Ask Jack? Why is it called Port and Starboard?

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It’s that time again, loyal fans! It’s time for me to open up my email and to read your many questions.

Billy from Sandusky, asks: Why don’t Navy guys get eaten by sharks more often? Because Sailors are on ships and the sharks don’t have proper I.D.

Maggie from San Diego asks: I’ve heard of people getting out of going to prison by joining the Navy. Is it possible to get out of the Navy by going to prison? Wow, I know the Navy can be rough at times, but is it really that bad for you? To answer your question. Yes, that is an option. See your master-at-arms for more details.

Randall from Houseton, TX (yes, “Houseton”) asks: Is it true that ships float because they’re bouncy? That’s what my science teacher told me, but I can’t believe a big metal ship would bounce. To tell you the truth, Randall, ships can be very bouncy in rough seas. I don’t think that’s why they float (although there were times I thought it might make them sink). Just a shot in the dark, but your teacher may have said that ships float because of buoyancy. See your local Army recruiter for more information.

After these fantastic questions, which caused only slight despair for the future of this country, I got this one from Reggie from Riverdale (please let that be his real name and city). He asks: Why does the Navy use “port” and “starboard” instead of “right” and “left?”

This is a great question (if only by comparison). There are a number of reasons for this one. First of all, nothing in the Navy is the same as it is in the rest of the world. Bathrooms, water fountains, mops, buckets, floors, etc. all have there own special names when on the ship. It’s part of naval culture. Like barfights in Singapore. If we just called it right and left how would that be special? You might as well be in the Army. And you don’t want to be in the Army do you Reggie? Do you?

Also, keep in mind, left and right can be confusing. Have you ever given directions to someone driving?

You: “Turn left at the light.”

Driver: “Left?”

You: “Right.”

Driver: “Right?”

You: “No left!”

Driver: “Left?”

You: “Right, left”

Driver: “Right then left?”

You: “No dammit! Turn left at the #*&$*&% light.

Driver: “Which light?

You: “The light your passing right now, moron!”

Driver: “Why are being so hostile?”

You: “Because you’re an idiot who can’t follow simple directions.”

Driver: “If you could give simple directions, it would be easier to follow them.”

You: “What is so %&$@ing hard about ‘turn right at the light?’”

Driver: “I thought you said ‘left?’”

You: “So now you heard ‘left?’ What the #@** is wrong with you?”

Driver: “You are just like your mother!”

You: “I want a divorce.”

See how confusing that can be? Historians now believe this is the how Christopher Columbus set out for India and ended up in America. Now let’s try that scenario again using port and starboard instead.

You: “Turn port at the light.”

Driver: “What the #@** is port?”

You: “I want a divorce.”

See how more efficient that was? This is why the U.S. Navy dominates the seas.

Strictly speaking port and starboard are not simply directions. They are locations in relation to the ship as a whole. Port is the left side of the ship when facing forward. Starboard is the right side of the ship when facing forward. Think of it like a car, where we have a driver side and a passenger side. Port is driver side and starboard is passenger side.

Little known fact: Early mariners actually used the terms “driver side” and “passenger side” prior to the invention of port and starboard. However it was cumbersome for lookouts to make reports, “I have an unknown contact off the passenger side bow moving passenger to driver.” Additionally, since this was before the invention of the automobile, nobody had a clue what anyone was talking about.

There is no exact consensus on why the terms port and starboard were chosen. Many believe that the port side was tied to the pier when they named the sides, and the only thing they could see on the other side was the stars. Also for some reason, the British started calling the port side “larboard” for a while. I’m being serious. Apparently, because “left” and “right” were too likely to cause confusion, they opted for two words that sounded virtually identical. I can’t imagine any situation where this could cause a problem.

So as you can see, Reggie, port and starboard have a long and important history, not just to the U.S. Navy, but to the entire maritime world.

If you have a question and you’d like me to pretend to give an honest answer click this link. I will be sure to give you a thorough answer just as soon as I get around to it.

