SUBIC BAY

One of the most adventurous ports of call was Subic Bay. It is a port on Luzon, in the Philippines, several hours north of Manila. It was the site of a large U.S. Naval Base during the Viet Nam war. The presence of thousands of sailors was cause for the enterprising Filipinos to build the town of Olongapo City, just outside the Naval Base. It was a town of one main street, Magsaysay Drive. Along this street was a collection of nightclubs, bars, brothels, and associated businesses that rivals any red light district in the world. When you leave the tranquility of the port and the Naval Base, you are assaulted by "shore pilots" and money changers at the gate. Ships headed to the Far East with military cargo often called there, if not for cargo, at least to bunker. The crew always looked forward to a night in Olongapo. You had to visit at night, it looked bad in the light of day. I remember taking a photo of a "V.D. Clinic" with many smiling women waiving from the doors and windows. The side streets were mud, and there were ditches along the street that were filled with sewage. At night the lights rivaled those of the Las Vegas Strip.

Although we called there many times during my career at sea, one visit stands out in my memory. It started one afternoon when the port was put on a typhoon alert. All ships had to put to sea within 8 hours. We got most of our crew back aboard, and sailed out of the bay, South toward the San Bernadino Straits. We were at sea only two days, the storm passed over Manila and Subic. Sheltered by surrounding islands, the ship remained safe and comfortable and well south of the storm center. We returned to port, and found that it had suffered to some extent, including the loss of electric power. Gasoline generators and kerosine lamps were quickly rigged, so that the bars could go back to business. The following afternoon I was visiting one of the bars, enjoying a San Miguel Beer or two after completing my work. I thought something was wrong when the kerosine lamps started swinging from the ceiling, and liquor bottles falling off tables and shelves.

It was my first earthquake! It felt to me the way the ship feels when you ring a "Full Astern" bell. It had a shake along with an up and down component. I was concerned when I realized that the town was full of kerosine lamps, gasoline generators, wooden buildings, and booze. It was only good luck that the whole town didn't go up in flames. I later heard that it was a 4. something on the Richter Scale, not a really big quake. I have a lot of respect for people who have to live with them on a regular basis. It wasn't a fun thing for me. I headed back to the ship, and some sailors were getting in a fight outside the gate. That in itself was nothing unusual in Olongapo, but it turned out to be a racial battle between black and white sailors. There were more M.P.s and Shore Patrol than I could count at the gate, headed into town. It turned out to be a race riot.

I for myself stayed aboard the rest of our time in port. A typhoon, earthquake, and race riot were just too much adventure for me. Not even Las Vegas could match that!