USS Rentz (FFG-46)
A gray early-morning haze shrouded the harbor as guns from the arriving American ships fired a 21-gun salute in honor of the Chinese Navy. Then, nudged gently by large white tugboats, the guided-missile frigate Rentz loomed through the mist with sailors in blue pea jackets and white caps standing at attention along her entire length.
E.A Gargan. New York Times, 11/6/1986, Sec A, p. 3
The USS Rentz was the 40th ship to be constructed in the Oliver Hazard Perry class of Fast Frigates with Guided Missiles (FFG-46). The only combatant vessel to ever be named after a priest, the Rentz was named after World War II Navy Chaplain George Snavely Rentz.
The keel of the Rentz was laid on September 18, 1982 at Todd Shipyards in Long Beach, California. It was launched July 16, 1983, and commissioned at Naval Station Long Beach on June 30, 1984. In attendance were survivors of the USS Houston (Chaplain Rentz's ill-fated last posting), as well as his surviving daughter.
The 453 foot long, 4100 ton Rentz is typical of the Oliver Hazard Perry class of ships with a kaleidoscopic history of various duties. Despite the proliferation of high technology on these relatively small crewed vessels (without an air detachment, app. 200 usually aboard) duty aboard these ships harkens back to previous eras of surface combatant vessels. These "Chevy Vegas of the seas" are the most likely types of vessels to be on the short end of such little known nautical rules as "The Law of Gross Tonnage."
Rentz's own history includes rescues of downed helicopter crews in the Arabian Gulf (August 16, 1997), interception of cocaine smugglers off of the Southern California coast (April 11, 2002), regular awards for "outstanding food service" in the Pacific Fleet (1997 Ney and Hill Memorial Award winner "Small Afloat" and 2000 runner-up same category), and an historic visit to Qingdao (Tsing Tao) China - the first US Naval visit to China since 1949 (Nov. 5, 1986). Based on the West Coast out of San Diego, California (affectionately known as "Sand Dog"), Rentz's more typical Pacific ocean deepwater duty also includes regular stints in the militarily hazardous waters of the Middle East.
One of the interesting anecdotes regarding Rentz's historic port visit to Qingdao, China, concerns the uniforms of the US Navy enlisted personnel. The last image of the US Navy held by the citizens of Qingdao in 1949 were of sailors wearing the classic "Cracker Jack" uniform consisting of navy blue tunic with white piping and square knotted silk scarf, and bell bottom pants with 13 buttons (aka, "13 chances to say 'no'."). This 1949 uniform was identical to the same uniform for enlisted personnel in 1986. The elderly Chinese on the streets of Qingdao did explicit double takes when spotting US sailors, as if they had seen a ghost. Note that a pejorative term for white people in Chinese (Cantonese) is gwailo which means ghost!
The Oliver Hazard Perry class of frigates is one of the most maneuverable type of vessel in the US fleet. Utilizing reversible pitch propellers, gyroscopically controlled vertical fin stabilizers, electric outboard motors (APU's or Auxiliary Propulsion Units), and the ever popular RAST system (Recovery, Assist, Secure, and Traversing), "figs" such as Rentz are capable of operating in a wide variety of situations and environments.
Reversible Pitch Propeller
These five bladed propellers which drive the ship can pivot while spinning, reversing pitch which thus reverses thrust. The locomotive power in one direction is immediately reversed. Perry frigates can go from full-speed (30 knots) to complete stop within 15 seconds, and in less than twice the length of the vessel. Prior to this technology, in order to stop a ship would have to disengage their propeller, wait for it to stop, re-engage it in a reverse gear, then commence power from zero spin to reverse the ship's thrust.
During one high speed drill, the ship attained a speed of 35 knots, and succeeded in stopping as advertised. The author was clinging to the rails of the O3 level expecting a shuddering stop, but was surprised to find an extremely smooth, and fast, cessation of motion.
