Navy Ortolan

Of all the military veterans I’ve taken sailing, none had a more peculiar stint than Robert Durrant. He’s a machinist in upstate New York who took his wife Marianne out on the York. That brought back memories on the water.

Sailing with a Sub Rescuer“I was in the Navy serving on the catamaran ship that rescued downed submarines.” What! “I know, it sounds like a doomed mission. Remember the mini-submarine in ‘Hunt for Red October’? In real life the mini-sub sits between the hulls of the catamaran so it can descend below the surface secretly. It was a futile mission, which fortunately we never had to actually do. The catamaran was the USS Ortolan. It was scrapped.”

I looked it up later in Wikipedia and found the background:

USS Ortolan (ASR-22), a twin-hulled submarine rescue ship, was laid down in 1968 by the Alabama Drydock and Shipbuilding Company in Mobile, Alabama. It launched in 1969.Ortolan was designed to operate Mystic-class deep submergence rescue vehicles. It was the second and final vessel of the Pigeon class built by the U.S. Navy. She was decommissioned in 1995 and was berthed at the James River Reserve Fleet off Fort Eustis. She went for scrap in 2009.

“I was on the boat during Hurricane Hugo when it hit near Miami,” Robert continued. “The winds were blowing so hard that they said to stay below. ‘Don’t even think of opening that door to the outside!’ he recalled vividly hearing. “Of course, some guy did open the door. The wind was blowing so hard that a big Navy chief had to pull him back and get the door closed. Water rushed in.”

Sailing Lessons

Sailing with a Sub RescuerOn this day, Robert was taking sailing lessons for the fun of it. He learned the close reach, beam reach, broad reach, MOB stop, and how to fly the spinnaker. He did great on the helm, which requires different pressure depending on the three main reaches.

While taking photos as mementos of their trip, Robert quipped, “Is that in case we fall overboard? ‘Here’s a photo of him, Officer, so you can see what he looked like.’ Marianne added, “Don’t mind Robert. He’s kind of a glass-half-full kind of guy.”

Sailing with a Sub RescuerA while later Robert talked about a proposal. “We have so many museums, but we need a Museum of Common Sense. It would cover certain topics, like putting a knife in the electric socket, or why the stove range is hot, or using a hairdryer in the bathtub.”

Helping the Developmentally Disabled

Marianne Durrant works as a placement officer for the developmentally disabled. “These are good jobs we find, not mercy jobs. If I can place someone with an IQ of 40 or 60, don’t tell me there are no jobs out there. I found one client a job that paid really well, better than most people earn.”

Sailing with a Sub RescuerBy coincidence, the other couple on board had some connections. Julian Jenkins runs a day care center in Philadelphia. “We see a fair number of the disabled. I tell the parents that you need to get your child tested. I’m not saying what I think he has or how to treat it, but get him tested. Early intervention is the secret to successful diagnosis and treatment.”

This led to a discussion about therapies, Asperger’s, ADHD, autism, cults, and the many problems of the Catholic Church. Things were getting too heavy for a nice day on the water, so I thought I’d change the subject to something lighthearted and ridiculous, namely Donald Trump.

Sailing with a Sub RescuerSuddenly Robert pointed off the bow. “Dolphins!” A pod of six or eight frolicked near Wormley Creek in low water. We sailed back and forth to get pictures. They were so close that you could hear them puffing. Dolphins saved the day.

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