 

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Retirement Speech: My shipmates’ last opportunity to listen to me ramble

THANK YOU NOTE: I would like to thank all my readers who have shared links to my blog. I would especially like to thank the blog: Tales of an Asia Sailor for reposting my last article. If you haven’t been there, go check it out. It’s a great site with some great stories. Additionally if you enjoy anything you read on my site please share it… even if you don’t like it you can still share it, I have no problem with that.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Several months ago I retired from active duty. The speech I gave at the ceremony was well received and there have been numerous requests for me to post a copy. I was initially hesitant to do so. There’s a part of me that thinks a speech is one of those “one and done” kind of things. However after reflecting on it a bit I realized that if I posted it, I wouldn’t have to write something new this week, and thus I was convinced. Here you go, “A Sailor’s Last Speech”:

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In my experience, it’s only a real Naval Ceremony if there’s at least one significant screw up. So don’t worry about making mistakes. It would be a shame to ruin a tradition.

According to Jerry Seinfeld, public speaking is the number one fear of the average person, death is the second. This means that if you are at a funeral you would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy. (This is the first of many lines I will steal or plagiarize during this speech).

This is true for me. I am not a fan of public speaking. As a result you will most likely reap the benefits of a short speech.

A disclaimer is due here. I am, as I am often reminded, the oldest member of this crew. As such I have a very dated sense of humor filled with 80’s and 90’s references. Some of my millennial shipmates might not get all my jokes. So if you hear something that sounds like it might be a joke, just go ahead and laugh. It will make me feel better, and make those of us Gen Xers feel slightly less old.

Well let’s start this off with the obligatory long list of “Thank Yous” during which I will inevitably forget to mention someone, and will then hold a grudge for the rest of our lives.

I must first give thanks to Almighty God, for the many gifts He has given me: my health, family, and this great nation… Nothing happens without permission of divine providence and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve our nation in the United States Navy. It is only with His blessing that I have been able to have a successful career.

To my beautiful wife Allana; thank you for saying yes to a proposal that not only would have you putting up with someone as insufferable as myself, but also would drag you across the county several times where your husband would spend well over half the time on the ship. Thank you for joining me on this crazy adventure. With my retirement you have my word that I will devote every ounce of effort to come up with believable excuses for why I’m still not helping out at home.

To my 3 (almost 4) children. Thank you for being my anchor to adulthood. They say you never really grow up until you have kids of your own to worry about. After a 38 year childhood I have finally grown up thanks to you. I even have almost as many tools as video games now. I never knew heartache at getting underway until you came into my life. After 43 years on this planet you are my greatest success. My duty days are done now and I will devote more time to ensuring that success… even if it kills us.

To my parents. Thank you for being the best parents I could hope for. God sure knew what he was doing. The only way this lazy, hard headed, stubborn, temperamental kid would ever amount to anything, was in the house led by your example. Your values, faith, devotion, motivation, and patriotism formed me into the man I am today (yes, that’s right, you have to accept some of the blame). Every success I have had is the result of following your example and, fittingly, every failure I owe to neglecting that same example. And, Mom, I’d like to point out that I followed your advice for my entire career and never fell off the ship.

To my sisters Katie and Mary. I know we spent years fighting as we moved around the country following Dad’s Naval career. But I guess that’s one of the things that leads to a strong family. You’ve been there every step of the way. My boot camp graduation, my pinning as a Chief Petty Officer. Thank you for being here. Katie, when you were initiated as a Chief, I guess you became my double sister. Just remember, that as I retire today, I still outrank you… for now. I’m sure soon enough you’ll surpass me.

To CDR Kevin Barnes. Thank you for making the trip out here and agreeing to lie by saying nice things about me. Who would have thought that young uptight ensign and this obnoxious 3rd class back on the OSCAR AUSTIN would be wearing scrambled eggs and anchors today?

To Father Mahowald. Thank you for your prayers here today and your vocation. You and your brother priests are an inspiration to be emulated to all the faithful. We owe you a great debt for answering the Lords call of service. While it’s possible that my service may have saved some lives. It is certain that yours has saved souls.

To Jade Kennard and Rob Landeros. Thank you for helping me coordinate this event. It has far surpassed my expectations. You have had to had to do the impossible, put up with me and my random ideas.

Stu Hooper, thank you for agreeing to MC this event and as a result have to talk almost as much as me.

To all participants in this ceremony. Thank you for taking your valuable time to making my day. And thank you to our shipmates who are standing the watch and can’t be here with us.

Thank you to the Air det guys for moving all their gear in and out of the hangar several times to make space for us.

