In my younger days I served aboard a submarine. It was a nuclear powered fast attack submarine, the USS Permit (SSN-594), and the years I served spanned early 1983 to late 1986. The Permit (pictured below) was, even then, a relatively old submarine, having been commissioned in the early 1960’s. But the Cold War was still raging. So, like every other submarine in our squadron, we spent plenty of time at sea.
During most of those years, I never gave a second thought to what my shipmates and I were actually undertaking – remaining submerged, hundreds of feet below the ocean surface, for several days, sometimes weeks, at a time; patrolling the waters off our coast; spying on the Soviet navy; hunting and tracking Soviet submarines; the usual Cold War stuff. Near the end of my tour, though, I knew I was not made to be a career submariner. And so, when my enlistment was up, I left the Navy and submarine service.
I have no regrets about my time on the Permit. Most of my shipmates were good, strong, and courageous men. I learned a lot from them – about the Navy, about submarines, about being a submarine sailor, about life. There are times that I miss the comradery one can only have with shipmates. (Oh, knock it off! I mean that in a wholesome way).
There are, however, some things that I do not miss. Not even remotely. While I could chronicle several things, here is a somewhat lighthearted look at 6 things that top my list. If you’re a submariner (current or former), I am very interested in items that would make your list, and that differ from mine.
Unless your olfactory nerve has been stimulated by the internal environment of a submarine, you simply cannot understand. The odor is unique. To me, it seemed a mixture of oil, metal, and stale air. A major contributor to this odor was probably amine, which is a chemical used in the machines that remove carbon dioxide from the air. For the most part, the filtration and air purifying systems do indeed remove the cigarette smoke, body odor, flatulence, and other impurities from the air. But one is never quite sure as to what level.
The stench permeated my clothes, my hair, and, according to my wife, my skin. Indeed, and despite the nicely posed picture to the right, I can recall returning to port on more than one occasion and watching my wife pinch her nose in disgust.
Honestly, to this day I have not experienced a similar smell – anytime, anyplace, anywhere.
No. I’m not talking about the plumbing and the surrounding physical structure (though these, too, are interesting). I’m talking about the process. That’s right. There is a special showering process on submarines. This process is known, quite creatively, as “a submarine shower.” A submarine shower goes follows:
- Enter the shower
- Turn the water on just long enough to get wet
- Turn the water off
- Lather up
- Turn the water on just long enough to rinse clean
- Despite the instructions on the shampoo bottle, DO NOT REPEAT
- Turn the water off
- Exit the shower
Sound like fun? If so, please give it a try at home.
I don’t know if submarine showers are still practiced on more modern submarines. Indeed, even on the older one I was on I don’t think we really needed to take submarine showers. After all, our water-making apparatuses were very reliable, so our fresh water reserves were never truly endangered. I just think submarine showers are one of many longstanding traditions that are difficult for submariners to set aside. Truth be told, I often did not take submarine showers on the boat. That is, unless I knew some of my shipmates were lingering nearby.
Now, however, my wife accuses me of spending an inordinate amount of time in the shower. I blame this on submarine showers.
The Sanitary Tanks
Yes, like others of our species, submarine sailors do indeed urinate and defecate. When a submarine is submerged, it is obviously not connected to a municipal sewage system. So where does all of that waste go? Well, initially into storage tanks or, to use the technical term, sanitary tanks. Unsurprisingly, after some time at sea these tanks become full. After all, these tanks have limited storage capacity, whereas most submariners have unlimited waste-discharge capacity.
Anyway, when the sanitary tanks become full, said tanks must be emptied (see unlimited discharge capacity above). Generally, the process is quite innocuous. The appropriately assigned personnel pressurize the sanitary tanks with air, and discharge the contents overboard to, as we used to sophomorically say, “Feed the fish.” This is known as a sanitary tank blow.
One key step in the sanitary tank blow procedure is for the assigned personnel to hang a sign on each head (nautical term for bathroom . . . you’re welcome) to warn all potential users. You see, the toilets on submarines (pictured here) are flushed by opening a ball valve, which allows the contents to gently flow, under gravities influence, into the sanitary tank. As you can imagine, if that ball valve is opened when the sanitary tank is pressurized . . . let’s just say it’s not the fish that get fed.
Yes, it did happen. Not to me, but to one of my shipmates. Poor Joe Dwyer. No one hung the sign on the engine room head. To this day, I’m unsure whether this was intentional. Regardless, I can still see his face, covered with “stuff” of varying shades of brown and green. I can still see the bits of paper and “stuff” layered on his lips and lodged in his teeth. Not to mention the smell.
