by David W. Asche
It was on our 1973-1974 WESPAC cruise that our ship, Hector, was out upon the wide open ocean. It was a beautiful day. Sunny, not a breath of wind. The sea was smooth as a piece of glass.
A rumor was making the rounds and I sat in disbelief that what I heard was either an outright LIE or a fact of what I thought to be someone's sick idea of a joke....
The Captain was going to stop the ship right out in the middle of nowhere and we were all going to get a chance to swim in the wide open ocean!
I tried to visualize just what that meant....A bunch of guys WILLING to splash around out in the wide open ocean on a nice day...Just for fun...With only ONE way back onto the ship...With a few Gunner's mates with rifles watching for sharks...After all, THEY liked to swim out in the open ocean, too.
I had read and learned from my dad about a lot of US Navy Sailors during WWII being out bobbing around in the ocean and the sharks seeing to it these guys didn't make it home again. If they weren't eaten outright, they came up missing parts...
A lot of guys were getting all excited about being able to do this thing. It sounded a bit interesting to me, too, but I did have my reservations about it.
Sharks have been a fascinating subject for mankind ever since the first man (or maybe a woman, sharks aren't picky!) was eaten and came up missing a few parts. Books have been written, movies were made and people are scared of them for some odd reason. Since this was only the '70's, the movie "JAWS" had not yet been made.
Some sharks grab you and clamp down and then shake and saw off a chunk, and that is how they bite. Others have teeth that are designed to just shear off a leg or arm just by passing by. It is such a clean severing that some people say they didn't even feel it.
Sharks can smell blood in the water over nine miles away.
I decided to go up on deck and see what was going on with this "Swim Call" idea and watch the ordeal, and POSSIBLY take part in it.
The ship was stopped. Several of our gunners mates had gathered on deck with M-1 Garands. The aft brow was lowered down to the water. All was ready...
The Captain had to be sure the ship was absolutely still. Wood chips were dropped on the water to be sure the ship had stopped all forward motion. It was stopped.
Now, there WAS a problem.
The Hector was rolling too much. The aft brow would rise up and down too far to be a safe and easy way for the men in the water to regain safe access to the ship. Time was allowed for the ship to stop rolling so much, but it didn't.
After an hour or so, word was passed to secure from swim call and get back under way and that was all of that nonsense...