The Owasco Chronicles
The “Mike” Boat
The World Don’t Get Much Smaller Than This!
“Bridge….CIC….We have a slow moving contact bearing 200 degrees true. Range 10,000 yards. Course erratic but approximate heading of 015 degrees true at five knots. Current position puts contact within 2000 yards of shoreline running parallel.” As QM of the watch, I walked to the squawkbox, flipped the CIC switch and gave the obligatory “Con Aye.” The Conning Officer took a quick look at the radar repeater on the bridge and had trouble finding the contact. First, the return was weak indicating a small, possibly wooden vessel and second, the feedback from the shoreline partially obscured the blip. Once located, he took the grease pencil and made the “X” on the screen over the contact and ordered a slow turn to port. The Con then sent the messenger to find the Captain. An intercept course was plotted and we were slowly on our way to closing the five mile gap between us. Slowly because we were in a heavy fog, something we saw very little of in Viet Nam.
was serious business. It may have
been Sunday and holiday routine was underway but intercepting unknown contacts
was our primary job off the coast of South Viet Nam. Operation Market Time Patrol was established in the
mid-60’s for just this reason. There
hadn’t been a real attempt to land arms and supplies to the enemy via trawlers
or small boats in nine months but they could be making another try. The contact was small, close to shore and moving slowly.
That all fit the profile but this one was moving north.
That did not. We were
patrolling in I-Corps along the DMZ and, since the bombing halt went into
effect, our other job was to keep all vessels from crossing that imaginary line
at sea. A few weeks earlier we had to “order” the USS St. Paul, a
heavy cruiser, to move south. Quite
a feat for a 255 foot Coast Guard Cutter that was out-sized and absolutely
out-ranked but nonetheless the big ship complied.
I should add “almost” all vessels were kept south of the line.
On some evenings small, unmarked and unlit fast US Naval gunboats would
streak north just after dark and return before daybreak.
They never answered the signalman’s challenge and nothing was ever done
to stop them. The bridge enlisted
types called them “What Boats” because after they came and went with no
answer to our challenge we just sort of shrugged our shoulders and asked,
“what boats?” Those were never
“Captain on the Bridge” announced the helmsman as the CO came through the port bridge wing door. The Con briefed the Skipper and all three of us huddled around the chart table checking position, estimated intercept time and depth in the area. The fog was lifting with visibility now about 1000 nautical yards but improving. CIC kept informing the bridge of the track and speed of the craft recommending slight course changes at our current speed. We expected to have visual contact within ten to fifteen minutes. We repeated this many times before with the final outcome resulting in South Vietnamese fishing craft, most of which we boarded and searched or small, armed friendly naval types that identified themselves either by flashing light signals or radio transmissions.
This “salt” slammed his pitcher of beer on the table, pulled out the chair and started to sit. Fortunately I managed to grab the hat and shift it to another chair just before it became an expensive black and white Frisbee. “Let me tell ya what one of your sons-a-bitching shallow water buddies tried to do to me. I was over in Nam on my Mike boat…………” I felt my stomach twitch and suddenly it got extremely hot in that club.
I missed a couple of his words because I think my brain quit operating for a second or two. “………picnic and the bastards tried to sink my goddamned boat. They cut loose with a 50 Cal and missed! Couldn’t shoot worth a damn! Outran the bastards! Sons-a-bitches!” In the split second after he stopped his tirade and I picked my chin up off the table my thought was that out of all the hundreds of thousands of Squids scattered around all the Navy bases throughout the world…………………!
After all the “no sh#*’s” passed back and forth we both started laughing. It seems that my new found friend was headed for a Sunday picnic of all things. He left his base early with permission of the CO with a few buddies and more than a few cases of beer heading for some island a mile or so north. Because of the fog he missed the island. When I asked him why he didn’t answer us he said no one on board could copy or send morse and he never did hear us on the radio. He probably wasn’t tuned to the proper frequency for that area. Finally, when the CO hailed him on the bullhorn he realized that he probably was too far north but, and here’s the kicker, he wasn’t going to let some Shallow Water Sailors embarrass him in front of his buddies. He wasn’t aware of the DMZ restrictions and hadn’t realized he missed his island by that much. His picnic guests razzed him relentlessly about the incident but no one, including us, ever reported it. He rarely left the river and almost never ventured out into the open sea but because of the fog, the seas were extremely calm and he got permission for the trip. He was almost an hour north of his destination.
Turns out he was a great guy and one with guts. That was his second tour and he was in the process of trying for a third. I got my mind changed about the dumb SOB in the wheelhouse of that Mike boat and I’m sure he left with a little more respect for Shallow Water Sailors.
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