There is no question that shiphandling is the most fascinating part of a seaman’s existence. At the time I was ordered to the Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet, I had already served for some years in cruisers, battleships, and destroyers, and in fact, enjoyed more than a modest reputation as a shiphandler. However, all of the ships in which I had gained this experience had two propellers! It was therefore with some trepidation that I viewed my prospective command, the U.S.S. New Kent, a single-screw Haskell type APA, then in mothballs.
It is surprising to the prospective APA captain after a few years ashore how cumbrous, bulky, and yet exceedingly fragile his new command appears at his first visit, especially when she is alongside a pier. His first survey from the bridge is no more reassuring; “blind spots” seem to grow to tremendous proportions. The invisible forecastle seems a thousand yards away. Cars whizzing down the road at the head of the Pier disappear under one bow and reappear on the opposite side. The ship seems to be an entirely different breed of cat from his Previous sleek, slim, twin-screwed combatant commands, and he feels acutely conscious of his lack experience in this strange type of ship. He has encountered many times, in his relatively long sea experience, large Merchant ships clearing their docks clustered with tugs and flying a pilot’s flag. He realizes that it is quite normal for the master of a large passenger liner on a scheduled run to expect the maximum of safety and convenience in the reception and handling of his command in the deepwater berths of the harbors from which he continually operates. But he knows full well that his APA will operate on a schedule that takes her not only to the deepwater commercial ports where such facilities are available, but also, and quite often, to the most unpopulated areas the amphibious command can locate.
My friends (none of whom had ever commanded a single-screw ship) were prolific with well meant advice. They assured me that “it was all too simple”; that “there were always plenty of tugs and pilots”; and that “all I had to do was to go slowly and take it easy.” “Just keep everything under control,” they said.
I turned to my “reference” library, a fairly recent copy of Knight’s Seamanship, but it was of little consolation. It seems that the naval officers who revise this publication over the years had forgotten the large influx of single-screwed vessels into the amphibious forces during the war, and had made little effort to set forth the peculiar requirements of the APA, AKA, or even the AGC as to seamanship. The copy I owned had only a few paragraphs on single-screw maneuvers. I decided that the advice that I had received from my friends was not too bad, but how, for example, in a narrow channel with a cross-wind, did one “go slowly, take it easy,” and still, “keep everything under control”?
What about the use of the anchors? I had seen merchant ships moving around small ports with an anchor down. I pored through Knight’s again, there was lots of information on battleship forecastle layouts, tables of stress and strain, how to use the mooring swivel, how to carry anchors out in ships’ boats, and in italics for emphasis, a very stern warning to “never strain your chain or the goblins’ll git you” or words to that effect. As to any information on “keeping everything under control” in a single-screw ship there was little more than a kindly recognition of their importance and a remark that “space does not allow a description. . . .”
It was all intensely interesting. I had to learn rapidly not only all the mechanics of safe and rapid cargo handling and stowage plus the pertinent aspects of amphibious doctrine; but the multitudinous characteristics of my own strange command and how best to utilize them. Some things I discovered were startling. After reading in several other Haskell type APA Ship’s Organization Books the method of mooring ship with a swivel (which information, one could readily see, came word for word from Knight’s Seamanship) I found by inspection of our hawsepipes (which were standard size for the class) that even if we had a swivel on the allowance list (which we didn’t) the mooring swivel would never fit through the hawse! The information that I needed boiled down to the following:
a. The common merchant-ship method of using the off-shore anchor in berthing.
b. The use of the anchor in navigating through a crowded anchorage under adverse conditions of wind or tide.
c. The uses of the anchor in narrow channels to avoid collision, to lie to, or to navigate a sharp bend.
According to Knight the principal use of the anchor was to make the ship fast to the ground, and one had to be mighty careful how he even did that. I had some basis for believing Knight over-emphasized the vulnerability of the anchor chain. During World War II I had seen large transports at anchor avoid a kamikaze by surging ahead full speed with hard-over rudder. Nevertheless, Knight’s was not theory. It had become firmly established as the bible of seamanship and represented years of experience of combatant type seamen. Wherein was the mean? Within what limits, and exactly how, could one safely employ those two great hulking anchors when there were not “plenty of tugs and pilots”?
I realized of course, that my command would eventually be equipped with an assortment of powerful landing craft which could supplement, or in emergency substitute for, tugboats. But I was in Orange, Texas, with a voyage to Norfolk ahead of me. I had no practical knowledge of how most effectively to employ my boats on such a large hull, and further, the few boats provided were unusable either because of dry rot or lack of facilities to test the boat slings.
