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Subase Pearl Harbor Det 716 

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Life Aboard The Shamokin 

By: ET1 William Lord USN/USNR (ret)

While stationed at Subic Bay in the Philippines I was assigned to the Boat Pool and specifically to YTB-369 (Yard Tug Big), a 102’ boat built in 1944 and struck form the records in 1972.

USS Shamokin was the boat's name but all Yard Tugs were known and referred to by their hull number instead.

I have mixed feelings of my tenure aboard the boat (about 6-8 months).  The reason for the ill feelings is due to the fact that I had screwed up in my previous job with the Post Office at Subic Bay and was involuntarily  transferred to the boat pool as a punishment where I had to do extra duty with no liberty.

Life aboard the boat had its good side too.  There were only 7 of us that manned the boat.  Our skipper was a 2nd class Boatswains mate, a Stewards mate for the cook, a Chief Engineer, a 3rd class engineman and a Fireman striker and two Seaman (deck force).

I was one of the two Seaman aboard the boat and my duty was to maintain the Fantail and the tow lines aft.  The other Seaman,  Mack was responsible for the maintenance of the forward part of the boat and the bow lines.

For some time I thought I was being shortchanged in being assigned to the fantail as I worked every time we went out.  If we were tied up alongside a ship or barge we both worked as this required both bow and stern lines secured to the vessel.  But if this was a tow then only the stern line would be used which meant I was doing all the work.

As I said, I felt shortchanged for some time.  This feeling would soon be lost as one day I would acquire a whole new respect for Mack, the other seaman and the responsibility that went with his job.

The Ship in tow and the tug communicated with blasts of their horn with a unique blast or series of blasts meaning a specific order or routine to be put into practice.  We were parking a large ship one day when someone screwed up and either gave an incorrect signal blast from the ship in tow or our skipper misread the signal and our boat backed when it should have stopped.

The bow of the boat is secured to the tow with a 2” spring lay cable which is as the name suggests springy and meant to give some.  It is also oil impregnated with oil to prevent oxidation. 

As I said, it is meant to stretch some but was never intended to be stressed to the level that it was now undergoing.  I heard Mack yell “clear the deck” and I saw him come running back to my little domain.  I than heard the loudest commotion as the cable parted and tried to wipe everything out on the bow of the boat.  He had done his best to offset this enviable disaster from happening and stayed with it as long as he safely could before abandoning his station.

We worked for the next week or so cleaning the oil which is more like tar from the boat and repainting.

As I said before the duty aboard YTB-369 had its good side also.  We lived aboard the boat, ate off plates instead of trays, had our choice of breakfast and how it was prepared, a good lunch and dinner all prepared by our cook which I might add could have worked in a fine dining establishment.  And if we got hungry during the evening we could go the freezer, grab a steak and prepare it ourselves.  No cold cut midrats for us.

Tug Boat Seaman’s Shame

After entering Subic Bay with a barge in tow that was carrying an aircraft which we had towed from Naval Station Sangley Point in Manila we slowed to start the process of bringing in the several hundred feet of 1” steal tow cable in which requires every man on the boat to do their job with the utmost care.  One of our snipes had the responsibility of manning the winch which kept the slack out of the cable as the tow drew closer to the tug.

Again due to a communication error the tug either backed or stopped when it shouldn’t have allowing more slack in the cable than the winch could keep up with.  The barge was coming at us rather fast and almost rammed us which could have put the little 100 ft boat on the bottom of the bay.

Now we have all this cable in the water and the barge alongside us and, yes you guessed it, we wrapped the cable up in the screw.  Here we set dead in the water with only one choice, make the call to port control and tell them we need two tugs, one for our tow and one for us.

Before the tugs reached us all those that didn’t have to be on deck went below as we all knew what was in store for us.  Unfortunately Mack. the seaman responsible for the bow, and I had to remain on deck and tough out the mouthing we were receiving from the other crew.

But to make matters worse they had to send divers down with cutting torches to cut away the expensive cable wrapped up in the screw which meant we were down for a few days which no one likes since down time meant maintenance.  I could think of all sorts of things I would rather be doing than chipping paint, painting with red lead, haze gray and deck grey paint.

When I left the boat a few months later we were still known as the shameful boat that had to be towed.

