Sea Stories: Flying Fish

Flying Fish

Obviously, I hate leaving my family whenever I have to get underway, but I really love being on the ocean. I think part of the facination is that I was 19 years old before I saw the ocean for the first time. As a result, there’s still a newness about everything that I really enjoy. I love walking onto the flightdeck or bridgewing and seeing nothing but water in any direction (I’m sure this would actually be disconcerting to most people), and I will contend that there’s nothing quite like a sunset at sea. Life is hardly ideal on a Naval ship, but the ocean is pretty special.

Probably the coolest part is the animal life that you get to witness. Obviously, you get to witness a ton of stuff that you never would on land, and it’s always pretty awesome to see. Today, I felt like sharing one of those moments that really got stuck in my head.

In the Indian Ocean, they have flying fish that are an incredibly bright, flourescent blue, and have wing spans of about 6 feet (I was normally looking down on them from a height of about 45 feet, so my scale could be off here). They have amazing endurance since they would fly alongside the ship for upwards of a quarter mile at speeds of 12 knots (~14 mph) or more. They were also incredibly graceful. They just seem to hug the water. They rise up over swells and dive down into troughs without ever touching the water or rising more than 6 inches off it. I’m sure there are some very advanced aerodynamics that make it much easier for them, but it’s pretty amazing to watch.

One day, we were doing an underway replenishment with an oiler. If you google the term, you can read all about it, but basically, 2 ships run on parallel courses about 180 feet from each other and transfer goods back and forth via cables and hoses. It’s a pretty intense exercise and one of the more dangerous things that we do at sea.

During this particular evolution, I was acting as what we called the “Conn Coach.” Basically, the more experienced junior officers (JOs) would assist the newer guys as they were driving the ship. Of course, we were all under the watchful eyes of the Executive Officer, but he let those of us that filled the “Conn Coach” role do our job.

At one point, I looked down just as we drove through a school of these spectacular flying fish. The presence of this huge ship caused them to scatter in pretty much every direction. My eyes tended to follow one that was slightly bigger and brighter than the rest. I watched as he took off pretty much perpendicularly from our ship. As you can imagine, there’s quite a bit of turbulence when two ships of that size are sailing that close to each other, but the fish managed it perfectly. It avoided the eddies, crested the wakes, and rounded the breakers. It was a lot of fun to watch until I realized that it’s natural instincts probably never taught it to avoid ships. Sure enough, it ran into the oiler about a foot above the waterline and then slowly slid into the water in true Loony Tunes style.

It wasn’t travelling very fast, so I’m sure the fish was fine (maybe a little concussed), but it definitely gave me a chuckle. I don’t remember how long we had been underway at that point, but it was probably one of the more entertaining things that I had seen in quite awhile. It definitely was not something you could witness on land.

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