Vertical Fin Stabilizers
These devices protrude out the side of the ship beneath the water line. They are controlled by a gyroscope which senses the ship's orientation in three dimensions. As the ship pitches and rolls, the vertical fin stabilizers adjust continually to dampen the motion. A computer program controls to what extent the fins will attempt to compensate for the ships motion.
Improper setting via computer program can lead to intense shuddering of the vessel. Astute conning officers learn to tweak the fin settings for optimal comfort. Needless to say, the comfort caused by the fin stabilizers is designed to stabilize weapon platforms, and not primarily designed for crew comfort.
APUs or Auxiliary Propulsion Units
Two 350 horsepower electric motors extend beneath the vessel giving both emergency propulsion when needed, and astonishing close-in maneuverability when docking. Used properly, the ship can literally move sideways without the aid of a tugboat. They can also be used to pivot the ship on its axis. This allows the frigate to enter and dock in ports that would be inaccessible to ships not so equipped. An example would be Esquimalt harbor near Victoria, British Columbia (Canada).
RAST system (Recovery, Assist, Secure, and Traversing)
Think of a fishing pole for helicopters. In heavy seas, a cable can be attached by a pole to the Seahawk helicopter normally deployed with the ship. The RAST system is then used to gently and safely reel in the aircraft onto the heaving flight deck.
Operation of the RAST system is not for the faint of heart. The operation of the entire system requires constant practice, attention, and indeed, bravery, especially by the (usually) Boatswain's Mate (BM) whose job it is to attach the system to the helicopter.
The Rentz is currently stationed in San Diego, CA and is a member of the "Rampant Lions" of Destroyer Squadron Twenty-One (DesRon 21).
- Official Motto of USS Rentz (FFG-46)
Addendum July 29, 2002
Ships such as USS Rentz are designed to carry helicopters such as the SH-60B/F Seahawk. On paper, Perry class frigates can transport two such aircraft, but in practice it is usually just one. Typically, the air detachments have nothing to do with the ship unless an exercise or deployment requires them to work together. The regular crew of a vessel like Rentz maintains the ship round the clock, while the air detachment flies out from a land base to join the craft once underway. Similarly, when returning to home port, the helicopter normally flies to land before the surface vessel docks. For the most part, duties of the air detachment are independent of the the duties of the crew of the ship. Except in an operational capacity, such helicopters are pretty much appendages to the main vessel which is a convenient landing pad and place to park, and a good place to keep tools dry.
The role of helicopters aboard frigates is an interesting one involving Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and over the horizon (OTH) tactics. In OTH tactics a Seahawk will establish a secure communications link with the home ship. Flying over the horizon, radar and other information is beamed directly to the operations people aboard the ship who literally see things as if they were aboard the "helo." Though the helo may be detected, the ship itself is nowhere to be seen. When a frigate launches a cruise missile towards a target acquired by the helo over the horizon, they typically will program a course into the missile that is not in a straight line. The target vessel will then have no idea from whence the attack came. Following the course of the cruise missile in a straight line will do the target no good whatsoever. Such tactics are critical to ships like the Rentz, considered by its crew to be pretty much a thin foil gum wrapper afloat. The unofficial motto of the Rentz was "run away, run away!" When danger reared its ugly head, the Rentz bravely turned its tail and fled.
There is a palpable friction between the "airdales" and the "squids" aboard surface vessles such as the Rentz. The surface sailors don't consider the air detachment to be "real Navy" and the air detachment typically considers the surface sailors to be a bunch of uneducated rubes. Some of this friction can be ascribed to the cramped quarters and uncomfortable conditions aboard, but there is also a long standing tradition of such frictions between branches of the military, as well as sub-branches within each of the Army, Navy, and Air Force. In the Navy, the three main branches are surface, air, and submarine. Each branch considers itself to be the most important part of the Navy. The obvious truth is that they are all intertwined and dependent upon each other.