Corregidor 0 Dead Ahead

After tying up at the pier at the Naval Station Sangley Point in Manila the crew, all accept myself went on liberty.  Since I was restricted to the boat I had the duty. 

The crew stayed out until the wee hours of the morning drinking and having fun while I painted a hot, humid cargo hold until bedtime and then got a good night’s sleep

We were to get underway by 0800 hours with a tow bound for Subic Bay. 

We tied up to the barge the next morning and got underway.  After we were well in the Manila Bay we strung out our tow several hundred feet and headed west and were now actually underway with nothing to do but drive the tug.

Now seeing as how I was the only member of the crew that had got any sleep and probably the only sober member of the crew I got to drive.  My first time at the helm, a nervous wreck I might add.

The skipper gave me a compass heading and instructed me to stay on that heading which come hell or high water I was going to do.  Then the skipper and the rest of the crew all went to bed to get well.

Now the trip from Sangley Point to Subic Bay normally would take about five hours but with a heavy barge in tow that was flat in the front and not designed for speed you could just about double that. 

We started out on the north side of the bay and with the compass heading I was told to stay on, this would have been just fine had it not been for this 20 to 35 knot per hour wind coming from the north and doing its best to push the boat and especially the barge to the south or toward the middle of Manila Bay.

I kept noticing Corregidor Island inching its way toward the center of the boat from the port side.  It dawned on me what was happening but what could I do?  I couldn’t leave the helm to go wake the skipper for fear of the wind turning the boat and causing the cable to go slack and risking catching the cable in the screw and I was told to stay on a course which I didn’t want to deviate from.  So here I am staring at Corregidor now dead ahead.

Fortunately the cook came up to the pilot house to see If I wanted something to eat and I told him to go wake the Boatswain Mate which he did.  The skipper came up to the pilot house and I thought he was going to have a cow. I believe I even learned a few new curse words I had never heard before. 

It took us about four or five hours to get back to the north side of the bay fighting a head on wind to continue our journey. 

We didn’t get back to Subic Bay until around midnight which meant no liberty for anyone that day.  The entire crew was mad a me but with time they realized there wasn’t much I could have done to prevent it.

Now thinking back on this today, I don’t know why it hadn’t crossed my mind that I could have laid down on the ships horn several times to wake someone that would have come up to see what the commotion was all about.  Well they say hind sight is 20/20.

There were at least two people aboard the Shamokin that day that learned a lesson.  I learned to throw in a few “What if’s” the next time I was given an order and the Boatswain Mate learned to have me steer to landmarks instead of compass heading from then on.

Over The Side

I loved the sea and especially loved Helm watch or driving the boat as It called it. 

We were coming back to Subic Bay from the Naval Station Sangley Point in very rough seas as there had been a typhoon in the area which had churned up the Indian Ocean quite a bit. 

While at the helm I watched the clinometer sway back and forth as the boat would list from side to side as it was riding the swells. 

I had never been seasick before but after three or four hours of this I started feeling a little queasy in my stomach.

Finally Mack, the other deck seaman came up to relieve me as my watch was over.

I went down to the galley to get some lunch before hitting the sack for awhile.  The galley was in shambles with food all over the place.  I dished up something to eat and sat down not knowing whether I was going to be able to eat or not.

There was a bowl of brown gravy on the table.  I watched as the boat hit a good swell and the gravy came pouring over the side.  That’s  all it took.  I left my plate where it was a manned the side of the boat and deposited my breakfast and most likely my supper from the night before into the sea.

I spent the rest of the afternoon in my rack.

Get That Sailor's Name!

This last Shamokin story took place a month or so before I was due to leave the Philippians after having spent the last 1 ½ years.

We had the job along with a couple other tugs of mooring the USS Princeton (LPH-5) an 888 foot Marine Helicopter Carrier alongside the pier at Cubi Point.

I remember standing on the fantail of the boat when a seaman aboard the Sweet-P as I would later learn she was affectionately called yelled down to me “Hey, wanna swap duty?”

I looked up at him and yelled back “I wouldn’t be on that old rust bucket for anything in the world”.

To my surprise about a month later when I received my orders to my new duty station it read “ Report to the Commanding Officer USS Princeton LPH5 Long Beach California.

This was so ironic that I often wondered if the C.O. or X.O. of the ship hadn’t overheard this conversation and said “get that sailor’s name.” 

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