In the course of a short year in command I found out many things; some from observation; some from interviews with pilots afloat and ashore; and not a few interesting and vital tidbits from the so-called “hard school.”
It was during the pre-commissioning period in Orange that I first heard the anchor called the “Poor Man’s Tugboat.” I was informed that it was widely (but mysteriously) employed by the masters of tramp steamers in their world-wide peregrinations in order to save on tugboat bills. I was filled with a curiosity based not on an idle whim to save tugboat fees, but rather to know exactly what to do and how to do it safely, especially in the face of Admiral Knight’s inexorable “never strain the chain.”
My progress in this direction was simple and surprising. During the trial we attempted, as a drill, to anchor on a pinpoint. On the final approach our gyro jumped, and we missed our anchorage by about 150 yards. The depth of water was seven fathoms. After we rode to the anchor, I heaved in to twenty fathoms, set the stopper, and went ahead at four knots and full rudder to try and drag the anchor into position. The ship took up the proper heading but moved not an inch. It took seven knots to start us moving slowly ahead. The ship steered beautifully and so without shifting colors or lowering the anchor-ball, we dragged the anchor into its exact position. This practice, which I used many times thereafter, both from necessity and for practice, simplified the anchoring problem tremendously.
I next tried riding the chain on various headings to create a lee in order to lower a boat or to pick up passengers or discharge cargo in rough weather. It was at this time I learned the vital necessity of never moving ahead on the anchor until it was definitely known to the conning officer that the chain led aft on the same side as the hawsepipe from which the anchor was dropped. If the chain was across the stem it would be almost impossible to attain or maintain the correct heading. The ship simply “froze” a heading, and if power was applied, dragged the anchor.
Next on the orders of the Port Director, I was required to shift “immediately” from the very crowded North HOW anchorage in Norfolk to a more open space off Old Point Comfort. The tide was ebbing at about one knot, there was little wind, but I had to turn 180 degrees to clear the congested area. To further complicate the problem, I had only one section aboard, and my navigator was ashore. By heaving on the chain until the anchor broke ground and then veering the chain to 25 fathoms and setting the stopper, I was prepared to move. I cast to starboard (the starboard anchor was out) at four knots engine speed and worked clear and to my new position at eight knots engine speed, threading my way through the anchorage area quite handily and with “everything under control.” Frankly, I felt like Edison after he discovered the electric light. The whole thing began to boil down to that motto allegedly displayed in the Bell Laboratories—“This problem when solved will seem simple!”
Obviously when no services are available the captain must prepare himself to enter a strange and often difficult harbor relying on his own resources and initiative in handling and securing his ship. Perhaps the worst, and not the least infrequent situation the APA captain may find himself in, is after he has closed the confines of a strange harbor past the point where an unassisted turn-around is impossible and the promised tug or tugs have not arrived. This situation becomes increasingly embarrassing as one approaches his assigned berth still without tugs, to find it fouled by a “tramp” lighter who, unknown to the harbor authorities, had been dropped off there during the storm of the night before. Meanwhile if the wind increases to force five and it begins to snow heavily, the captain has every right to feel perturbed. None of the foregoing is an attempt at humor, it happened to me in Baltimore harbor during my visit to the city pier for the Christmas holidays. The only recourse was to anchor and hold my heading with ship’s boats until the tugs arrived and the lighter could be shifted. When we did make the 90 degree turn and proceed across the wind into our berth under the conn of a most experienced pilot and with the assistance of three tugs, we moved in dragging the anchor. It was my first experience with a master pilot who really knew how to use the anchor, and needless to say I made the most of his short stay on board.
There are a few cardinal rules that fit all types of APA maneuvers in all weathers. These can be briefly summarized as follows:
a. Never attain too much way on an APA in confined waters. Do not hesitate to use all the engine speed necessary to meet the situation, but measure the limits of safety in regard to speed essentially in terms of the actual ship's speed over the ground.
b. Be aware that in very shallow water no reliance whatsoever can be placed in any hope of attaining normal screw effects. Repeated attempts in the same spot may produce completely opposite results from the previous trial.
c. Know in advance precisely what you expect to do. Then if through the vagaries of wind, tide, currents, or the bottoming effect of very shallow water, the ship reacts differently and the reaction can be employed, take advantage of the situation, and use it instead of stopping and attempting to fight it.
d. Make all approaches as wide as possible to simplify the final approach.
e. If there is a choice between a safe way and a quick way, don’t lose time and possibly involve unnecessary “paperwork” by hurrying. Speed may be a requisite to an emergency, but don’t create your own emergencies.
