water flowed over the bow and onto the flight deck 60 feet above the waterline.
Normally, rough weather had little impact on the carrier. It was the destroyers and other escort vessels that suffered. During really rough seas, serving meals was impossible on the smaller vessels and the crew made do with snacks or whatever they could grab as their vessels pitched and rolled. The carrier would alter course at the dinner hour so the escorts could prepare and serve an evening meal. This was known as a “dinner course.”
In June 1967, the Forrestal was deployed to Vietnam. Shortly before 11:00 A.M. on July 29, 1967, as Forrestal was preparing to launch planes in the Gulf of Tonkin, a fire broke out on the flight deck. Planes blazed out of control, and bombs and ordnance exploded. Ray was climbing a ladder leading to the bridge at the time; the blast literally knocked him off the ladder. When the fires were finally put out, more than 130 crewmen were dead and hundreds injured in the worst naval disaster since World War II.
After making emergency repairs, the Forrestal limped into the big naval base at Subic Bay, Philippines, for additional tests and repairs. From Subic Bay she steamed west through the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra. Crossing the Indian Ocean, her route took her past Madagascar, where she rendezvoused with a British tanker, and then around the Cape of Good Hope and back to Norfolk and dry dock at the Portsmouth naval shipyard for repairs.
The Forrestal traveled alone—the other ships could not be spared and remained behind in Vietnamese waters. All her aircraft were removed (those that had not been destroyed), since flight deck damage precluded launching and recovering aircraft. So, unarmed, unable to defend herself, unescorted, with major holes in the flight deck (some 20 feet in diameter), the Forrestal passed through the Agulhas Current, rounded the Cape, and entered the South Atlantic. Fortunately the Agulhas Current remained calm, the weather was benign, and no more problems were encountered. Ray remembers it as a long trip of 34 days; the maximum speed the Forrestal was capable of at that time was 12 knots, and the loss of so many crewmates had saddened the entire crew.
If any vessel is impervious to heavy weather, you’d think it would