THE SEASICK PILOT
of the USCGC Alert WMEC 630)
The shakedown cruise went fairly well. We
returned to Curtis Bay for a few minor adjustments before getting underway to
Norfolk to pick up ammunitions. A quick trip up the Chesapeake, through the C
& D canal then down the Delaware Bay to dock at our new homeport at Cape May.
The commissioning ceremonies were held and we were official.
Our Third District patrols began. It
wasn’t until our second patrol when an early fall storm was brewing on the
East coast that I learned just why that chair was there. Up until that point it
was simply turned around and the helmsmen leaned against it. It was at this same
time that I learned that the 255’s weren’t the worst riding ships in the
Guard. This ship didn’t roll in a beam sea, it whipped. Even a strong wind off
the beam would heel her. I did have a pair of sea-legs back then but it still
took some getting used to. For the many crewmembers who hadn’t been to sea
before or for those that had shore billets for the past year or two that first
storm wasn’t pleasant. Everyone
deals with that queasy feeling in a different way. The strangest was one HH-52
pilot during one of our NASA recovery ops.
One of the occasional duties assigned to the Alert was rocket recovery. NASA had a
small launch sight located on Wallops Island, Virginia doing atmospheric
research. Once launched these floating projectiles would return to earth a few
miles out to sea. We’d launch the helo, recover the rocket and take it back to
Cape May where a flat-bed semi would be waiting to take the whole thing back to
Wallops. Unfortunately for the pilots, we’d land the helo and lash it down
once we cleared Cape May on the way to Virginia. When the rocket was recovered,
the helo would fly back for the return trip. This meant that the pilot and crew
would have to ride the ship for a day or two until we arrived at the recovery
area. Some pilots didn’t have sea-legs.
I learned the real reason at morning chow.
There sitting at my table was one of the enlisted flight crew. After a bit of
normal conversation I mentioned that I had seen his pilot strapped in last night.
Between bites of breakfast he nonchalantly mentioned that he’d been there all
night. “Something wrong with the helo?” I asked. His reply was simple yet
confusing. “Nope, he gets seasick.” “Okay,
I can understand that, but why was he in the helo all night?”
The flier gave me a sort of perturbed look and simply repeated, “He
gets seasick!” “But the damned
thing is lashed to the flight deck,” I replied. I really wasn’t prepared for
his answer. “Yea, but flying doesn’t bother him so if he suits up, straps in
and grabs the stick it’s just like he’s flying.” “I gotta remember that,” I said, “next time we cast off
all lines maybe we should request clearance and permission to taxi.”
He didn’t think that was funny.