To our Command Master Chief Pat McCormick. I have been a thorn in your side since you got here. But hey, that’s just my job: the devil’s advocate, the voice of dissent, the smart-aleck, and generally, just a pain the neck. You have been a great mentor… which is even more impressive since I am not really a cooperative protégé. When I had started to lose faith you smacked me upside the head as a true Chief would and told me to quit whining and anchor up. I’m not sure if I ever truly stopped whining but I did try. Thank you. You are a true brother, and I am proud to have served with you.

To all my brothers and sisters in the Chiefs’ Mess. Thank you for all you do and will continue to do long after I have left this stage. Blood is thicker than water, but not many bonds are stronger than the bond forged in the US Navy Chiefs’ Mess. The greatest fraternity I never knew I wanted to be a part of. Here’s a little secret: as a young… younger Sailor I never liked Chiefs. Those arrogant old goats who thought they knew better just because they wore those anchors. Sure I wanted to make Chief, but I didn’t want to be one of them. Then I was selected for Chief. I didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid. I chugged the whole pitcher. I am a true believer. There is no organization I would rather be accepted in than the United States Navy Chief Petty Officer Mess. Y’all have had my back since day one. You have trusted me and always kept me straight; sometimes with advice, sometimes with a kick in the pants. Thank you.

To our Captain. Thank you for granting permission for this ceremony today. It’s a extremely busy week for the OMAHA and I know this cuts into the ship’s schedule. Thank you for being here today sir, and for your kind words. We’ve only served together for a short time, but it’s been an honor.

To my fellow Quartermasters. Only a QM can understand another QM. Life lived on the bridge among the officers but firmly entrenched in the enlisted ranks. At sea everyone seems to want to talk to us, so they can find out where the ship is (as if that location would make the slightest difference in their daily existence… “do you have a date or something?”) On the other hand in port, no one seems to care about us (which is ok since we like to leave at before lunch.) Thank you for all the support you have given me over the years, especially helping this old man figure out how to use VMS… I’ve almost got it figured out. It’s long been said “trust your keel to those who wear the wheel.” I’m proud to have served among you. Keep those ships off the rocks!

To the crew of the USS Jackson / USS Omaha. Thank you for an outstanding tour of duty to close out my career. There are so many of you that I have gotten to know but I just don’t have time to mention you all by name. I will miss this crew most of all.
And finally to everyone else I’m forgetting, the old shipmates, friends and family that have been with me along the way. Don’t feel slighted. I’ve got to wrap this “thank you” thing up or we’ll never get to have any cake. Thank you all for everything.

Well that just about does it for the thank yous. I’m sure I left someone out and I apologize for that.

There comes a point in every Sailor’s career when he knows it’s time to retire. This is different for every Sailor. For example, the average Warrant Officer experiences it just as his coffin is being lowered into the ground. For me it was about 15 minutes after I got off the bus at boot camp. Fortunately the Navy doesn’t have a 15 minute retirement policy, otherwise I would have missed out on the most amazing years of my life.

Most of you know that I am a Navy brat. My father was career Navy as was his father. I grew up traveling around the country from one duty station to the next. If you had asked me what I wanted to do with my life my answer was always “I’m going to join the Navy.” What I planned do in the Navy was never the same. During the 80’s I was going to fly F-14s like Maverick (who is apparently and inexplicably still in the Navy himself). Later I decided I was going to be a SEAL.

Well you know the old saying “if you want to make God laugh tell him your plans.” It seems that my calling was in the Surface Navy. The real Navy. The only part without some sort of adjective. The toughest group of Sailors in the Navy. Sure people will claim that Pilots, SEALs, EOD, or Submariners (that’s for you IT1) are tougher, but just send one of those SEALs to serve 5 years on a destroyer…

SEALs have an unlimited budget. Our budget is very limited. SEALs have a saying: “The only easy day was yesterday.” Huh, how about that? SEALs have easy days. In the surface fleet, yesterday was hard too.

Air dales, those guys can’t do anything without 8 hours of sleep. My last deployment that was how much I got weekly.

EOD… sure their job is dangerous, but if they screw it up just once they don’t have to worry about anything again.

And of course, those sub guys… yeah we’re not gonna go there… It’s too easy.

