Logo by: Pat Stephens, Webmaster, DESA






It was November 1957, as I recall, when the USS Whitehurst (DE 634) was relocated to Seattle as a U.S. Naval Reserve Training ship. I came aboard in a swap off the USS Edmonds (DE 406) shortly after the filming of “The Enemy Below” had been completed. I wanted to go to New Zealand and Australia, where I had been told that the ship was headed on its next tour, and the man I swapped with wanted to go to the Philippines with the Edmonds. Surprise, surprise, about 60 days before we were due to head south, we received orders to set our course for Seattle and that is where the tale begins.

As we got underway for Seattle, we steamed on one boiler at about 12 knots with calm sea and clear skies. We knew that we could not refuel and needed to conserve fuel for the lengthy voyage. The conditions could not have been better. The crew was very optimistic about our making good time. If I recall correctly, we steamed under these conditions for three or four days, but then we started to see a change in the weather. Some cirrus clouds could be seen high above us and the wind started to pick up.

Today I have no idea if it initially came from the north or south, I only know that the wind was getting stronger. Knowing now what I do about the weather, I know that the wind finally shifted and maybe at day five or six, it began hitting us strongly from the south.

Add a day. The wind was now howling and the waves were buffeting us. The ship would seem to shudder as her bow plunged beneath the waves and they covered her forward deck on the O1 level. After a few moments she’d finally regain her natural buoyancy and seemingly pop into the air shedding the additional weight of the water. She would rise so that if you were along side, you could have seen the sonar dome, which straddles the keel sixty feet back from the bow, out of the water. At that point she would drive her bow deeply beneath the surface once more, and the process would repeat itself. There were many times at this point when the waves would even fly over the top of the bridge on the 03.

I don’t recall when the wind shifted and started coming at us from the north, but I recall that the wind was fierce, driving the waves from the port side. One after another they would crash against her as she plowed ahead. You can tell that I’ve never been in a hurricane or a typhoon, but this storm was beyond anything I could comprehend. The wind was so strong that the ship‘s superstructure acted like a sail with the wind pushing against her. As such, along with trying to act more like a submarine than a surface vessel, she’d roll strongly to starboard, with the round bottom and only a small sonar dome to resist the rolling, twenty-five to forty-five degrees and come back to vertical. It was getting nasty!

Was it the ninth day? The storm persisted and seemed to become even more violent. One truly realizes that in a storm of this magnitude, even with 305 feet of length and 39 foot beam, it’s as though you are a very small cork on a giant sized ocean of unrelenting strength and power. Would we make it? And if we did go down, could we get help? Could anyone survive in thirty-nine degree water and thirty foot waves? Could you launch the motor whale boat or the life rafts? Would they help? Not a chance.

It was about 2345 (11:45 p.m. for you land lovers). I was awakened to stand my four hour watch. Because the stern of the ship was totally awash the aft lookout had been secured, but the helm had to be manned and both the port and starboard watch maintained. It was worse than miserable outside, but that’s where two of us needed to be while we were underway.

I had been on the starboard watch for about fifteen minutes when it happened. The storm had shown no mercy and the inclinometer showed us rolling just as wildly as before when suddenly a massive wave hit us and caused us to roll hard to starboard. Seventy-two degrees would have rolled us into Davy Jones Locker, but we rolled to sixty-nine degrees and lay there. One - two - three - four - five - six… the rumble and vibration of our thirteen foot diameter port screw turning in the air with no resistance could be felt. I watched as the motor whale boat, lashed outboard, became engulfed in water, almost causing it to disappear beneath the waves (in was brought inboard the next day)… seven - eight - nine… Would it ever end or was it over? Finally, perhaps even by the merciful hand of God, at the count of ten, the Whitehurst started to roll back to port. A cheer went up from the bridge. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Incredible!

I was eighteen when all this happened and very immature. I really didn’t start to “grow-up” until I was in my forties, but that’s another story. God had to do a lot of work on me. What I am about to share I am not proud of, but I can admit today and apologize for it as well. If you were involved in clean-up, I especially apologize. In my first four months of sea-duty on the Edmonds I was sea-sick every day we went to sea. But our family doctor prescribed some Dramamine as a way of helping me survive. I found that if I took two tablets a half hour before we were in open ocean, I didn’t get seasick. As such I was reasonably comfortable even in rough seas, and hadn’t been seasick for over a year, but this time I lost it. All over the starboard side. The next day I could hear the Bosun's Mate clamoring to know who had heaved? I heard him, but I didn’t fess-up. Again, sorry guys. Today, were that to happen again, I would have no choice but to turn-to and clean it up, admitting that I was the guilty party.

After my watch was over I hit the sack. I think that the storm lasted only a day longer and we continued on in rough seas until we finally spotted land and the Straights of Juan de Fuca. The storm was over and our destination attained, well, almost. We still had to get to our new duty station, Pier 91 in Seattle, and that was several hours away.

Do I recall correctly that we only had about seven percent of our fuel left when we arrived?

Richardson “Ric” Masten

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