My head-on encounter with Matthew Forrest, the successor to William Francis Gibbs as President of the prestigious naval-architectural firm Gibbs & Cox (G&C), took place during the 1964 Society of Naval Architects & Marine Engineers Spring Meeting in Seattle. I was then the Supervisor of Shipbuilding’s (SupShips) principal assistant for naval ship construction. The issue with Matt Forrest involved lines of authority concerning the design and construction of a new class of destroyer escorts in four different shipyards. Todd’s Seattle Shipyard was the lead shipbuilder.
Normally, the Navy’s Bureau of Ships (BuShips) in Washington, D.C., would have issued a contract to the low-bidder for the lead flight of the DE-1052 class escort vessels. The contract would have incorporated a contract design, in this case prepared by G&C. Next, the successful bidder, in the role of the lead shipbuilder, could employ an in-house design group or could issue a sub-contract to a qualified design firm for preparation of functional- and detail-design drawings and material purchase specifications. Regardless of where prepared, the lead shipbuilder was required to submit correspondence and drawings requiring approval to my office.
However the BuShips’ destroyer type desk, maybe because contract awards for building 1052-class vessels were behind schedule, used non-shipbuilding funds, and engaged G&C for the design effort that would normally be the lead shipbuilder’s responsibility. That was done substantially before bids for construction of the 1052 class were solicited! The subsequent bid solicitations advised bidders that immediately upon receipt of a shipbuilding contract, the lead shipbuilder would have to issue a subcontract to G&C accompanied by payment in the amount commensurate with design-progress made. Then, the money that BuShips had advanced would be returned by G&C to the Bureau so that afterwards it would appear that G&C had been working for the lead shipbuilder from day one.
My problem was that after the lead contract was awarded to Todd, neither Todd nor I could stop the traffic between G&C and BuShips that the contract required Todd and SupShip Seattle to handle. At first Todd was complaining as I was, but when inevitable problems arose due to late drawings, it seemed to me that Todd was backing off because the G&C correspondence with BuShips was excellent material to support a claim for disruption. Trying to get the twerps in BuShips to understand the situation was like talking to an anvil. Thus when Matt Forrest, then G&C’s president showed up for the 1995 SNAME Spring Meeting in Seattle, I was poised for an opportunity to let him have it too.
Matt Forrest had inherited Gibbs’ ego. Regardless I was anxiously waiting for an opportunity to get him alone. That opportunity came up just before a boat ride to Blake Island. While the crowd was on the pier I heard him say that he needed film for his camera. I volunteered to take him to a nearby store and on the return I blistered him and G&C. Elwin Messer, who was the local SNAME Section Chairman at that time, heard my last few shots and asked me to back off. Elwin was then the Engineering Manager at Lockheed SB & Construction Company that then had a contract to build follow ships of the same class.
About six weeks later Elwin phoned just to tell me that he was sorry that he had told me to stop telling off Matt Forrest.