Sep 3, 2010

Hurricane Recollections...

As I have been watching the progress of hurricane Earl traveling up the east coast, I've been reminded of September, 1964.  That year, I was an active duty Navy Lieutenant serving as Executive Officer of the USS Maloy (DE-791).  The Maloy was the last Buckley class turbo-electric destroyer escort left in active sea service.  She was three months shy of 21 years in continuous active service.

The Maloy had been equipped with some very non-standard sound detection equipment.  We were stationed in Groton, Connecticut, and assigned to the US Navy's underwater sound lab.  We also did normal Navy operations when we weren't doing research and development work.  The ship spent most of her time commuting between Groton and Bermuda, since the waters surrounding Bermuda were ideal for much of the work we were engaged in.  Maloy was scheduled to depart for project operations in Bermuda on 1 September, 1964.

Wikipedia describes what was going on in the Carribean, starting a few days earlier:
A tropical wave that exited the coast of Africa on August 15, 1964, moved westward, not organizing into a tropical depression until around 890 miles east of Barbados on August 20–as reported by a Navy reconnaissance plane. It continued west-northwestward, quickly strengthening to a hurricane the next day with a minimum central pressure of 993 mb. Early in the afternoon of August 22, Cleo crossed Guadeloupe as a 115 mph Category 3 hurricane. The hurricane continued to strengthen as it moved through the Caribbean Sea and reached its peak intensity of 155 mph on the August 23 while south of the Dominican Republic. It maintained that intensity for a day, bringing heavy rain and winds to Hispaniola. As Cleo passed south of Haiti on August 24, it veered northward momentarily, enough to move on to the Southwest Peninsula of Haiti. The circulation of the hurricane was greatly disrupted by the mountainous terrain of the island, quickly weakening the hurricane.

Cleo weakened to a Category 1 hurricane before hitting southern Cuba on the August 26. It crossed the island quickly. Shortly after emerging from the north coast of Cuba, Cleo restrengthened to a hurricane, having weakened to a tropical storm while over Cuba. Cleo managed to intensify to a 100 mph Category 2 hurricane before hitting the Miami, Florida area on August 27. It weakened to a tropical storm while over Florida on the 28th. The center moved offshore between Jacksonville and St. Augustine, Florida, before moving back onshore near Savannah, Georgia on August 29 without any increase in intensity. Its northward path along the Florida coast was unusual for the month of August.

Cleo continued to weaken as it moved through the Carolinas, drifting through as a tropical depression. After bringing heavy rain through the area, Cleo exited into the Atlantic Ocean near Norfolk, Virginia, and quickly intensified to a tropical storm again on the September 1. The following day, Cleo became a hurricane again, but it remained well offshore and did not cause any further damage. Cleo finally dissipated on September 5 northeast of Newfoundland.

Needless to say, Maloy got tangled up with Cleo.  It was a very unpleasant ride.  In the Northern Hemisphere, the semicircle to the right of the path of forward motion is known as the "dangerous semicircle." The areas with the heaviest rain, strongest wind, and highest wind are located in this semicircle.  As luck would have it, we ended up in the dangerous semicircle of hurricane Cleo.  In order to keep the wind and waves on our bow for stability, we had to proceed through the eye of the storm. 
I was awakened for the mid watch at about 11:30 PM.  I had been strapped in my bunk to avoid being thrown out.  When I stepped on the deck of my stateroom, I noticed there was quite a bit of water sloshing around that had leaked in around the porthole.  I dressed and started toward the bridge, only to realize that someone had left the white lights on in the wardroom, so my night vision was ruined.  I turned them off and proceeded up the ladder toward the bridge and recall that the wind noise was so loud I could barely hear the officer I was relieving, Lt. James L. "Jay" Allen.  I couldn't see anything looking out toward the sea, but I read the illuminated windspeed gauge.  It indicated a steady wind of 115 knots with gusts to 135!  That really got my attention.  As my night vision returned I noticed something that appeared to be floating well above the level of the bridge.  I pointed it out to Jay Allen and asked what it was.  He said it was the foam on a wave!  The waves were well above our level and we were 35 feet above the waterline.
At one point, we lost fire in one of our two boilers, but we made it out of the storm and arrived safely in Bermuda a couple of days later.
We spent the next several days in Bermuda shackled to a buoy because hurricanes Dora, Ethel, and Florence generated rough seas that prevented us from doing our assigned mission.  On 21 September, we were ordered to return to New London (Groton).  We got underway.  Unfortunately, once again, Mother Nature had something up her sleeve.
Again, from Wikipedia:
Hurricane Gladys developed from a westward moving tropical wave on September 13. Later that day, it became Tropical Storm Gladys. Conditions were favorable for intensification, and Gladys became a hurricane on the 14th. Hurricane Gladys remained a minimal hurricane for the next 3 days, until the 17th when it rapidly became a 145 mph hurricane. After its peak Gladys steadily weakened to a Category 1 on the 21st. It passed within 150 miles of the Outer Banks, but it turned northeastward in response to the development of a low pressure system over the Great Lakes.

Once again, Maloy found herself in the dangerous semicircle and once again, we were forced to proceed through the eye of the storm in order to safely exit the other side.  We lost a strut bearing and a suffered a few other elements of minor damage.
Months later, as we were preparing for a Board of Inspection and Survey in preparation for decommissioning the ship, one of my crew members penetrated the hull with a paint scraper.  We put a caisson around the leak and proceeded to repair the hole.  When we were inspected, the ship was declared "unfit for sea."  The hull, originally only 3/8" steel, had deteriorated in many locations over its 21-year lifespan.  When we finally had to steam to Philadelphia to decommision the ship, we were escorted by an oceangoing tug for safety reasons.  I have thought many times over the years how fortunate we were to have survived these two storms.

3-1-2014 -- I recently found this YouTube video that captures the kind of violence the sea dispenses on a ship in this kind of storm.  Maloy, at 306 feet in length, was somewhat smaller than the ship shown in the video.


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