In many ports because of traffic, weather, or tidal conditions, tugboat operations are so specialized that the ship is virtually in control of the tugs and the main engines are used only to check or gain way or to assist in a swing. This type of tugcraft is beyond the scope of this article and must be considered an art in itself. In the more open harbors where tugs are employed merely to assist a ship to make a tighter turn, to hold it off the dock in the face of wind or tide, to pull or push the ship in to her berth, or to hold her in position while she is being moored bow-and-stern are instances where the “Poor Man’s Tugboat” finds emergency employment. It must be stressed that the writer is proposing only substitute measures. If professional tug service is available, it should always be employed. The serious consequences of an error while working a large ship in confined water permits very few “second tries.” There is no eraser on the pencil of seamanship.
While employment of the ship’s anchors is the thesis of this article, it is felt that a few paragraphs on that other readily available “Poor Man’s Tugboat”—the APA Landing Craft carried aboard, will not be amiss.
The LCM is the most powerful craft available. Although equal in horsepower to the average harbor tug, it lacks the thrust of the big tug propeller. The LCM twin-screws and rudders are, however, a great asset in maintaining the boat’s placement without the use of lines. Moreover, they do not develop the “wheel water” of the tug that when used on the bow and in very shallow water may cause a large ship to run “wild.” The LCVP has half the horsepower of the LCM, but in an emergency four or more of this type may be launched in the time required by the ponderous LCM. Both types are most effectively employed as “pushers.” They may be used to shove the bow around, to push the ship bodily in or out of her berth, or to hold her in position while she is being secured. For this type of work these craft need no lines attached to the ship.
Landing craft employed as tugs must, because of their ramps, always push at right angles to the skin of the ship at the point of contact. Therefore they can be best and most safely employed in combinations or singly, amidships and around the stem, if the main engines are to be used to assist the maneuver. Because of the after run-in of the hull there is no suitable area for safe pushing far enough aft of the center of gravity to attain any substantial turning moment. If the boats move aft into the after run-in of the hull, they become endangered by the ship’s propeller.
In handling the APA with boats or tugs, the maneuver may be greatly expedited by using the main engines. But certain phenomena are peculiar to such use of landing craft. For example, a landing craft attains an excellent turning moment by pushing on the stem but because of the angle it must assume due to its flat bow, it also pushes the APA astern. By employing enough main engine power (about four knots) from time to time, just sufficient to keep a very slight forward movement of about ½ knot, and by using full rudder, the APA may be turned rapidly and handily with little or no lateral movement.
Rules for handling the APA with ship’s boats may be summarized briefly:
a. Use main-engine power as desired, but keep the ship’s speed-over-the-ground low.
b. Anticipate your corrective measures, and err on the safe side until experience is gained.
c. In turning seek to attain the greatest turning-moment by placing your boats as far forward as possible.
d. To hold the ship across the wind, or to move her bodily sideways, space the landing craft closely and evenly against the center of gravity (just about abreast of the stack). If they are employed unevenly forward or aft of this point, that end will develop a surprisingly strong swing and the other end will remain practically stationary.
e. Use of two LCM’s is of great assistance in effecting a Mediterranean Moor. Especially in a light cross wind and in the absence of tugs.
It cannot be too strongly emphasized that these instances are for employment by the single-screw tyro only in favorable weather and in the absence of supplementary tugs. Where tugs are not immediately available and the weather is adverse, the projected maneuver should definitely be held in abeyance until tugs become available or until there is a change in the weather. This holds true, even if it means anchoring off the port, unless a very serious emergency justifies the risk.
When the ship arrives alone at a port for a short stay, and the choice of berth is left to the captain, as it often is where tug services are unavailable, he will know the duration of his stay. He may then anticipate the weather and tidal conditions that will prevail at his time of departure and choose his berth with the view of making the best use of these factors sailing time. The advantages of a simple unberthing and a quick departure are obvious. This is particularly true in the hurricane season and in foreign, or even in domestic ports, where the efficiency of the local firefighting facilities are limited.
Whatever form of berthing is employed, the ship will be required to operate in confined possibly shallow water with no tug assistance until she closes her berth, or Possibly none even then. The APA hull operating in very shallow water, and especially in the vicinity of solid docks, moles, or breakwaters, will, at times, take sudden embarrassing rank sheers, even when moving very slowly. By dropping the offside-to-berth anchor out to from twenty to sixty fathoms of chain, depending upon the depth and type bottom, the APA may be moved along under full control with her main engines and turned with her rudder almost like a door on a hinge. The basic principle is to drag the anchor to a scope of chain sufficient to stop the ship at four knots engine speed and also to permit her to move ahead dragging the anchor over the bottom at a speed-over-the-ground proportionate to the amount the engine speed is increased over four knots.
