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Sea Stories: 1MC Follies


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Sea Stories:  1MC Follies


The modern warship has numerous interior communications circuits allowing contact between various parts of the ship.  But the big daddy of them all is #1 Main Circuit, also known as the 1MC.  This is the general announcement system, like the PA system you remember from school.  It is used whenever word needs to be passed throughout the ship and over its topside areas.  It is primarily controlled from the Quarterdeck when in port, and the Bridge when at sea.  Whatever is said over it can be clearly heard for quite a distance. 

In a recent Sea Story: Quarterdeck Traditions, I described how a 1MC announcement is made when a senior officer comes aboard.  When all goes well, this is crisp, professional and exact.  But sailors being sailors, sometimes things go hilariously awry when a nervous or distracted man takes the mike.   Two of my most memorable 1MC mishaps are as follows.


One lovely Key West summer day, the PEGASUS-class Guided Missile Hydrofoil USS TAURUS (PHM-3) was in port. The quarterdeck on these small ships was a tiny section of a narrow side deck.   Now a ship’s bell is about the closest thing to a sacred object aboard her.  It is the physical symbol of the ship’s history and pride and is kept immaculately shined.  As our ship was small, so was the ship’s bell.  Ours was literally a chromed brass bell about the size of a large canteloupe; this style bell would also be used on a mid-sized yacht.  It was fitted into a dovetail mount on the bulkhead and could be removed and taken to the bridge where it lived in a matching mount for use underway.  So the bell was not permanently attached to the ship.

My Commanding Officer had gone ashore for a time.  Upon his return, the Officer of the Deck saw him approaching and made to perform the appropriate traditional announcement ceremony.  He grabbed the bell pull and keyed the 1MC mike.  I was sitting at my stateroom desk. 

What I should have heard was: “(ding ding)…TAURUS, arriving.”

What I (and everyone else in Key West harbor) actually heard was: “(ding clank bonk rumble rumble splash) AW  SH#@!”


We had to bring in a diver to retrieve the bell from the bottom of the harbor.  It took us a while to live that one down. 

7000 - Weems & Plath 7" Solid Brass Ship's Bell ...


One of my sister ships in Key West, FL was the USS AQUILA (PHM-4).  AQUILA was a fine ship, second-best in our squadron….ahem, ahem.  (For the record, one of my oldest and still dearest friends was her XO, but AFTER the time period described here.  He bears no responsibility for what happened….)

At the time, AQUILA was commanded by an officer of very short stature.  He, like many height-challenged men, had a bit of a Napoleon complex going, and he could be a screamer when things didn’t go his way.  Of course, his crew had a nickname for him, used out of his earshot: “BooBoo”, like Yogi Bear’s diminutive sidekick.  (He literally had difficulty seeing out over the bridge windows when docking, so he had a couple of short plywood platforms made to stand on during docking maneuvers.  These were known as the “BooBoo boxes” aboard that ship.)

One day at sea, AQUILA suffered a flooding casualty in the aftermost compartment of the ship.  Seawater coming into the space in large quantity shorted out the electricals and it was difficult to de-water the compartment, which was filled to the ship’s waterline and more.  She entered port with the ship significantly down by the stern and took care of the problem once pierside, but the fact that she had taken on so much water was extremely unusual and instantly visible.

The hydrofoils of PHM Squadron Two were supported by a shore-based activity called the Mobile Logistic Support Group (MLSG).  The MLSG did a good deal of the repairs and maintenance on board the ships, which had very small crews due to size constraints.  And sailors everywhere love to make fun of other sailors.  So of course, these sailors took great delight in ribbing the AQUILA’s crew about the deeply flooded compartment.  They began to refer to the ship as the “USS AQUARIUM”.  This moniker stuck for a while.

Now when in port, the hydrofoils had a single enlisted man stand watch as Officer of the Deck.  And once an hour, he would be temporarily relieved on the quarterdeck by a junior sailor of the MLSG, so that the OOD could make a roving inspection below decks of his ship.  During one of these rare periods, a very new, junior MLSG sailor was standing the quarterdeck watch on AQUILA while the OOD made his rounds.  He had only been with the MLSG a short time, and had been hearing his shipmates refer to the “AQUARIUM” repeatedly.  He honestly didn’t know that her actual, official, dignified, quasi-sacred  name was AQUILA.  While this poor young sailor was holding the deck, down the pier came BooBoo, returning to his beloved command.  So the young lad did what he had only very recently been trained to do.  He grabbed the 1MC microphone, smartly rang the ship’s bell twice and announced:

 “(ding ding)…AQUARIUM, arriving.”

BooBoo’s pierside meltdown, including the throwing of his uniform hat, was apparently epic and instantly legendary.



You can see GEMINI's quarterdeck here.

Edited by Gunboat1
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I had my own mishap with the 1MC.  I had the 2000-0000 OOD watch.  I arrived 15 minutes early, read the ship's log, received a pass down from the off going OOD and inspected my POOW and Messenger.  At 2000 I instructed the POOW to strike 8 bells. (Bells are struck every half hour to indicate time on a 4 hour rotation.  Starting with 8 bells at 0800, 1 bell at 0830, 2 bells at 0900 and so forth, adding 1 bell every half hour until you get to 8 bells again at 1200, then repeat the cycle. Bells are rung in pairs,  ding ding... ding ding... ding ding... ding ding, for 8 bells.)  The POOW commenced to ring 8 pairs of bells.  (This was his first time standing POOW after becoming qualified.) After the fifth pair I yelled, "What the f@#k are you doing!"  Of course the POOW still had the 1MC mike button pressed so my voice reverberated throughout the ship.  Immediately the phone rang.  It was the CDO.  "Yes, Petty Officer Terrell, just what the f@#k are you doing?"

"Sorry sir, the bell got stuck," I replied.  He was not amused.  The POOW was immediately relieved and had his qualifications pulled.  I fared a little better.  The CDO was my Department Head and I just got a lecture for using inappropriate language on the 1MC.

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