed the warehouse space. Floating crap in the ocean was hell on 'chin mounts'... And Requin whacked into everything bobbing around out there, from Halifax to Bolivia. The navy took the deck guns off after the war. The theory being that the only thing a smokeboat could out-gun would be the Staten Island Ferry and a Coast Guard cutter in dry dock. It seems that from 1941 to 1945 the meat-eaters who rode submarines would surface and duke it out with stuff up to and including the size of light cruisers.
Recognizing the mentality of diesel boat skippers, The Navy was faced with the choice of removing the guns or finding gentle, sensible diesel boat skippers. They removed the guns... Non-aggressive boat COs are as rare as Dutch virgins.
By the time I rode them, our main battery topside was apples and oranges... We would throw three apples and an orange for a tracer. Things grow old... Submarines are no exception. The nuclear navy was bright shiney and new. They were driving the Rolls Royces of the fleet while we were riding high milage model 'A's, full of dents and road wear. Our boats had histories and a record of proven reliability.
None of us ever fully understood our role in the big picture of 'Naval Defense'. It looked like our mission consisted mainly of hauling malfunctioning motion picture projectors around in the ocean, in addition to being ambassadors of athletes foot and collecting whorehouse intelligence for Squadron Six. If we did anything else, they kept it a secret.
We weren't mentioned in the book Blind Mans Bluff because outside of providing some Whiskey class Russian subs a few laughs, we didn't do a lot of gee-whiz stuff and all our Cold War victories were gin mill brawls. We may have held the world record for littering the ocean with one and two-way trash, and bug juice consumption. I know we still hold The Guinness Record for ratty foulweather gear and chipping hammers accidentally lost over the side... Chipping hammers that made an accidental splash a good seventy five feet aft of the screw guards.
It was the era proceeding something called the 'Don't ask, don't tell policy.' Hetrosexuality was established when some drunk would stagger off a bar stool and yell,
"ANY BOAT SAILOR THAT CAN'T TAP DANCE IS QUEER!"
And five or six dozen fellow inebriates would jump up and go into mystic gyrations that immediately established that their preference was still packaged in lace panties and that Gene Kelly shouldn't feel threatened.
It was a time when submarine sailors wore silver Dolphins and no two pieces of clothing having the same name stencilled on them.
A time when shore patrols asked,
"Sailor, where's your white hat?"
And a perfectly good answer was,
"An elephant ate it."
We were invincible. Being invincible, you never grow old.
It was a time when Tom Clancy was still burping pablum and taking leaks in three-cornered pants, and Admiral Burke owned us all.
And it was all long ago... And somone stole our invincibility and we grew old. So damn old, that the only entertainment we could conjure up was poking horny toads down the poopy suits of nukes... And baiting them into taking a swing at a sucker pitch. That and calling our urologists for Viagra to boost the hydroulic action of the gear we tap danced for.
But we had each other. Late in life, technology we have yet to fully understand, allowed us to locate the rascals we shared bad air and saltwater with so we could lie to each other and recall the days when we wore the rough edges off the raging tigers of youth and earned now tarnished Dolphins.
We got fatter... Uglier... Ornary'er... More worthless and not a helluva lot smarter. But we never got so damn stupid that we couldn't recognize that when it comes to underwater activity reporting, CNN tosses more crap than a John Deere manure spreader.
As I said, we have each other and a seabag loaded with memories. In my case, absolutely worthless memories of an obnoxious kid at the lowest end of the naval food chain who contributed nothing to the luster of the service that made him a man. Where else but in the company of the men he loved and was loved by, could he be accepted and revalidated and be allowed to chronicle his pain-in-the-ass adventures in 130 bullshit-packed installments and not be tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail?
Love you guys... Did then, do now.
And when I wrote that, I was tap dancing.