This is the basic employment of the “Poorman’s Tugboat.” In making a dock the ship is first stopped or slowed some distance away and the anchor walked out to about thirty fathoms at the water’s edge. The stopper is then secured and the windlass disconnected. For emergency use, the anchor is dropped, the chain is run out to the desired scope, the brake is set tightly, and the stopper applied before any great strain hits the chain. Under normal conditions for the APA in normal draft, four knots engine-speed and the necessary rudder will place the ship on a steady heading with zero speed-over-the-ground. An increase of engine-speed to eight knots will result in about two knots forward speed-over-the-ground, and by slowing the engine-speed again to four knots the ship will stop dead in about 100 feet. Meanwhile, the ship holds her desired heading. In this connection, care is required not to stop the engines completely, since their use is essential to maintain a given heading during the approach. This positive control enables the ship to be worked in to a pier under adverse conditions and also provides an off-shore anchor which may prove of great assistance when clearing the berth. When working in to a dock with an onshore wind of any appreciable strength, great skill is required to slack the chain when off the dock at exactly the right moment. If the chain is allowed to run too soon, the bow will fall-off and strike the pier; if too late, the bow will be snubbed and the stern may slam in violently enough to cause damage. Usually any damage to the stern is serious and costly.
Employment of the anchor in maneuvering is naturally precluded in the presence of cables, wrecks, or fouled ground, except under the gravest justification.
Just as the anchor assists the captain in working his ship to a pier, it may prove of tremendous value to the APA captain who has to slow in a temporarily blocked channel in order to avoid collision with his next-ahead. This is an extremely awkward predicament in which to be. If the overtaking single-screwed vessel backs to check her way, she swings to starboard and out of the channel into whatever hazard may await her. If her way is not checked, she is in collision. If the event arises so quickly that there is no alternative, of course, it is best (and least expensive) to put your bow into the softest thing available—if it is mud, so much the better. However, the average APA captain does not “crowd” his next-ahead, and he should have time to stop his engines, drop his “Poor Man’s Tugboat” and drag it at whatever scope his brakes will hold, until his way is lost. In emergency both anchors may be so used. Once the captain has regained control of his ship, he may adjust the scope of chain to his preference and hold his heading with his engines. It is difficult to be dogmatic about collisions, but there is one cardinal rule that applies alike to the privileged ship and to the burdened ship once collision becomes inevitable: Keep your stern clear. There is seldom any choice when vessels get so close that they must collide; nevertheless, if there is any choice at this instant, this rule must prevail. There is a corollary to the foregoing rule, and that is: “If the ship is on soundings, before the bow strikes, both of those ‘Poor Man’s Tugboats’ should be on the bottom slowing your ship to reduce the force of impact.” This same secondary rule is true for a grounding.
In spite of the myriad combinations of wind, tide, harbor, and dock configurations, wrecks and shoals, that exist to belabor the mariner, only a few elementary examples of the use of the anchor will be presented.
The primary principle of these maneuvers is to keep the ship under control and consist of combined employment of main engines and anchor. If, during a swing in a confined space, an engine casualty occurs, the second anchor is always available to drop just underfoot. If an emergency arises and the ship’s way seems excessive for one anchor, use two. Pilots with much experience have informed me time-after-time that the dragging of two anchors has been extremely effective in reducing the force of a collision and has often prevented it altogether.
Wind is the governing factor in handling the high-sided APA. Currents, if they are known and are not too strong, can be used to advantage with no more consideration than a knowledge that for any finite period underway the ship will be set in a given direction an amount which varies with the strength of the current and the time involved. Wind too can be used to advantage, but it exercises a strong effect on the steering, and upsets the anticipated screw-effects in going astern.
The APA in normal load lying stationary in the water will seek a position with the wind between bow and beam. The APA is easily steered into the wind, and the wind offers a good brake in maneuvering, especially when coming to anchor. Running with the wind astern, the APA will “sail,” and gradually gather several knots headway in excess of the applied engine power. This additional speed will greatly stretch the normal “carry” and, if unrealized, may prove embarrassing. At low speeds, a quartering wind has little effect on the APA’s forward speed, but its presence will be evidenced by the noticeably increased leeway. In backing in a strong wind, the APA normally casts her stern directly up into the wind, and if the sternway is continued, the stern will “hunt” back and forth across the wind. This action is, however, almost entirely unpredictable. It may be dangerous, therefore, to count on a given reaction in a strong wind where backing in a given direction is required for the success of the maneuver. It is far better to be prepared to utilize the resultant reaction to your best advantage, than to stand or fall on an anticipated one which fails to occur.
