[from the stabenow.com vaults, 2007]
Everyone was supposed to be back on Munro by 8am the day we left and they were. “Thank you all very much for being here on time,” the XO said at quarters on the flight deck at 8:30am, and smiled, he and the Captain both portraits of happy men. Everyone behaved (within the meaning of the act), everyone had a good time, and the engineers found a restaurant that served up superb steaks that they ate at all three nights in port. People (unspecified) who missed out were jealous.
The final total on our port call, according to Suppo Tony Parker, was $312,560. That doesn’t include the hotel rooms some of our 147 crew members rented, the meals they bought at the local restaurants, the money they spent on souvenirs, gifts, jungle excursions, deep sea fishing, and giant pineapple drinks at the bar.
There are many reasons to make a port call. We need fuel. We need groceries. Crew fitness is greatly increased when they get a little down time. But I wonder if perhaps there isn’t something else at work here as well. “That’s a lot of money to be dropped on a small town in a third world nation,” I say to Tony. “Are we perhaps spreading some good will, maybe doing a little nation building while we’re at it?”
The answer is yes. Sometimes it’s even more overt than ship costs and what the crew spends at local businesses. Sometimes our crew will perform public service. “Usually at an orphanage,” the Captain says. “We’ll take food with us and have a picnic with the kids afterward.” Ops LT James Terrell was on board Mellon when it went into Puerto Vallarta, where an orphanage housed kids who picked trash out of the dump to support themselves. “We built them a wall and painted the interior, had a picnic, handed out soccer balls. We also cleaned out glass, wood, and nails from their play yard. We cleaned off the roof of the building, which used to be the top floor of the orphanage until it fell apart. We laid the groundwork for the roof to be rebuilt. The kids loved having someone to play with for the day and having their picture taken, they never get that kind of attention. For a lot of the crewmembers that participated it was the most rewarding part of the patrol.”
This time, because we got waved off our first port call and planning for this one was rushed, we didn’t have time to set anything up. I’m kinda sorry, because I think this crew would have fun with something like that.
We left the dock at 1000, LTJG John Holderman at the conn with Ops looking over his shoulder (“He doesn’t need much supervision at this point,” Jimmy says, “he’s pretty much got it down”). HSC Gene Mason appears on the foredeck, making sure he’s not going to have any customers down in sick bay. FS2 Lee Schob, easily identifiable in her white mess cook cap, is on the main deck on fender detail. ET3 Javed Mohammed is the starboard wing phone talker. LTJG Adrian Harris is the Nav Eval, Navigation Evaluation, keeping us from running aground. ET2 Chris Leach is on the throttles as lee helm.
The lines come off. A widening strip of water appears between us and the pier. Slowly, smoothly, we accelerate into the channel and slip between a sandy point and a forested cliff dotted with tiny tree houses into an opaque blue estuary that leads to the open ocean.
Once again, we are underway.