Journal of Monty Compton
Operation Deep Freeze
USCG Staten Island
Monty Compton served as a Marine Science Technician. This is the story of his journey during an annual relief of Antarctic stations.
McMURDO SOUND to HOBART, TASMANIA
It was mid February and we had been in Antarctica for nearly 3 months. The weather in McMurdo, after about a month of mid-30 degree weather, had not been above freezing for about 2 weeks now. The harbor was starting to freeze over. It was time to leave. Winter was returning to Antarctica. The NORTHWIND stayed with the MAUMEE. They had another day or two in completion of their fuel and the NORTHWIND would escort her out.
Our destination was Hobart, Tasmania and it lay over 2000 nautical miles away. We had to cross over a large expanse of the Southern Pacific Ocean where the winds and ocean currents encircle the globe unimpeded by any land mass. As we departed the Ross Sea and entered the southern South Pacific a Northwest wind increased and we found ourselves heading into a building storm. About the 3rd day into the storm the winds were a constant 80 miles an hour. With a lifelong career in most every major sea on planet earth I have never witnessed a bigger sea. The winds actually flattened and beat down any sea that tried to form. All the energy was put into the swell. The largest constant swell I had ever seen. They were a constant 90 - 100 foot swell. Its wave-length was about Â¼ of a mile long. It actually made for a good ride. The STATEN ISLAND would cruise at a 10 knot cruising speed up and down these large hills of water.. At one point at the peak of the storm for about 5 hours we averaged 3 knots BACKWARDS!
As we left the storm and was about three days out of Hobart the weather started to warm up. Although it was February, in the Southern Hemisphere it was like their August. Being in Antarctica and away from all things that could grow in a frigid climate for near 3-months, the first thing that arrived was - the cold bug! Almost everyone aboard got a cold. Being isolated for those three months, we were more sensitive to smells. 30 miles out from land which was over the horizon you could not see Tasmania just yet. But you could smell the trees and grasses. It was like smelling rain before it got to you. It was the only time in my life in making land fall that I ever experienced such a sensation.
Other than our 1st liberty port in over 3-months, Hobart was bland with culture but rich in experience. Liberty came early and a group of us headed out to a restaurant. We all wanted / needed fresh food that had eluded us for over a month. We wanted a good old fashion hamburger!! They had them on the menu at the restaurant, so we all ordered. What we got was two English muffin halves - with a hard fried egg - and a patty of mutton. It was a far cry from what our taste buds were yearning - but it was good and fresh and that is what counted the most.
We had been out of fresh food for months, eggs, milk, vegetables etc. Because of the hamburger debacle, the next place the group of us headed was a - supermarket. We grabbed a basket and headed for the veggie stand. Remembered - it was their August and there were plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits.
We came across glass quart jars of milk, the ones that use to be delivered to our back porch as kids. It had a waxed cardboard stopper on top and you could see about an inch of cream at the top of the milk. If you shook it up and drank it, it tasted sweet like chocolate milk. Being with about 6 other guys - by the time we got to the checkout stand, we had over a dozen empty milk bottles in our baskets. We were in uniform and the local papers made us up pretty good - so the clerks laughed it off. We paid for the milk and had a large time enjoying the fresh fruit. We ended up at a park not far from the ship and enjoyed the sweetness and freshness of the fruits and veggies. In particular and new to us were kiwi berries. We had never seen or tasted them before. They tasted like a cross between a strawberry and a banana.
Our next stop in the late afternoon was a small local pub, about 5pm in the afternoon. It was jammed pack full. We found a table and ordered Foster beer, a 30% beer that we were not used to. As we sipped our beer we looked around and intrigued not only by the size of the crowd in this small pub - but they were drinking like there was a contest. So we asked one of the guys nearby "What's the hurry? - it was still afternoon and there was the evening still yet". We were answered in an English accent - the pub closes at 6 pm. We weren't alarmed - so we asked where does everybody go then? The answer was - home! All pubs and bars closed at 6pm - there was no place else open to enjoy social drinking - it was a law!!! We then started our own beer drinking contest and were virtually tossed out of the pub about 15 minutes after 6pm.
We ended up purchasing some beer at a liquor store and ended up in the park on a warm summer evening. Looking into the sky there are two unique heavenly evening things we admired and pondered. The first is the moon. All our lives we saw the moon full once a month a certain way. In the southern hemisphere you look at the moon - and if you imagine that in the northern hemisphere, you grab it and turn it 180 degrees upside down - that is what you see. The most significant stellar constellation in the Southern Hemisphere is the Southern Cross. Bar none- we all agreed that it is the most beautiful of all the constellations including those seen in the northern hemisphere.
DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND
After the five days in Hobart we got underway for Dunedin, New Zealand located nearly 1000 nautical mile to the East. The transit took less than a week where Dunedin is located on the southeast corner of the South Island of New Zealand. There is about a 15 miles channel from the ocean to the harbor of Dunedin. We were told that the channel had been dredged for the past 6-months to allow the STATEN ISLAND to be able to come in. We drafted nearly 30 feet when completely loaded with fuel. We were also told that we were the first American ship into Dunedin since World War II. We arrived early on a Friday morning at the entrance thru the channel and the trip in was absolutely beautiful. It was so green I thought we were in Ireland.
Dunedin was our favorite liberty port. A year earlier up in Wellington on the North Island on the Airedales married a New Zealand gal. Anticipation was a good moral booster. Prior to arrival there was a big article written up in the local newspaper about our arrival. The locals developed a "Dial-A-Sailor" program where one could call up the ships-landline at the dock and invite a sailor from the ship to join you on any variety of local events.
I had duty that Friday on our first day and had the 1st watch on the quarterdeck with the OOD (Officer Of the Day). Liberty was granted early for the crew. Almost immediately cars started streaming by asking if anyone wanted to go to lunch-dinner-zoo-park etc and etc. The phone started ringing off the hook. I set up a cork bulletin board and started writing invites on 3"x5" index cards and pinning them to the board. It got so busy on the phone and the drive-ups that the OOD called up 2 seamen to help us. As the guys went on liberty they would look over the bulletin board and pick-choose an event of their liking. After a quick phone call, a car would drive-up and off they would go.
On one of the calls, in a heavy English accent, was an invite for the next day for 2-sailors to go on a "hunting party". Being from Alaska and hunted a lot, I buried the card behind others. The next morning, I and one other crewman, pulled the card and made the phone call. Be mindful now, we still had to be in our dress blues - and we did not have any hunting clothes or guns either.
When the car rolled up we were looking at a big set of smiling teeth on a very big fellow of Samoa descendant. We got in the car and off we went. We informed him that we did not have a gun or clothes to go hunting and he just started to laugh. He informed us we were headed to a local horse race track, not to hunt nor would there be any horse racing. He told us that we were going to the annual local "HUNGI" party!
A "hungi" is simply a Polynesia barbeque pit hog cook-out. There were several hundred people there and they had dug several pits on the infield of the race track - got the coals nice and hot - buried the hogs - and was now just having a large party waiting for them to cook. There were music and people of all ages to babies to elders. People had brought a ton of side dishes and .... beer... kegs and kegs of beer. The Samoan fella that picked us up was the tribal sheriff of the group and very very nice. Later on in the afternoon the pigs were dug up and a feast ensued. We drank beer and I danced a hundred dances with 4 year old girls to an 80-year old grandmother... did I mention there was beer? In the late evening as the party faded, there was a discussion where we were to sleep for the evening. I mentioned about returning to the boat. A group of guys would have none of that. The discussion then was regard to whose house we would stay out. A scuffle ensued and the winner, my guess, was the big burly Samoan that brought us. We had not paid one cent for any of this... they would have not accepted our money.
The rest of our stay was fun. Many of the other guys on the ship had similar stories - Parties, fly-fishing and other such activities. We hated to leave New Zealand behind. The people were friendly and life seemed simpler - like in the 1950's when we were growing up in the US.
DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND to SUVA, FIJI
Our next destination was Suva, Fiji some 1900 nm away. About half way to Suva, we were to stop and resupply at Rauol Island, a possession of New Zealand which hosted a remote weather outpost. We had left Dunedin right after morning quarters and made our way up the east Coast along the North and South Islands that make up New Zealand. The following day we were some 30 miles offshore when we passed by the body of water between the two islands. I recall it being lunch time sitting in the dining area having a meal. The weather was pleasant and we were taking a westerly wind about 20 knots that put a 6 foot sea on our port beam. It was a pleasant sailing for the STATEN ISLAND.
All of a sudden we were broadsided by a rogue wave from the port side of the vessel. The ship leaned about 45 degrees to port and violently rolled to starboard. The quartermasters later stated that the wave was nearly 80 feet high, the roll registered nearly 90 degrees to starboard. As the vessel rolled to starboard the starboard bridge wing filled with water. With the bridge doors open the water in the bridge wing was catapulted into the bridge itself and down the stairwell leading all the way down to the main deck adjacent to the main crew dining area. One of seaman came down from the bridge where he was on helm watch. He was soaking wet - completely on his right side - and completely dry on the left side. He reported that the radars on the bridge had been shorted out. We still had the radars in CIC still functioning. After a few days the Electronic Technician had the ones on the bridge up and going.
