Hermitage Confidential


By Frank Garavelli

We had to sail up a river to get to Barranquilla (Colombia). When we were leaving, the ballast tanks started filling. I believe the engineering officer realized that someone had a hit the switch (pulled the lever) and did something to empty the tanks.

When we got back to Little Creek, we went to the pier as we normally would. When the ladder was lowered to the pier, officers of ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) came aboard. The ladder was raised so that no one could leave the ship.

Each division had to muster on the flight deck. Some of the ONI people walked through the divisions with a drug sniffing dog. I was told that someone had stashed their drugs in their pants. When the dog went for his crotch, he surrendered the drugs.

While this was going on, another group of ONI personnel was going through each berthing compartment and all the lockers. When we got to the berthing compartment, clothes were strewn all over.

As a side note, one of the radiomen always had a large bottle of "Lavoris" in his locker. We found out after this that it was rally Early Times whiskey with red food coloring.


The Hermitage visited Barranquilla in approximately 1971.

Several years ago, the late Thomas Northam, who had been the Executive Officer of the Hermitage, telephoned me. He reminisced about his time on the Hermitage. He told me that his proudest achievement was cleaning up the drug trafficking on the Hermitage. He said that the Hermitage had been a major vehicle for the smuggling of drugs into the United States. I recalled that there were Naval investigators on the ship, conducting interviews about drugs, but I though the investigation was a farce and that nothing would be found.

A couple of years later, I met up with the late Willie Samson. Samson had a lot of spirit, and he kept me and a lot of others going when shipboard life was boring or rough. Samson always was the first to know when something was happening. He told me that the Hermitage was full of drugs. He saw packages of drugs stowed in the overheads and in not so secret places. Samson became a welder and retired on disability after 18 years in the Navy. ---Aaron Finestone

Aaron Finestone's photos of the market in Barranquilla.