My most interesting experience with the helo crew came about as I was being assigned a new duty station. Crew members can put in a "chit" for a ride on the ship's helo when space permits. Leaving the ship for good rotates a requestor to the top of the ride along list, as in my case. I had been informed by others that the helo crew enjoyed "scaring the bejeezus" out of ride alongs, so I was prepared for an interesting ride. Sure enough, about 40 minutes into the patrol the Seahawk plummeted towards the sea below. I was mildly amused and entertained until we returned to the ship (immediately) and was informed that one engine had lost all power, and the other was down to forty percent capacity. The crew of the helo were whitefaced, while I in my igno"Rentz" was amused.
The helm of a Perry class frigate is very interesting. Rather than the classic large, wooden, ship's wheel for steering, these ships have a complex control console on the bridge. The ship's wheel is a tiny brass replica of a large wooden wheel (app. 3.5 inches in diameter). The vessel's power steering is operated by this tiny wheel. During the ship's initial years (while I was aboard) we dangled a set of fuzzy dice above the control console. The dice were a present which I had given to the ship one Christmas .
The most complex controls on the ship were for the window wipers for the bridge. A series of four separate control panels controlled the wipers. A set of aluminum plaques were mounted on the bridge laying out the control circuit. In practice, a lowly seaman was usually just directed to lean over the side of the bridge wings and heave a bucket of fresh water on the front windows.
On one occasion I attempted to discard a duplicate set of window wiper circuit plaques, but was prohibited doing so as the circuits turned out to be classified information. Go figure.
During underway replenishments (unreps), a dangerous exercise where two ships come alongside each other to exchange fuel and supplies, it is traditional to play a signature song when breaking away. The Rentz's signature song was the Beach Boy's "Little Deuce Coupe." One of the notable performance features of FFG's is their ability to accelerate. Other vessels are faster, but none can hit full stride as fast as an Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate. The typical break away from an unrep consisted of the Rentz sprinting immediately past all other vessels, fuzzy dice jiggling, while blaring on the ship's external speakers:
Well I'm not braggin' babe so don't put me down
But I've got the fastest set of wheels in town
When something comes up to me he don't even try
Cause if I had a set of wings man I know she could fly
She's my little deuce coupe
You don't know what I got.
Petty Officer Second Class (QM2) Dunwell was given the initial task of selecting a signature song. After shocking the crew during an unrep break away with the skirling of bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace" the Captain determined to never again allow any of the crew to select a break away song without a preliminary audition.
As a plankowner, the enlisted members of the crew were given tiny little wallet cards indicating this. Rancid_Pickle mentions that plankowners often are given plaques in commemoration, which is no doubt what the commissioned officers receive. The party line is that when a ship is decommisioned that plankowners are entitled to a physical piece, or plank, of the vessel.
Interestingly, the only true planks aboard the Rentz consist of a custom built oak covering on the bridge wings. Such non-standard additions are common in the surface fleet, and add a touch of the romantic to an otherwise gray aluminum exterior. Varnishing and maintaining the wood covering the bridge wings was a regular duty of the Quartermasters on the ship.
As a college graduate (BA Psychology, UCLA 1986) who was a non-commissioned member of the crew, I was in an unusual (not unheard of) situation of having the qualifications to be an officer, while just being a regular sailor. I have a fond memory of being on my hands and knees, scrubbing the deck of the bridge while listening to the Officer of the Deck (OOD) talking to the relieving officer about a recent management seminar they had both attended. I couldn't resist poking my head up and saying, "Is that Maslow's Prepotent Hierarchy you're talking about?"
Gargan, Edward A. "After a 37-Year Absence U.S. Vessels Visit China." New York Times November 6, 1986, Section A, Page 3.
"US Navy Helo Crew Rescued by USS Rentz"
Main web site USS Rentz (http://www.rentz.navy.mil ; 6 May 2002)
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