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Day By Day© by Chris Muir.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

what were you doing 30 years ago

30 years ago, my frequent reader/poster harry the hop and i were getting the shit scared out of us.
we were heading home after a deployment, making going home turns. since we were going to be having an ORSE board shortly after returning from our SpecOp, we went into drill mode to polish up.
of course, what i'm not telling you is that there was a typhoon of historic proportions blowing overhead. it took out most of the island of guam, if i recall correctly.
"Group Scram"
"Rig ship for reduced electrical, Engineering Casualty Assistance Team lay aft"
so far, normal
"Commencing Fast Scram Recovery"
"Full Scram, rig ship for Delayed Scram"
shit. one of the nuclear instruments decided it was time to give a little back, so it spiked on the startup, full scramming the reactor.
"Prepare to snorkel"
WHAAAT? oh lord, i know i'm going to be sick.
at this point, i was lining up the diesel petcocks to blow down the cylinders, manually feeding the steam generators, and hand cranking the diesel lube oil priming pump while the engineroom supervisor rolled the diesel with air. normally, it's a comedy routine watching the feed station watch do all of this during drills.
it's a whole different scene when the boat is pitching and rolling in state 9 or state 10 seas, without the benefit of being able to say screw it, dive the boat and do a quick recovery of the reactor. when stuff breaks, there is no easy way out.
"Commence snorkeling"
which we did, only the head valve at the end of the snorkel mast was under water as much as it was above water. figuring from the waterline on the surface, the head valve was about 40 feet up. and it had a set of electrodes that would shut the valve pneumatically to prevent flooding the boat. so the waves were crashing over the head valve, cycling it. to put this in perspective for non-submariners: start your car, pull the air filter off, and then put your hand over the carburetor. now imagine the engine is in a closed room with you, and the air going into the engine is coming from the room. the vacuum produced by 2 diesel engines with the intake air closed off is best left to the imagination. i've burst my eardrums twice because of this type of happening.
anyway, when the head valve cycles, that means there may be water in the fan room, which is where the air comes into the boat through the snorkel mast, to be distributed throughout the boat. and when you are not playing drill sets, things like being able to keep the engines running is a very very big deal. so the skipper ordered the diving officer of the watch to manually override the head valve closing circuit, to keep air coming in to the boat for the diesels.
the chief of the watch sent a young A-ganger down to look into the site glass on the fan room door to see if there was any water in there. "I can't see any" was the report.
but the boat was getting heavier, and harder to control. so the COW sends down our young PN (i made the mistake of calling him a yeoman in an email... sorry Hop, you know what age and years do to your memory) down to look. after he moved the movies that were stacked up in front of the door, he saw nothing but clear cold northern pacific water through the glass. well, no wonder it felt like the boat was sinking. IT WAS! seems our A-ganger couldn't be bothered with moving the interference to actually look inside the space. i was aft, so i didn't see the following, but it was told often enough afterward that i think i have the next steps pretty close... our young PN levitated up the ladder to control, probably only hitting one step on the way up, and stammered and sputtered to the chief that the fan room was flooded. he was white as a sheet. so we had to line up to pump the fan room, but since the turbine generators were down (no steam) the power for the drain pump had to come from either the battery, or the diesel generators. and it was a huge load, which we couldn't afford just that moment. but necessity overrides sometimes, and we ended up lining up the drain pump to the fan room, and kept it running the whole time, helping keep the boat on the surface, and not littering the ocean bottom with good U.S. Navy steel.
so now we try to perform another reactor startup, only the whole electric plant and steam plant is in a hosed lineup. only to scram again. the instrumentation was telling us it wasn't a fluke, but that something was really messed up. to cut this story short, we ended up spending a day or more on the surface while repairs were being made to the nuclear instruments, in a typhoon. there were only 4 people on board that were not near death from seasickness, and i'm sure there were drugs of some sort the doc had at play, since he and the skipper were two of the folks not puking their guts out. there is nothing i've ever experienced that can come close to equaling being "mortally seasick" for days straight.
the reactor operators tried pulling the spare drawer out of the storage rack. with the boat taking 50 degree rolls and 60 degree pitches, the poor sumbich pulling the drawer out of the rack couldn't hold on to it, and it hit the deck HARD. hard enough to destroy it. so they ended up pulling the bad drawer out of the panel, and working on it inside a big poly bathtub containment i'd stolen from the shipyard. they needed it, because all the parts would fly around, and we couldn't afford to lose even one screw. poor bastards were in major repair mode, sick as dogs, and all the time trying to repair and calibrate a sensitive piece of electronics while riding on the back of a brahma bull in the rodeo. when all avenues of repair had been exhausted, the skipper made a command decision to flip the "GET OUT OF JAIL FREE" switch to permit us to start up and get the hell under water where we belonged. flipping the BS switch required a life or death situation and complete and detailed explanations to Naval Reactors. whole wardrooms had been replaced because NR didn't think flipping the switch was warranted. not so in our case. we were able to get the reactor up, steam down the headers, turbine generators on line, underway on nuclear power. once the boat was back down where she belonged, it was as if we had gone to heaven. the deck didn't pitch and buck, and the fuzzy high frequency buzz and nausea was gone. we figured the average weight loss during this was around 15 pounds each. some of us lost more. i know that i was so sick that i tasted my asshole at least a couple of times.
hey harry, feel free to fix the story if i got anything wrong. time and experiences have kind of dulled the memory a little. but i'll never forget the misery and abject fear of dying. by the time we were able to dive the boat, i was wishing i would die, just to get it all over with. I've known a lot of submariners over the years, and most of us have stories just like this. what i find amazing, looking back after all these years, is that no one freaked out. while it's true that the doc had to sedate and strap in a couple of guys that were convulsing ( hey, i said it was rough up there. it was) nobody ran around freaking out that we were going to die. well, nobody except harry. we all knew that submarining was (and still is. remember what happened to the San Francisco) a dangerous business. we were scared, but we also didn't let that get in the way of what we had to do.
as the saying goes: The older i get, the better i was. actually, i look back and think about some of the people i've worked with or known over the years, and i wonder how they would handle being put into that sort of situation. we were all volunteers. perhaps that helped us deal with the situation calmly enough to get the job done, and get home in one piece.
hey hop... thanks for reminding me. i'd kind of forgotten this, since it was just one of many similar experiences i had on the boat in 6 1/2 years. after a while, they all kind of blend into one big casualty, where everything happened, not individual moments of sheer terror interjected into the hours of boredom. it's a nuke's lot to have his existence tried, and his skills and knowledge tested constantly. drills and casualties all pile up over the years into a mess of memories.
and to rub a little salt in, hey harry, remember the almost non-stop harassing you got afterwards? i can't remember how many times i heard "How high's the water, Harry? 6 feet high and rising" sung to Johnny Cash's old tune. submariners never let a chance to mess with a shipmate pass. ever