Within a week we were anchored in a cove on the south side of Raoul Island. It would take nearly all day for the helos to shuffle the supplies back and forth to the weather outpost. During the wait we were to have swim call. About the time the guys were in their trunks and ready to go in it was note that there were at least a dozen sharks had encircled the vessel. Swim call was called off. So out comes fishing poles. One of the pictures shows a tall black Airedale named McGhee that caught a real big grouper. It had a HUGE head and a HUGE mouth. After he cleaned it and chopped of its head - some of the stewards from the wardroom came out and made off with all of it. I understand it ended up in a pot in their galley in the wardroom's galley... None of the other crew was interested in fish head soup!!
After the grouper was caught, the sharks took over and those guys fishing lost their line and fishing became impossible. That was until of the Snipes (engineer) decided to fish using the grappling hook and a 5 gallon can as bobber. They ended up catching a shark nearly 12 foot long. It was played for about 20 minutes before losing it. Great entertainment for the rest of the crew!!
It was now mid-March as we arrived Suva. We stayed our traditional 5 days for liberty. Most of the crew had spent their disposable income in Hobart and Dunedin, therefore the partying ashore was kept to some isolated individuals. One of the young FN, named Choate got a tattoo. It was of a black panther sliding down his forearm - claws racking with blood - with a naked lady underneath it. It was rather tacky even by our standards. We excessively teased him regarding his mother was going to be very proud for the reminder of the trip.
FN Choate was an odd duck. As mentioned before - only 2 beers were available during the week while underway. The Morale Officer was in charge of stocking the two pop dispensers (Coke Machines) located in the forward crew mess. He had purchased quite a few cases of Hawaiian Punch - that nobody liked and was not a big seller. To "increase" sales of the Punch, every day for about a week, the Morale Officer decided to randomly place 2-beers in the rack holding about 35 Hawaiian Punch cans. FN Choate was aware of the beer inclusion. He would then gather up quarters and played the pop dispenser like a slot machine - until he got the two beers. The deck around the pop dispenser became littered with the full cans of Punch and sooner or later the crew would end up tossing the cans overboard as they rolled around the deck of the Mess Deck.
We were moored to the main dock in Suva. We held open house and our helos participated in an air show nearby one afternoon. I was told that the pilots put on quite the show as they had the helos nearly vertical and would then bring them down and slap the water - spin them 180 and do it again. Our pilots were the best in the Coast Guard.
At one end of the dock was a coconut shredding plant that ran 24/7. Being aboard most of the time exposed you to the intensive smell throughout the boat. It was like sticking your head in a coconut cookie bag the whole time. After we departed Suva it was years before I could handle anything coconut.
SUVA to HONOLULU
Our departure from Suva was to take us on a 2700 nautical mile trek to Honolulu on a Northeast course. Few of us did not notice or paid attention that our course was actually more NNE. Unaware, we were destined for the "Golden X". We were about a week into our transit when, one early afternoon the vessel came to a complete halt. Our latitude and longitude were 00 N/S 180 E/W. This time we reeeaaaaly stepped into it!! The Domain of the SACRED Golden Dragon. This time King Neptune would not let these penalties go forth.
For the remainder of the day the trials and ensuing initiation of Shellbacks that had trice before violated the Domains, would commence in the courts of King Neptune. It began with the pollywogs - nearly half the ships complement - being ushered back into the lower hold. We were to take our closes off and turn them inside out. We were then sprayed wet with the fire main hoses. As Neptune's Court convened, in group of twos and threes - we receives subpoenas to appear before King Neptune and his court by being escorted topside crawling on hands and knees to the crew mess. Here, you would confront the Court - Davy Jones, her Highness Amphitrite and the Royal Baby. You were then "interrogated" by King Neptune himself after application of "truth serum" (hot sauce + after shave) and a whole uncooked egg put in the mouth. The final court requirement was "kissing" the Royal Baby's belly. The heavy set Boatswain Mate 1st Class was dressed only in a linen diaper. His whole front side was covered with a Crisco base discussing drudge. As you leaned over to kiss the belly, he would ensure that you came in contact by grabbing the back of your head and firmly smearing you face all over his front torso. At that point you were allowed to crawl - escorted by a minion of King Neptune thru the aft door on deck where there was a 30 foot "shit chute".