When the United States Navy was founded on October 13, 1775 there wasn’t any of that. John Paul Jones, David Farragut, George Dewey, Daniel Stevens, Osmund Ingram, Peter Tomich, Dorie Miller… Surface Sailors built naval history and tradition. The Surface Navy is the real navy, I’m proud to have been part of it.

Even so, my Naval career had a particularly rocky start. You see, it turns out the Navy is a whole lot more glamourous from the outside than it is on the inside. Even as a Navy brat, all you really see is the sharp uniforms and ships. You don’t see the PMS checks. Painting the ship. Working parties (which is one of the least fun parties I’ve attended). The duty days, the underway watch rotations, the deployments that remind you of the movie Groundhog Day where the same day is replayed forever.

We have a saying: “A bitching Sailor is a happy Sailor,” and during my first enlistment, according to this definition, I was a very happy Sailor. So happy, in fact, that still today I run into people I served with on my first ship and they are very surprised that I stayed in. But I survived my first hitch and I discovered that I actually wasn’t too bad at this Navy thing. About the same time Al-Qaeda decided to fly a few planes into some of our buildings.

As the country was thrown into the war on terror I was finishing up my first enlistment just before the maiden deployment the OSCAR AUSTIN. Well there was no way I was gonna miss out on the war especially since we would probably be going after the people who devised the attack on our country.

So I reenlisted. The OSCAR AUSTIN deployed. We escorted dozens of military cargo ships through the Strait of Gibraltar, captured an Iraqi tug boat, launched 33 Tomahawk missiles into Iraq (you should have seen those Tomahawk FCs strutting around…) and I spent 2 months on liberty risk (but that’s a story for another day… well maybe if you meet me at the bar tonight…).

I spent 5 years on the OSCAR AUSTIN. I started out as the disgruntled Sailor who couldn’t wait to get out but when I left to go to shore duty I was thinking, maybe, just maybe there’s something to this Navy thing…. I mean, my father did it. My grandfather did it… Might as well keep the tradition going.

A lot of Sailors live their first enlistments to just get shore duty, but when you get there you’re in for a surprise. Shore duty is boring. The comradery, the sense of purpose, the urgency are all gone. I had gone from a 2nd class divisional LPO where the Captain regularly asked my opinion, to a 1st class with virtually no responsibility. I probably should have taken more college courses but instead I counted down the days until it got back to the fleet.

My next sea duty assignment was PC Crew ECHO. PCs are the smallest commissioned warships in the U.S. Navy. Only 179 feet long with only a 28 man crew. I like to think of the PCs as the pirate navy. Where regulations were more guidelines than actual rules. We were commissioned naval warships but our adherence to naval regulations was a bit loose. Here’s a story for you:

So there I was standing OOD (inport) on the bridge of the USS TEMPEST (PC-2) (inport watch on a PC is in the bridge… it’s a really small ship). The Captain came on the bridge and sat in his chair. (Just so you understand, the bridge on a PC is about the size of a walk-in closet.) The standard greetings commenced “Good afternoon sir.” “Good afternoon QM1.” On the aft bulkhead the 21MC sounded off, “Bridge, Main. Start #1 MPDE.” I turned to the Captain and requested permission to start #1 Main Engine. He granted it and I went to verify that the bridge was station in control and that the throttles were in neutral. I went back to the 21MC and replied, “Starting #1 MPDE, throttles are in neutral, bridge is station in control.” I walked over to the starboard side of the bridge (right in front of where the Captain was sitting) and pushed the green start button, the engine roared to life. I went back to the 21MC and reported “#1 MPDE started.” Cheng repeated, “#1 MPDE started aye.

It was at this point I noticed that the captain was looking at me the same way my father would have looked at me if I’d showed up to meet the Pope in a pair of pair of board shorts. Incredulously the Captain asked (and I’m sure you engineers can guess where he was going with this), “QM1, what did you just do?” This strikes me as odd since he not only saw me start the engine, he granted permission not more than a minute ago.

It occurred to me that since he was relatively new to the ship he might not be aware that PCs start all the engines from the bridge and not in main control. So simply replied (as respectfully as you can imagine), “I started #1 MPDE sir.”

Still looking aghast he asked, “In accordance with…?”

“In accordance with the green button on the console.”

