Tales from the high seas

During her half-century of service, the USS Kittiwake has seen everything from space debris to Cold War standoffs. As part of the sinking project, ex-crew of the vessel were invited to share their memories of their time on board.

Clifford Ridley served between 1984 and 1989, his first command after graduation from basic and A school.

“I arrived on a chilly November night. I can still recall the very first words spoken to me by the person standing Quarterdeck watch, ‘Who did you [annoy] to get stationed here?’. Being 19 I shrugged and said, ‘I choose this command.’

“I can close my eyes and still from stem to stern, seeing everything, smelling the engine rooms, galley, feeling her sway back and forth as we made our way to and from ports of call. I can remember wrestling matches in the crew’s rec room and galley, playing spades until wee hours in the morning, remember playing pranks and having pranks played on me…”

Mr. Ridley remembers salvage operations from the Challenger disaster, F-16 fighters and rescuing a Haitian boat, featuring the not-exactly pleasant smell of rotten shark. Happier times included Mr. Ridley’s son spending his first Christmas party aboard the vessel, although the sailor’s career was spent far and wide following his time on the Kittiwake.

“To know her was to love her, and yes I fell in love with her. I never got a chance to get back to see and thank her to let her know that I had made it and retired.

“Then an ole shipmate told me about her becoming a dive spot. At first I was upset as I knew I would never see her again. But then as I thought about it, it was if she was going home. The USS Kittiwake will always be first and foremost a dive ship. God bless the USS Kittiwake and those who served aboard her,” said Mr. Ridley.

Top secret

Jon Glatstein remembers a top-secret trip in the North Atlantic, which involved looking after underwater listening devices from various countries.

“I’ll just say that in order to know the ship’s position at any given time during that trip one was required to have top secret security clearance. I was a Signalman at the time and on the Kittiwake that meant I stood watch as Quartermaster – no, not the supply kind, the navigator kind – so I had to get a background investigation as well as a special background investigation in order to get my top secret clearance so I would be permitted to look at the charts in order to stand my watch.

“For many years I had friends and relatives tell me that they were interviewed by the FBI. They all wanted to know what I did this time,” said Mr. Glatstein.

Later, at Holy Loch Submarine Base, Dunoon, Scotland, Mr. Glatstein looked out in the morning to find some intriguing things happening.

“I couldn’t help but notice the several Marines gathered out on the main deck port side. Went into the head and looked out the porthole only to see a huge white curtain that went way, way up to where it was attached to a crane. Apparently they were loading strategic nuclear missiles into the submarine moored next to us. It was much bigger than any missile I have ever seen. Seemed more like a rocket ship to me. A bit shocking for that time of day,” he said.

After more North Atlantic secret missions – so secret that Mr. Glatstein still does not know what the NR-1 submarine was actually going under the ship – the Kittiwake once more crossed the Atlantic. Or, at least, she tried to, but Hurricane Gloria played them a merry dance.

“We would dodge left and so would Gloria. We would jog right and again, so would she. We ended up going right through the north side of her. About three quarters of the crew was seasick. The Corpsman ran out of Scopolamine patches and Compazine suppositories. I stood a 12-hour watch myself.

“For several of those hours we were making turns for 12 knots forward and were actually going 2 knots backwards over ground. Constant winds upwards of 65 mph with gusts into the hundreds. We would see green water and fish through the bridge windows as we dove into the next wave. The towing winch watch had to wear a safety harness and had to have someone tending them inside the skin of the ship. We lost a full sized oxyacetylene welding unit and some other gear off the deck. It was a rough transit,” he said, recalling the crew’s delight when they finally docked at Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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