This is the story of my life so far: 67 years and counting.
Prequel: A Brief History of my Family in France
in 1972-1974, when I was posted on the Frigate Tourville, Lorient was both a naval arsenal and a submarine base.
Lorient Harbor with the Keroman Submarine Base
These days, military ships are still built in Lorient, but since 1997 the Keroman Submarine Base is no longer in operational. The base had been built by the Germans during World War II and was so strongly built that neither the Allied nor the Germans were not able to destroy it in 1945.
In Lorient, the first year, I was renting a furnished apartment where I was living alone.
Trials at sea on the Frigate Tourville
The Frigate Tourville was specialized in anti-submarine warfare.
Both the Tourville and the de Grasse have been decommissioned in 2011 and 2013.
When the ship was considered sea worthy, we started the trials at sea.
It started with the propulsion and navigation tests. Then, the equipment and weapon tests followed.
There are some tests that are only done during the initial trials at sea, because they are expensive.
One example of such tests is long duration at "PMP" (Puissance Maximum Possible) that is using the steam engine at maximum power for at least an hour.
The speed of the Tourville, at PMP, was 32 knots (59 km/h or almost 37 mph). Going at such speed on a ship of 6,000 tons is exhilarating.
An even more fun test is emergency stop. For every French ship, the specifications are that it must go from maximum speed (at PMP) to a complete stop in less that three times its length. For the Tourville, with a length of 152 m, it meant to go from 32 knots to zero in around 450 m.
With a GPS, it is now easy to measure the distance from the point when the order for emergency stop is given to the point when the ship is effectively stopped. But there was no GPS in 1973 and no other precise system to measure position.
So the procedure involved a man at the stern, a man at the bow, both connected by phone to the bridge.
When the emergency stop order is given, the man at the stern would throw a small buoy in the sea. When the man at the bow see the buoy passing him, it signal it and an other buoy is thrown by the man at the stern. The test succeeds if the man at the bow does not see 3 buoys passing him.
When we did this test, successful the first time, after the ship stopped, because it is not possible to decrease very quickly the production of steam, approximatively one ton of steam was released in the atmosphere through the safety valve on the top of the mast, with a very loud noise. That was spectacular.
Some of the weapon tests needed to be done when the ship was rolling. This was easy to do on the Tourville because it was equipped with four stabilization fins. Those could be used to create an artificial roll of up to 45 degrees.
My personal life, outside of work, was rather dull. I had no real friend in Lorient. And I was too shy to try to meet girls.
So, I decided to do something bold during my vacations in the summer of 1974: I would go to Cameroon in Africa and visit my friend Michel Djeng Bitjong, a Cameroonian Navy officer that was in my post at the École Navale.
If you have read the Summary, you should be able to guess what happened there.
Continue to Part 45
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Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8
Part 9 - Part 10 - Part 11 - Part 12 - Part 13 - Part 14 - Part 15 - Part 16
Part 17 - Part 18 - Part 19 - Part 20 - Part 21 - Part 22 - Part 23 - Part 24
Part 25 - Part 26 - Part 27 - Part 28 - Part 29 - Part 30 - Part 31 - Part 32
Part 33 - Part 34 - Part 35 - Part 36 - Part 37 - Part 38 - Part 39 - Part 40
Part 41 - Part 42 - Part 43