I like pizza. I think most submariners like pizza. I am certain that every submariner stationed on the Permit liked pizza. Shoot, now that I think about it, “liked” is probably an understatement, given the way my shipmates behaved on pizza night. Let me explain.
When a submarine is underway, meals are generally served four times during each 24 hour cycle – breakfast, lunch, dinner, and “mid rats.” Mid rats are served from just before, to just after, the mid-watch commences. The mid-watch is the watch section that begins at 12 am. Anyway, mid-rats is generally an uninspiring meal – beans and franks (“beanie-weenie”) or hamburgers (“sliders”) – that does not awake sailors from their slumber to eat. That is, unless it’s Saturday night.
You see, the mid-rats meal on Saturday was pizza. And that meant everyone was up! It was crazy. No, it was stupid. I mean, the pizza was not that good. I still recall the line extending from the crew’s mess, up the ladder (“staircase”), and all the way back to the tunnel (the space over the reactor compartment) door.
Oh, the wailing, the line cutting, the elbowing, the gnashing of teeth. All wrought because of pizza night.
As explained above, the mid-watch begins at 12 am. When the boat is in port, a mid-watch for a particular watch station can run either 4 or 6 hours, depending upon how many personnel are qualified to stand that watch station.
No matter the length, there are some in-port watch stations, such as the Shutdown Reactor Operator (SRO) watch station, which are non-roving watch stations. This means you don’t move around (i.e., rove) the boat. Rather, when you stand this watch station you are basically held captive for the entire 4 or 6 hours. That is, of course, unless someone temporarily relieves you of the watch so that, for example, you can “relieve” yourself.
As you can probably appreciate, when the boat is in port and the entire crew is not available, trying to get someone to relieve you during the mid-watch can be, let’s just say, difficult. As you can probably also appreciate, one typically consumes inordinate amounts of liquid caffeine, be it coffee, soda, or both. This, as you can further appreciate, leads to inordinate amounts of urine production. For those standing a non-roving watch station, extreme discomfort can, and likely does, ensue. Thus, one or more of several options is implemented.
Option 1: use a roving watch stander to vicariously and incessantly beg someone to come and relieve you.
Option 2: use a trash can, a trash bag, or any one of numerous other containers having sufficient volume and robustness, to receive and temporarily retain uric acid (and/or other waste product).
Option 3: hold it!
I was not a fan of Option 2, though I know plenty of shipmates who were. My first choice was always Option 1. More often than not, however, this option failed me. And so, I typically settled for Option 3.
Thanks to the numerous mid-watch SRO watches I stood, I believe I am able to “hold it” much longer than the average person. Am I proud of this? No. Well, maybe. I mean, everyone should strive to be the best at something . . . right?
For those unfamiliar with this term, “hot racking” refers to sharing a rack (a bed) with one or more shipmates. No, not at the same time! Well, not when I was stationed aboard a submarine anyway. Hot racking can be (is?), to say the least, a bit disconcerting. Consider that, shortly (or sometimes immediately) before you “hit the rack” for some sleep, another sailor exited that same rack. So the rack you’re about to lie on is not only relatively warm – thus the term “hot rack” – it is also covered in the previous occupant’s DNA. And what form that DNA takes may vary with the previous occupant’s hygiene or other predilections.
Fortunately, by the time I went on my first (and only) extended 6-month deployment, I was senior enough to have my own rack, thereby saving me from this uncomfortable (to say the least) practice. I did, however, have to endure it for a few, relatively short (2-3 weeks) deployments when I was still junior. Unfortunately, my hot racking mates were not all that keenly self-aware of their odoriferous emanations. I remember once, my rack mate was the boat’s most notorious non-showering sailor. Another time, a guy who incessantly smoked clove cigarettes. Delightful. Simply delightful. Though, I am sure if you asked them, it was no picnic for them to share a rack with me .
I’m thankful that since I left the boat in 1986, I have hot racked with only one person – my wife. Fortunately for me, she enjoys showering regularly, and she absolutely despises cigarettes of all sizes, shapes, and flavors.
69 thoughts on “Submarine Life – What I Definitely Don’t Miss”
Nice emergency blow picture.
I believe that was Dace, and she plummeted “Greater than 400 feet” before the crew regained control.
Being port and starboard on a watch station. You could never get fully rested, no matter how fast you got to your bunk and fell asleep. It got old real quick.
Port and starboard as a Sonar Supervisor when the other half was the Senior Chief and he took the day shift and was awake with the Captain and XO while running drills. Which of course that meant that the drill time was during MY rack time which was interrupted because I had to participate in the drills. My second down time was interrupted due to having to, deploy the towed array, retrieve the towed array, launch SSXBT’s from the 4 inch launcer or relieve the Senior Chief so he could use the bathroom.