To quote Gibbon, “Winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators,” and these phenomena of wind and tide if not too strong may nearly always be utilized by the alert captain. In a flat calm and in slack water judgment must be exact. In the presence of wind or current the captain always allows a margin of safety for error.
The process of docking a ship with the wind blowing directly on to the pier calls for extremely nice judgment and prompt decisive action. The vessel is brought in on the widest approach possible (fig. 1). (1) One or more landing craft may be used to assist in the turn. (2) Well off the dock, the ship is stopped and the off-shore, or rather off-pier anchor is veered to 30 fathoms at the water’s edge and the stopper applied. The main engines are now worked at four knots engine-speed and the ship set in at a very slight angle to the pier. (3) The landing craft are shifted to the leeward side, ready to push against the ship at the center of gravity (abreast the stack). The main engines are worked at eight knots engine-speed and the ship is brought in to an imaginary point about 100 feet off the dock. (4) The landing craft are ordered from between the pier and the ship, which is now riding to a taut chain at four knots engine-speed, dead in the water, and parallel to the pier-side. Slowing the ship from eight knots has allowed her to sag down-wind (although still parallel to the pier) to a point about 30 feet off the camel, and slightly aft of its final position. Lines no. 1, 2, and 3 have been made fast to the pier and are in hand. The windlass brake has been set tightly, and the stopper removed. On order, the chain is veered slowly. The engines are stopped. The critical task here is, to let the bow take a controlled swing in at the pier and allow the ship to gain a very slight forward movement. The inward swing of the bow is checked by the windlass brake. The swing of the stern toward the pier (which starts the moment the bow is snubbed and propeller wash is lost from the rudder) is controlled by checking the forward lines, and by an ahead kick of the engines. If this last important phase is improperly handled the stern may swing in violently with attendant damage.
If the wind is blowing directly off the pier, the approach is difficult but not dangerous, (fig. 2). (1) The approach is started as wide as possible. (2) The ship is stopped or slowed, the anchor veered to 30 fathoms at the water’s edge, and the stopper is set. (3) The engines are worked at four knots and eight knots engine-speed in order to bring the ship in on a taut chain until the ship is parallel to the dock. (4) Once off the pier the ship is worked at three or four knots as required to hold the ship stationary while the bow, stern, and midships breastlines have been made fast to the pier and led to their winches. It is very helpful at this point to have all available landing craft pushing against the center of gravity on the leeward side. The main engines may then be stopped, the lines doubled, and the ship secured.
These maneuvers call for the exercise of a definite amount of initiative and understanding by the Executive Officer, the First Lieutenant on the forecastle, his assistant midships, and by the Gunnery Officer aft. Much time spent in instructing the coxswains of landing craft to be used as tugs, and the telephone talkers at the key stations as to proper phraseology, and in giving diagrammatic sketch-talks to your officers, is the only assured means of attaining mutual understanding and coordinated action.
The principles presented here are not the answer to a short course in seamanship. It is indeed unfortunate that, in these days of quick turnover of command, the prime requirement for good shiphandling is experience. This article cannot substitute for experience. If the principles are understood, however, the problems ahead may seem less difficult.
Captain Woodman, a graduate of the Naval Academy in the Class of 1931, was ordered as Gunnery Officer in the U.S.S. O'Brien (DD-415) at the outbreak of the emergency in November, 1939, and later on Neutrality Patrol and North Atlantic Convoy duties. In 1942 he commanded the U.S.S. Benson (DD-421) in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and in 1944 the Thomas E. Fraser (DM-24) in the Pacific for the duration of hostilities.
In July, 1946, he attended the first post-war Senior Course at the Naval War College and served an additional year on the Staff of Admiral Spruance, then War College President. He was detached to attend the Joint Services Staff College in England, and served thereafter for three years on the Naval Staff of CINCNELM as Mine Warfare and Harbor Defense Plans Officer, with additional duties in the Joint Plans, and JAMAG Staffs. On his return to the United States he commanded the U.S.S. New Kent (APA-217) in the Amphibious Force, U. S. Atlantic Fleet. He currently has the Amphibious Types deck in the Fleet Maintenance Division of OpNav.