Bill's Vignettes

This is my story. It will consist of little pictures, snippets, or vignettes, from my past. It is a legacy to my children and grandchildren and those that may come after and hopefully will also be of some interest to the casual reader who doesn't know me from Adam.

Fathoms of Fun

Posted by sundoulos2005 on September 20, 2007

Port Orchard, Washington has an annual festival called Fathoms of Fun. I have never attended the event, although I do know they have a parade complete with floats. In fact, it was one of those floats that almost was my undoing.

This happened back in 1971 or 1972 while I was stationed aboard the Polaris Submarine, the USS Robert E. Lee (SSBN 601). The ship was then undergoing overhaul at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington. The crew had a living and work barge, YRDM-25, which was tied up to one of the piers. Across the pier from us was the work and living barge for the USS Patrick Henry, the ship our commanding officer had served on before taking command of our sub.

The Patrick Henry crew, much more civic-minded than ours, was building a mock-up of their submarine to enter in the Fathoms of Fun parade which was about another week away. That float in-the-making was on top of the three-story craft.

One night, the air clear and balmy, I was standing on the outside walkway of the barge by the barge entrance talking with a couple of chief petty officers and another lesser-ranked enlisted man. Somehow the conversation got around to discussing how easy or difficult it would be to penetrate security and get on the Patrick Henry’s barge.

As I considered the question — or was it a challenge? — I developed a plan whereby I would prove that I could demonstrate my prowess at getting past their guards and crew. “I can do it!” I announced and dismissed myself.

My plan was to get some lard from the cooks and a paint brush from the deck division and paint an inscription on the sail of their submarine. That was the easy part. The hard part would be to get past the security guard on the main deck and all the crew members that would be milling about or working.

I stationed myself to take advantage of any break that would afford an opportunity for me to succeed. I also discovered that I could maneuver myself under the pier rather than crossing it in plain sight and come out at the end of the barge instead of entering through the large entry doors. I managed to get aboard the barge and was making my way up the outside ladder when I was spotted by a crew member. I mumbled something to him and kept on going like I belonged there.

Once I got on the roof I kept a low profile and scooted and slithered and slid into position. Then, in a bold stroke, I painted “USS Neversail” on the side of the sub. I left the lard and paintbrush and made a hasty retreat back to our barge. I reported immediately to the chief’s quarters and awakened the duty chief. “Chief, I did it! I got up there to the submarine.” He didn’t believe me so I persuaded him to go out on deck with me and view the evidence. “Oh, no! Now we’ll be a target for retribution.”

The next morning I got up early to view the expressions on the sailors as they walked down the pier towards our barges. There, in big, bold, white letters was the incriminating evidence. The Patrick Henry crew were not amused. They were even less amused when the rising sun melted the lard into the fabric of the sail. Needless to say, the Robert E. Lee was dirt. And … two weeks later we got our just desserts when we woke up to a self-deprecating banner hung from one end of our barge to the other.

The USS Neversail sailed down Bay Street in Port Orchard as scheduled. What was done to cover up its shame I do not know. As for me…. No one was ever the wiser and this is the first time I have made my rôle public.

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