p.s. hey WICK, weren't you on board during this? got anything to add that you remember?

edit seems i'm getting my seastories mixed up. most the above happened on the way back from a specop, including flooding the fan room by overriding the head valve, but harry the hop's part was on the way IN to a specop area during another run. a quote:
The fanroom filled with seawater, next stop, battery well. rig for production of phosgene gas, aye.

We were in the Sea of xxxxxx, inbound, not outbound. Around us, the entire Russky Pacific Fleet was frolicking on summer maneuvers, weather clear, visibility unlimited. First I thought I would die when my lungs were destroyed by phosgene, then I thought we would be captured by the Russians. We snorkeled out of there, underway on diesel power. We must have been looking very Russian that day.

ok, so i'm getting the seastories mixed together. it happens when you get older.
and since my correspondent was a coner, i'll forgive his "phosgene" for "chlorine gas" oops. either way, it could be deadly...
it's good to have shipmates that read this blog. they help keep me honest. and they help me get my timelines straightened out.

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Anonymous Alison said...

Thirty years ago I was in my first month of Mrs. Quinlan's 2nd grade class. :-p

9/27/06, 8:57 AM  
Blogger bothenook said...

smarty pants whippersnapper.
you too will find that most of the people you interact with are younger than you, young lady. some day. and i hope i'm around to see it.

9/27/06, 10:35 AM  
Blogger bhd said...