Sounds like you were living the dream! Thanks for reading and sharing a memory
Sounds like you were living the dream! Thanks for reading and sharing a memory.
Cleaning the Bilge and Crypto….
Former ET1/SS SSBN 727 1995 to 2000 SSBN 732 2003 to 2005
Is this Mike Faucett?
Mike, I may have been with you on the 732. Which crew?
The ONLY thing I don’t miss is being rousted from my rack by the Battle Stations Missile alarm not knowing if it was the real thing or just another WSRT.
Perhaps, all that uric acid could have somehow been combined with the uranium in the nuclear reactor in order to produce more efficient energy in the form of gamma radiation and heat!
Corrosion may have been an issue.
Cigarettes and fuel oil
Option #4 was the funnel outside the back maneuvering room door, next to the SSTG.
Oh man, I forgot about that one!
or the funnel at the aft end of control if you were rigged for black.
Sump watch in the fan room while snorkelling
I had completely forgot about the sump watch.
So does the COW half the time…
Interesting. Clearly it takes a certain breed of character to consider submarine duty as an option and God bless the soles who serve in this capacity. Obviously, its not a job for everyone, much like prison work; which is what came to mind when you described the distinctive and unpleasant smell aboard ship. This is one area that I keenly identify with, as oddly as that may sound. After working in jails and prisons for 26 years, I’ll never forget the smell inside a lock-up unit. Its similar to what you described, (cigarette smoke, foul body odor, dirty beds)…yet no words can fully express the stale stench from warehousing nefarious and deranged humans. The pungent smell of human waste dried into cement over time can only be compared to a city zoo. The difference of course is correctional staff are only subject to their environment for hours at a time. Submariners on the other hand, have no repreive from the air they must breath while underway for weeks or months at a time. As I am sure you are aware there have been many famous movies made depicting the life and adventures of submariners (Crimson Tide, Red October, Das Boot, etc) and many stories of the poor soles who didn’t survive this precarious service to their country. I’m fairly certain that no one is really “made” for this type of career. But, the brave volunteers who do it—must be either highly intelligent, or completely nuts. Its plain to see, the veterans who endure this unique experience walk away better equipped to take-on an challenge or hardship that life can deliver.
To those courageous few who survived submarine service and endured their tours, I commend you.
Thanks. Probably an apt comparison . . . :).
Goodness, how true is this! It was the same in the Royal Navy! Add to that list Angles and Dangles. Hated them.
Those were rather uncomfortable.
I was on a diesel and the smell was, I suspect, even more memorable. But, of course, that also meant that we didn’t have some of the amenities of a nuke boat. For instance, even “submarine showers” were severely restricted (we could not manufacture our own water (or air)). So, I would add snorkeling in rough seas to that list.
Diesel submariners are a wholly different breed. I can’t even imagine. Thank you for serving.
Stores load, in Bahrain, in July, needle gunning back aft for your entire off watch, and being awake for 50+ hours because sonar is down on station and you are the lead tech. Great article. Oh, and field day…
This is a great article and well written. Thank you for your service.
My son just joined the fleet as an ELT on the USS Mississippi (SSN-782) in Pearl Harbor. He’s loving it so far. I look forward to hearing his submarine stories someday.
I suggest a follow-up article. What do you miss most about submarine life?
Good idea, Paul. I may just do that.
I went to the commissioning of the Mississippi.I was in Mississippi for a family reunion just before the commissioning.I was born and raised in Vicksburg and Natchez. Right out of high school in 1956 I enlisted. I served 6years active duty. I served on USS Carbonero SS337. I ended duty as an instructor at S1C prototype in Windsor,Ct.
i am a member of the carbonero base (ussvi) in chattanooga, tn which was named due to our oldest member having served on that boat. (plank owner?) his name is Al Smith.
i served aboard the odax (ss484) and still get misty eyed when i smell diesel oil.
You know it’s a rough life when if someone breaks their leg, the crew considers him getting the “good deal”. My worse memories are probably pulling into homeport after a 6+ month deployment to pick up an ORSE team and head back out for a 3 day stretch of fun and games..Awesome welcome home from Sublant. Did that every deployment also.
USS Scranton SSN756
I was in the Cold War submarine force for nearly 12 years (1977 to 1988). I would have gone for a full 20 or more but it ended in a rather unwanted medical discharge.
Anyway, I was on the USS Silversides (SSN679) which was one of the few 637 class “long hulls” and she was known as the hardest worked boat on the east coast. Also the quietest at the time.
