Organic Matter: Ships roll with the punches

I have to wonder if sailors enjoy riding out a hurricane at sea on their ship as opposed to keeping the ship in port while they are home with their families taking whatever Mother Nature may dish out.

Having once served in the Navy and being single at the time, I had an opportunity to ride out a gale in the Pacific while cruising between Pearl Harbor and San Francisco.

My ship, the USS Observation Island, took rolls of roughly 45 degrees each way so sailors could briefly walk on the bulkheads as we plowed through the swells.

Fortunately, I had my "sea legs" and did not become seasick.

But it was a different story for new recruits, who spent considerable time in the "head" slumped over a toilet wondering if joining the Navy had been a good decision.

Being caught in a hurricane, with higher winds than found in a gale, is a horse of a different color.

Last week, an Associated Press story stated that it costs the Navy between $14 million and $17 million to send all of its ships moored at its base in Norfolk, Va.

to sea when a hurricane threatens.

That's considerably more than pocket change to the American taxpayers.

But it's still cheaper than keeping the ships tied up to a dock and rolling the dice, so to speak.

One ship might escape unscathed, while another could sustain serious hull damage from being repeatedly slammed into a pier.

In that case, the ship would have to be dry-docked for repairs that could take months and cost more than the price of sending it to sea before the storm struck.

A ship that is out to sea can run away from a storm, one Navy spokesman said.

But moving ships means expending fuel, which is not cheap by any means, and disrupting the lives of many sailors and their families.

For that reason, the Navy does not always order ships to put to sea when heavy weather threatens.

A decision on whether to go to sea or stay in port is made from all available weather information, some of which comes from the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The Navy has fleet weather centers for ships operating in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.

Those centers also maintain contact with the National Hurricane Center, participating in conference phone calls and sharing weather data.

Commanding officers of ships send a message to the fleet weather centers of the area in which they will sail, giving their intended route and speed.

In return, the weather center sends regular reports to those ships with details of what to expect along the ship's track.

While aboard the Observation Island, we received weather reports from the Fleet Weather Center in Hawaii when we sailed from Pearl Harbor.

As we headed west, the Fleet Weather Center in Guam took over forecasting for us.

The two centers kept us away from any heavy seas with their timely forecasts.

It's a valuable service of which the public may not be aware.

* * *

It is one of the sadder crime stories I have ever read on the Associated Press wire.

A teenager in Cleveland allegedly robbed Eugene Turner, 36, at gunpoint of $92.

Turner did not call the police after the incident.

Instead, he and a friend went looking for the 15-year-old mugger.

They found the youth and disarmed him of a .22-caliber pistol.

Turner considered beating up the youth in retaliation, but threw away the gun and started to walk away, the friend later told police.

The boy picked up the handgun, loaded it and allegedly shot Turner in the back.

Turner went from being a mugging victim to a homicide victim.

The youth was arrested, but no charges were immediately filed.

It was a senseless tragedy.

What could Turner have been thinking?

Did he not trust the police to investigate and eventually make an arrest, perhaps due to some previous bad experience with the police?

Had he seen too many movies in the "Death Wish" series and decided to play Charles Bronson?

If Turner had lashed out at the young mugger as the crime was committed, what happened would have been easier to understand.

But he had time to consider the incident after it was over, his planned response and its ramifications.

Had Turner and his friend beaten up the teenager, they would have been the ones arrested.

The police would have no problem showing pre-meditation in charging Turner and his friend with aggravated battery or some other crime.

Whatever the reason for Turner's actions, may this incident serve as a wake-up call to anyone intent on exacting a vigilante type of justice after he, she or a loved one becomes a crime victim.

Terry Organ is the Miner's education, health and weather reporter.