It came to pass in the early 1970s that the Chief of Naval Operations decided to encourage a focus on shiphandling as a primary skill for deck officers. He cited a concern that the operational schedules of the ships and the administrative demands on the officers had diverted attention from this fundamental skill. He was also concerned that skilled junior officers were choosing to get out of the Navy, and many of them said that they never expected to develop their shiphandling skills if the skipper or the exec always chose to do the glamorous shiphandling themselves. So CNO created a shiphandling competition for junior officers.
Each of the six boats which made up Submarine Division 121 was required to select one officer to send through the first round of competition. Our candidate was Dave. He won that round, so he was put head to head with the winner from SubDiv 122. I was privileged to observe that round of the competition, from which I hoped to learn some things myself. Garry, the other competitor, was a crusty guy for someone so young. At first, I did not think much of Dave's chances.
There was no written part of the competition, and no oral exam. This was strictly performance on the field of play. Supposedly.
The format was for five maneuvers, including getting underway from the pier, a man overboard drill in a crowded channel, anchoring at a designated location, a man overboard drill in the open sea, and returning to port. As the day progressed, Garry's advantages seemed to fade away, and Dave began to respond to the challenge.
Dave's technique was not the properly macho approach. He checked every detail two or three times. He gave orders for frequent course changes of only one or two degrees. He fidgeted. He knew exactly what he was doing, but he acted a bit like a mother hen.
Garry, on the other hand, exuded competence and confidence, even when he was wrong. As the day wore on, it became obvious that Dave was scoring better on all the measurable criteria. At one point, I noticed that the test crew was starting to sabotage Dave's chances by omitting some of the information that he was requesting, and was entitled to receive. The last two miles to the anchorage he got no navigation information at all, and he still anchored more precisely at his assigned spot than Garry did, even though Garry got lots of extra bearing calls down to the last fifty yards.
When we returned to port on Garry's run, he slammed us into the pier and it took quick work on the part of the linehandlers to keep us from ricocheting into the submarine at the next finger pier. On Dave's run, he jockeyed us to a dead stop one foot from the pier, and the deck gang then simply handed over the lines to the handlers on the pier.
On the basis of results, Dave was the clear winner. But when the Commodore and the two Division Commanders produced the results, Garry was sent to Submarine Flotilla Six as the representative from Submarine Squadron Twelve. The explanation was that the judges felt that Dave's accomplishments resulted from simple good luck, and Garry's failures were attributable to bad luck.
A few months later, Garry's boat was sold to Turkey, and Garry spent four months assigned to us on the Odax. He turned out to be a very nice guy. He told me that Dave should have won the Squadron competition, and he didn't know why it was decided the way it was. He also said that the competition at the Flotilla level was quite unsatisfactory. He used the word "rigged". He lost, but he said the competition was held on a different class of boat, on the boat his competitor had served on for two years. That was against the rules, but who was going to argue with the Admiral?