Christening SACRAMENTO

Before the movie The Sand Pebbles even some of us non-Asiatic sailors recognized look see pigeon, that is, something for the sake of appearances. In 1960 the conduct of launching ceremonies was very important to The Chief of the Bureau of Ships. Because of a few launching-ceremony foul ups, he solicited suggestions with the intent of issuing a BuShips instruction. The Chief was motivated by what had happened when SACRAMENTO (AOE-1) was launched on 14 September 1963 in Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

The launching was in a graving dock. Everyone had to rely on a naval architect who signaled when the dock was sufficiently flooded. At that instant the vessel was declared launched even though it did not seem to move.

Not having immediate launching-ceremony experience, the person who was detailed to prepare the champagne bottle didn’t know that it should be scored with a glasscutter before encasing it in its thin metallic sheath. Also, to say the least, the sponsor was not especially young and athletic and the Shipyard Commander was not tall and slim. The ceremony, as a first for a Navy launching, was being broadcast live by a national TV network.

When the water level reached the designated draft mark, the sponsor swung the bottle with all the strength she could muster. The impact sounded like, “bink.” Being a good sport she tried again with what strength she had left and produced another “bink.”

The Shipyard Commander, very mindful of the TV cameras, quickly reached over, grabbed the back of her bottle-holding hand and swung both the sponsor and the bottle at the patiently-waiting hull. Because the overweight Shipyard Commander didn’t have long enough arms, he missed. The bottle slipped from its metallic sheath and went unbroken to the bottom of the water-filled dry dock. A next-day event disclosed that only the Shipyard Commander didn’t see exactly what had happened.

The dry dock was pumped dry and the retrieved bottle was given to the Production Officer who brought it to the Shipyard Commander’s Weekly Conference. Since the bottle was on the floor out of sight, the Shipyard Commander as soon as he entered the room, started the conference by saying, “At least the damn thing hit the hull and broke, otherwise it would be bad luck.”

That’s when the others realized that he had been like a good golfer and had kept his head down until he had completed his follow through. Without a word the Production Officer placed the bottle on the table.

Late that night, with no audience, the Shipyard Commander and the Production Officer christened SACRAMENTO.



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