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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Lake Michigan isn't Just a Lake


Our midshipman curriculum included two training cruises on Lake Michigan.  The first was enmasse by companies on a training ship, the USS WILLAMATTE.  (We Northwesterners found that they pronounced it wrong.  Instead of “Wil-lam-ett” it was pronounced “Wil-a-met”.)  We had gunnery practice from the WILLAMETTE using twenty millimeter cannons.

It was on the second cruise on Lake Michigan that old “Pappy” Frieze was embarrassed.  That cruise was y small groups on YP boats, small harbor patrol craft.  Since I was known as an old fleet sailor, when Lt. Bergen assigned stations for putting to sea, I was named acting ship’s captain.  We were to rotate responsibilities during the one-day cruise which would include practice at ship maneuvering in formation.  Six boats at a time went out.
Bergen ordered me to take the fleet to sea.  I took the bridge, ordered the lines cast off, engine half speed ahead, had signal flags hoisted for the other boats, and led the little flotilla out into Lake Michigan.
It turned out that Lake Michigan does not always act like it is a lake.  On this day Lake Michigan thought it was a full-fledged ocean.  The day was sunny but windy and surprisingly choppy.  The little 40-foot YPs rolled and pitched like destroyers in a heavy sea.
All went well while I had the bridge out in the open fresh air.  Using flag hoists, I led the flotilla through the required maneuvers then it was time to rotate watch stations.  My next watch was navigation officer.  The navigator’s chart table was in the deck house directly over an open hatch to the engine room through which fumes from the diesel engines wafted.
The air was close and stuffy in the chart room and those engine room fumes did it.  Bent over the chart table and holding on with one hand against the roll of the little ship, I gradually became aware that, after being all over the Pacific aboard PITTECANOE, COPAHEE, and the SEA WITCH, salty old Pappy Frieze was getting seasick for the first time in his life.  I plotted one of the two maneuvers, then had to heat for the fantail where I liberally fed the fish my breakfast.
I took a lot of ribbing later from my shipmates but I was not alone.  Three or four others joined me on the fantail, and the other boats had men in the same predicament.