I was 19. Junior in college. And while I hardly understand the vocabulary (I dated a Navy chopper pilot who later became a "parking lot attendant for the Marines" - flight deck officer?, completely different vernacular) I get the idea: your experience was quite a lot more exciting than mine was at the time. And while we probably drank the same amount of beer, I probably drank it more regularly.

You have my respect, dude. Seriously.

9/27/06, 11:18 AM  
Blogger RM1(SS) (ret) said...

Thirty years ago I was 22, working in a bakery. That was about the time I was promoted from dishwasher to baker, with absolutely no idea that I would be joining the Navy in five and a half years....

9/27/06, 12:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was 12, raising hate, hell, and discontent for my parents, chomping at the bit for the day when I could get out of the house and join the Navy...

Because, of course, I knew it all.

9/27/06, 4:48 PM  
Blogger lazlong said...

Let me see....30 years ago I was, ummmmm, what year was that? 1976, right? Well, I was about -4 years old (that is negative four). Yep, don't know what I was doing at the time, but I am sure I was up to no good.

By the way, I don't remember seeing anyone freak out on the San Fran when we hit...maybe some junior guys were stunned, but everyone (who wasn't in pain) was moving instantly. Something about being on a Submarine does that to you, I guess.

Great story!

9/27/06, 7:51 PM  
Anonymous Bob said...

Heh, 30 years ago I had been off the boats and out of the Navy for 8 years! Time flys when you are having fun!

9/28/06, 1:36 AM  
Blogger Myron said...

30 years ago I had been out of the Navy 15 years. And this tale further convinces me that while getting to snorkle every night in very, very cold water for 30 or so days wasn't the most fun I ever had, it coulda been a hell of a lot worse. Course I didn't feel that way the night #4 had a false start and flooded. Boy, was the first class pissed that night.

9/28/06, 9:09 AM  
Blogger Va Beach Herb said...


Thinking about joining the Navy (Which I did 7 months later).
Had a similar experience off the coast of Charleston, State 5 seas, reactor S*it the bed, 8 hours on the surface. I was standing COW (actually I was sitting with a plastic bag between my legs to catch the puke). My DOOW, MTC (SS) Larry Petska, was smoking a cigar, eating sardines, and laughing his arse off at us non-hacker nubs.
Worst night of my life. Larry was actually a hero of mine, a guy who, when I became a chief was one of my role models. But that night, my only wish was that he would put out the damn stogie.

9/28/06, 5:14 PM  
Blogger Hoke said...


I was there with you. You and Hoppy did a great job reconstructing those events. Over the years I've told that story many times, but none as good as the two of you.

I still remember Captain MacVean sitting at the wardroom table, chin rested on his closed fists, looking as if he had taken more than any man should have to. Times like that made him the lgend he was.

Ken Hokanson

9/30/06, 1:34 PM  
Blogger ex-nuke bubblehead said...

Thirty years ago?? I was a high school senior...but 29 years ago (to-the-day) Ah yes, I was enlisting that very day in our US Navy and was off to boot camp, followed by BE&E School, ET School and then Naval Nuclear Nower School (Class 7902-B), followed by prototype at West Milton (KAPL) and finally off-to-the-fleet as in "New Construction" aboard the yet-to-be-launched PCU BOSTON!

This boat in fact, made its way back into my life when it reared-its-ugly-head back into my life about 20 years after I left the boat. but that is a story for another blog and is discussed in my own blog.

...Geez, you had to remind me of that day didn't you?

10/2/06, 11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

30 years ago, I was walking onto my very first boat, SSN 677, as an E-1 embarking upon what turned out to be a 21 year career. I was fortunate that the 2 boats I was on did not encounter an experience such as yours. However, while serving as a diesel inspector on the beautiful island of Guam, I had the unfortunate experience of riding an LST from Okinawa to Subic. While this was my first ride on a skimmer, I was kind of enjoying the ability to walk the weather decks. That is until we hit the typhoon. I can remember being strapped into my rack in the goat locker, then waking up thinking "when are we going to dive, we should have hit the dive point by now" Then realization hit and I just settled in to being the sickest I had ever been in my life for 2 days.

Great story!

CWO3 (ret)

10/6/06, 10:51 AM  

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