Sea Stories

Bad Air - Good Captain

Michael A. Purviance

I remember a SpecOp on the USS Trout (SS-566) as a young QMSN(SS). We had been on patrol for about three weeks, snorkeling at night, running quiet during the day.  We stood 6 and 12 watches (that's 6 hours on and 12 hours off, for non-bubbleheads).  Control was red-lighted and of course the periscope stand, a platform in the center of the control room about 2 feet high with a dark curtain around it, was black lit.  It was at the end of the day and end of the watch.  The air had become so stale that breathing was a chore.  Some of you older guys will remember those times when you used to pray to start snorkeling, even with the knowledge of what it was going to do to your ears (another story, another time).

I was fixated on the PeriVis monitor just over my head, a sort of periscope low light level television set, watching all the traffic circling around us. All of a sudden the Captain at the scope called out, "Helmsman, mark your head."  Then again, "Helmsman, mark your head." I quickly glanced up at the compass repeater and saw that unmistakable slow revolution of the compass card.  At the same time as the OOD stuck his head out of the curtain, I peeked around the periscope stand and saw Seaman Jones (not his real name) sitting on the edge of the periscope stand, hands on his knees and head in his hands, sound asleep.  Fear shot through my bones; all I could see were multiple Captains Masts.  And just as quick, the Captain said, "Seaman Jones, you are relieved; go get some sleep." Then he looked over at me and said, "Purviance, take the helm."  I felt I was lucky that day in more ways then one.

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