Now trying to control rage and frustration he said, “EOSS?”

“Bless you sir.”

Okay I didn’t actually say that. I actually knew what EOSS is. It’s a red notebook that says EOSS on it and has something to do with engineering things, but seeing as I was a Quartermaster I still had no idea why wanted to talk to me about it. But since this was obviously important to him I went to the front of the Ship Control Console and grabbed the EOSS book. It was covered in a thick layer of dust. And not just normal dust. It was that sticky kind of dust you find on the top of your refrigerator. This book had not been used recently. Definitely not in the past year. In fact it was possible that it hadn’t been used in the life of the ship. I opened it up went to the page about starting engines where is said “Push the green button.” How about that ? I was EOSS compliant.

It was with ECHO that I was selected and initiated as a Chief Petty Officer. I won’t go into the details. My fellow Chiefs already know about it, and if you haven’t experienced it no explanation will do it justice. Let’s just say I didn’t die in the process.

I won’t bore you with all the other details of my career path. If you are curious feel free to read my bio in the program… it’s a good treatment for insomnia.

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If there is one thing I love to do is give unsolicited advice. So I’m going to give you a list of wisdom and aphorisms I have picked up, plagiarized, and in a few rare cases, actually come up with on my own along the way.

-There are only two great ships in the Navy: Your last one, and your next one.

-The BMR says the backbone of the ship the keel. But the actual backbone of the ship is her crew.

-Once a Chief, always a Chief… unless you are expelled from the Mess for the unforgivable crime of becoming an officer. But that’s ok, my father is an officer and look what he accomplished: he raised 2 Chiefs.

-Duty is the sublimest word in the English language. You should do your duty in all things. You can never do more, and never wish to do less.

-There is only one test or inspection that really counts: Real Life.

-The definition of tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell and have them look forward to the trip.

-The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

-Sailors belong on ships, ships belong at sea, land is a hazard to Navigation… but we all know we kinda want to be where we don’t belong.

-Never judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you judge them you’re a mile away and have their shoes.

-Place your family before your job. The Navy was here before you, and it will do just fine when you leave… your family will always be with you.

-Never attribute to malice that which can be ascribed to sheer stupidity.

-The definition of a calculated risk is a gamble which military men take when they can’t figure out what else to do and which turns out to be right. When it turns out wrong, it wasn’t a calculated risk at all. It was a piece of utter stupidity.

-If you want something now really bad, you will get it now and it will be really bad.

-The reason the US Navy performs so well in war is that war is chaos, and the US Navy practices chaos on a regular basis.

-Nothing worthwhile is easy.

-Don’t be full of yourself. If your people will follow you anywhere, it’s probably out of curiosity.

-There is no such thing as a born leader. There are born jerks who like to be in charge, but that doesn’t make you a leader. Whether you are shy introvert, a head strong extrovert, at Type A, a Type B, or just a born jerk that likes to be in charge, being a leader means taking charge in spite of your personal characteristics. This is never easy. Being a leader is NEVER EASY. It is a constant fight against your selfish nature to focus on your people and the mission first.

This is the last day I will wear the uniform, so I will no longer wear the anchors I have worn for the past 8 years. Since I will no longer wear them, I need to pass them on to someone who will hopefully soon be able to give them new life. Since I am the only Quartermaster aboard I have looked to the ET/IT division as my surrogate division. They work up on the bridge (yeah, weird huh? That’s a first for me). And, while terribly understaffed, they work tirelessly and exceptionally to keep this ships networks and endless electronic gizmos functioning.

IT1 Dwyer: Front and Center. You may be a submariner at heart, and I have no idea what all that computer stuff you talk about means, but you’ve got drive and heart that motivates me. I hope to see you in Khakis soon, and maybe, just maybe these anchors have a little luck left in them.

But you know, I wear the same kind of anchors on my whites, so I guess I have to pass on that set too.

ET1 Thao: Front and Center. You are never without a smile and positive attitude even when you are stringing together an impressive outburst of profanity at the frustrations that come with being an electronics technician aboard an LCS. I’ve enjoyed our many conversations on the smoke deck. I hope these anchors can bring some luck your way.

Finally I’d like to close with a quote from one of greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, in one of his most famous speeches: “Be excellent to each other, and… party on dudes!”

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