Sea Stories

Wayward Helmsman

Frank Dyess, QM2(SS)

I am sure that some of you have experienced the wayward helmsman. This was one of those real exciting midwatches in the USS Gurnard (SSN-662) where the highlight of the watch was getting all "2"s on the digital clock.

Anyway, I had just taken my half-hourly position and decided to work on my publication inventory (you guessed it, the lovely job of Charts and Pubs Petty Officer). I was sitting in the NavET corner when I had that weird feeling something was not right. I got up and checked my position by eyeballing the ESGN and then the chart: seemed right. Got permission from the OOD to get a sounding; that checked with the chart. Hmmmm. Told the OOD that everything checked good, but still had that unnatural feeling of something being wrong.

I decided that it was time to do a compass check, since I forgot to do the last one the hour earlier. I got the FT on watch to standby at the MK 27 and called down where the MK 19 was and had the IC on watch standby. I was about to yell for the Port and Stbd to standby for a compass check, when I glanced down on my deck log and noticed that the Omega unit direction was off by 20 degrees. Holy crap! That's when I walked over to where the helmsman was and noticed that the readouts were the same as the Omega unit.

Forgive the exactness of the numbers, but the course written in grease pencil on the console read 270 degrees and the helmsman was steering 250 degrees. I hate to admit this, but the helmsman was a roommate and buddy of mine, so I leaned down and whispered into his ear to check the course with what was written. I swear the boy turned white right before my eyes. I told him to just ease back on course, quickly. I went back to the plot and checked position with all our nav gear, and I figured that he was steering wrong for about twenty minutes. Fortunately, we were doing one of those nice long Pacific crossings in the middle of nowhere with a nice envelope to surround us.

From that day on, I pretty much glanced at the heading every 5 minutes, I swear.

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