Ever since we left Suva, the cooks and scullery maids were instructed to collected and stow all biodegradable food and garbage. This type of garbage was usually tossed overboard daily at the end of the day. The boatswain mates sewed a 30 foot piece of canvas about 4 feet in diameter at the opening tapering down to 3 feet in diameter at the far end. All the week long collected rotting garbage was place inside. We were at the equator and it was hot and muggy. As you crawled down thru the rotting filth, a gauntlet of shellbacks would swat at you with short lengths of fire hose - kick at you and yelling all sorts of obscenities. Keep in mind that most everyone that was in the chute threw-up somewhere inside.
As you emerged at the end, you were located aft on the main deck under the flight deck. You were greeted with smiles and pat on the backs. The low velocity fog fire hoses were activated and hanging from the edge of the flight deck. You would then be able to take a warm-sea shower and strip you clothes. Most of us decided to just throw the clothes overboard after a rinse and then head inside to clean up. Some of the guys went swimming as some of the crew stood guard with M-16s in case sharks would arrive.
We then gathered back up aft on the main deck. The cooks had several charcoal grills and hamburgers were on the menu. The morale officer was there and everyone was rationed their 2-cans of beer. It was well after sunset when we got back underway. It was actually a good -fun day!
We arrive in Honolulu the first week in April. I recall calling my folks in Alaska and pranking them due to April Fool's Day. We were to be in Honolulu for just 3 days - we were getting too close to home in which we had been gone for 5Ã‚Â½ months. We were moored downtown. There was a McDonald hamburger place just down the street open 24/7. It was an open air structure as you find in most tropic restaurants. No matter the time of day, you would always find a shipmate inside.
HONOLULU to SEATTLE
Our last night in Honolulu, the BM1 that was the Royal Baby came back to the ship one evening very inebriated. He was crying and tried to commit suicide. While in Suva he contracted a case of syphilis. He was married and could not face his wife once we got back to Seattle. Capt. Putzke held a Captain's Mast. The BM1 was not fined but restricted to the ship for the next 12 weeks. We were scheduled to leave Seattle in about 10 weeks for Arctic West Summer 1972. This meant that the BM1 could not be with his wife until after we got back in August. The corpsman aboard let it be known that that was the exact time period of time it would take for the BM1 to go thru the regiment of shots and be cured. Captain Putzke remained a demi-god amongst his crew!
The day before we entered the Straits of Juan De Fuca, at morning quarters the Captain order the vessel be scrubbed stem to stern. Right after lunch the Captain was the sole individual in his rain clothes scrubbing the side of the vessel. Immediately thereafter, the wardroom (officers) came barreling out and joined him. Before too long the whole crew was scrubbing every inch of the outside of the vessel for the remainder of the afternoon.
The next day we arrived Seattle; we were greeted by fire tug and were escorted under a stream of water honoring our welcome home. The dock was full of TV cameras, wives, girlfriends and family. We had just experience the most adventurous journey of our lives - young and old. It would fuel sea stories for the rest of our lives.
ARCTIC WEST 72/73
As to expedite the delivery of these first pages to the Beckham family, I provide only the summation of the two Arctic trips we would experience in the following 12 months. There were two trips nearly 3 months in endurance each. Unimak Pass, Adak, Polar Bears, Walruses, submarines, under ice-diving a cracked hull, sub-zero weather, Blue Noses, a 3-man mutiny and a Bering Sea storm laces the next two trips that fuels stories of each.
Captain Stan Putzke retired and Captain Robert A. Moss became our new Commanding Officer. In June of 1972 the ship departed Seattle for Arctic West Summer carrying scientists from the US Coast Guard Oceanographic Unit, University of Anchorage, the University of Washington, and the Smithsonian Institution to make determinations all sorts of Scientific studies from the discovery of birds to the discovery of a sea current and the effects of drilling for oil on the north slope of Alaska would have on the environment. Trials with underwater torpedoes from a US Naval attack submarine were conducted. We laid a line of underwater acoustic geophones that would listen for Russian submarines passing down thru the Bering Straits.
During February 1973 Staten Island participated in the Bering Sea Experiment as part of her Arctic West Winter activities, 475 nautical miles (880 km) north of Adak Island, with the Soviet research vessel Priboy, and several aircraft. The vessel received Unit Commendations Citations for both these trips and the 2nd one allowed for the Operational Device for the Citation.
In June of 1973, I was transferred to the Oceanographic Unit in Washington DC - leaving behind a group of guys that became lifelong friends that can only develop under the conditions we lived and played. It all became part of my largest adventures in life!
© Monty Compton