Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Origin of East of the Equator

Recently, I have been asked about the name we gave to our cottage, East of the Equator. I have had people tell me, "You can't be east of the equator," or "Don't you know anything about navigation? How can you be east of a line around the Earth?" I think that it is high time to explain the origin, or genesis of the term East of the Equator.


noun, plural -ses [-seez]
an origin, creation, or beginning.

First off, I know a lot about navigation. I was a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer for 22 years, driving ships all over the oceans of this fair planet. I have sailed in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. I have been deployed to the Arabian Gulf, the Caribbean, the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea. I have navigated the Straits of Hormuz, the Straits of Gibraltar and the Panama Canal. I am a Golden Shellback. I was the Navigator of USS FLETCHER (DD 992) from 1988-1990, in the days before GPS. I became very familiar with celestial navigation to use the stars to find my way across and back again on the Pacific Ocean. I know my way around a chart and a sextant.

Now, let's step back in time to when I was an Ensign serving aboard my first ship, USS NIAGARA FALLS (AFS 3). The FALLS was homeported in Guam and it was common for my ship to be underway 75% of the time. The motto of the ship was "Mobile Support for Seapower." And mobile we were. Whenever a carrier battle group deployed to the western Pacific or Indian Ocean, an AFS would deploy with the group to provide logistics support.

Here is an image of the FALLS underway:

In April, 1987, we deployed to the Indian Ocean to support the USS CONSTELLATION (CV 63) and Battle Group DELTA. At the time, one of the few places where U.S. Navy ships could go in that area of the world was a small island seven degrees south of the Equator in the middle of the Indian Ocean called Diego Garcia. Dee-Gar, as it is also known as, has been in the hands of the UK since the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Though the Brits own the island, the U.S. military is the primary inhabitant. In the 1970s, the U.S. started expanding the airfield and the port facilities to allow for military aircraft and ships to use Diego Garcia as a forward staging base. It was the only truly friendly land for the U.S. for thousands of miles. During this expansion period, single-wide trailer homes were shipped to the island to house the military and support personnel building the more permanent structures on the island. Many of these "single-wides" remained in place after permanent quarters were built. Some of these trailers were placed a few feet from the ocean with a small deck to overlook the sea. In time, most of the trailers were removed, but the ones placed close to the ocean remained and access to these trailers would be given to the Wardroom of ships that pulled into Diego Garcia.

Below is an image of the island taken from the air. As you can see, there is not a lot of land there:

Now we are getting to the meat of my story. Recall that earlier I wrote that I was an Ensign aboard the FALLS. An Ensign is the entry level rank for U.S. Navy officers. Typically, the Ensigns of a ship are tasked with menial, but important tasks for the Wardroom, such as picking up and distributing the mail, and setting up places ashore for the other officers to go to relax and unwind. So, the first time the FALLS pulled into Diego Garcia in the summer of 1987, I was tasked with stocking the aforementioned single-wide with beer, soft drink and munchies for my fellow Wardroom members to go after work for a drink. We called our single-wide the Hooch.

Typically, our work day ended ~1730, and if you did not have duty, you would more often than not go to the Officer's Club for dinner, and then walk the 100 yards or so to the single-wide to take in the sunset and drink a couple adult beverages. Our first stay in Diego Garcia lasted 6 weeks, so there were plenty of opportunities to head to the Hooch. We ended up making five more port visits to Diego Garcia during this deployment. There were many memorable nights spent there, taking in the sights and sounds of the sea as the day ebbed into night. At the Hooch we came to say that is was a place "just east of the equator, where it is always a quarter past five." That name, "East of the Equator," stayed with me thereafter.

Fast forward to 2009 and Deirdre and I are looking for a cottage on Lake Huron. We already knew what we would name it: East of the Equator. We found a property we loved and in January, 2010, we bought it. Since taking possession of the property, we have made many upgrades to it (look for images from the cottage here), and earlier this summer we commissioned a local artist who had made other signs for us to paint a sign with the nautical signal flags to spell ECHO OSCAR TANGO ECHO" East of the Equator.

The sign was completed last week and I took it with me when I drove here last Friday. We specifically envisioned the sign to be hung over the fireplace mantle and yesterday I set to work to to precisely that.

Of course, being an engineer I had to measure a few things in order to get the wire and the hooks just right:

I got to use my new drill to attach the mounting hooks to the back of the wood:

And I had to be able to hide this patch in the wall:

Here are a couple images of the mounted sign:

From August 13, 2011
So now you know the origin of the name of our cottage, East of the Equator, where it is always a quarter past five. If you ever happen to find your self near Oscoda on a weekend in the summer, look for another sign:

Chances are we are there. Stop in and say hello.


Gary said...

That's a neat story Paul. I just figured you picked that name as a hide away in a nonexistent location, "East of the Equator". I like your story better.

I first heard of Diego Garcia in the book, "SR-71 Blackbird - Stories, Tales and Legends", by pilot Richard H. Graham, Col. USAF (Ret). He and his RSO spent a few days there in 1980, while their Blackbird was being repaired. He said most of the inhabitants were the over 500 Navy Seabees that built the base. I have since found out that other Seabees I've known were deployed to Diego Garcia. I was a Seabee in the mid '60s, but I spent my time over seas in Chu Lai, Vietnam.

Kevin said...

I need to get me a spot where it is always 5.15.....simply brilliant!