Because of this we spent an average of 300 days a year out at sea for the nearly 5 years I was aboard her (I was extended twice). Not only on our own runs but we often took up the runs of other boats that had suffered from a sudden mechanical failure. Because of this, I can add a couple of stories of my own. If you don’t mind that is? 😉
The shortest time the Silversides ever spent at sea was 2 weeks and that only happened once during the time I spent on board. The average “short” run was 6 weeks but 3 months was common place. However, during the ICEX of 1981, we spent a 75 days out of 4 month run under the ice pack without surfacing, not even coming to periscope depth in order to ventilate except for a short stint at the North Pole and that didn’t help the “funky” air of the boat any.
When we finally pulled into Faslane, Scotland I (gratefully) stepped onto the pier (which appeared to be moving in a strange manner if you know what I mean) to get a breath of fresh air before returning to the boat to change into “civvies”. I was only on the pier for about 15 minutes but when I climbed down the weapons shipping hatch ladder and onto the upper level deck the smell hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. I actually jerked my head back in surprise.
Good lord, what a smell.
Your description of the smell of the Permit made me chuckle in remembrance but the smell inside the Silversides that time in Faslane was beyond even my powers of description. Whoo-boy!
Ah, earning your “brown dolphins”. Fortunately, that didn’t happen to me–almost. Luckily I caught myself in time. It did catch one guy–twice.
It wasn’t that he was new, he was actually a senior A-Ganger (forward type) who really knew his stuff. But, he’d been up about 24 hours straight fixing a busted CO2 scrubber and when the boat is cruising under the Arctic ice pack, you really need both CO2 scrubbers online. So he was one pooped puppy when he hit the rake.
But the bladder waits for no man, even a pooped one, so he stumbled into the “head” a couple hours later, pushed the sign away that said “Blowing Sanitary 2” and entered the far stall. He did his business and instead of just leaving the stall (the AOW blowing the “San 2” always flushed all the toilets afterwards) and going back to the rack, he hauled back on the “big green lever” and all hell broke loose. He must have still been half asleep.
Just by coincidence, I happened to be walking by when this happened and I slammed the head door shut just keep keep the “explosion” from getting out into middle level.
Long story short, Mikey, being the dutiful submariner that he was, spent over an hour cleaning up the rather horrendous mess. Afterwards he just walked into the shower, underwear and all, and got himself cleaned up.
Normally, and back then, a submarine at sea would blow it’s sanitary tank at a depth of no more than 150 feet which means you had to pressurize the sanitary tank to a pressure substantially higher than sea pressure. But even at a shallow depth of 150 feet, “blowing sanitaries” can take awhile. However, under the Arctic ice pack in 1981 where the ice can be festooned with “ice ridges” running as deep as 140 feet, sometimes even coming as shallow as 150 feet is difficult. Now a sanitary tank can only take so much internal pressure so with the boat at say, 200 feet, completely emptying the tank using air pressure can take a couple of hours at least.
Mikey, completely cleaned up by now and now feeling very tired since his “wake up call” in the head, decided to relieve his bladder so that he’d get the rest of his sleep uninterrupted. Again, just by some extreme coincidence, I was going to the head after the evening movie just as Mikey headed back into the head. I peeked around the door just as he again brushed the “Blowing Sanitary 2” sign aside and entered the far stall. I didn’t wait this time. I quietly slipped the head door shut and waited.
And the head exploded for a second time.
At that point, I just walked down to the torpedo room, the usual gathering place for off watch weapons personnel that weren’t in their racks, and leaned weakly against the frame of the forward torpedo room door, trying so hard not to laugh out loud that I was having what looked like convulsions to the half a dozen guys sitting on the various benches and torpedo racks. The tears that were streaming down my face which had turned all blotchy must have actually frightened some of them since I found myself being gently sat down on a bench while I waved off the helping hands in an effort to tell them what happened and that I wasn’t actually dying.
Several years later, I visited the Silversides when she pulled into New London Subase located in Groton, CT. There was only two or three of the crew left that I knew when I was on boat. Nonetheless, the story of how Mikey earned his “brown dolphins” twice in one day apparently had lived on because some of the new crew had asked for a couple stories of past escapades. And I hadn’t even begun to tell the story of Mikey and his brown dolphins when they started telling me the story instead.
Hmmm, it seems I’ve done it again. A long winded comment. I have a bad habit of doing that So I’ll end it now. Me and my reminiscing–sheesh!
And please forgive the run-on sentences and the inevitable typos. Getting old(er) you know.
Great stories. Thanks for sharing.
Yea Kirk, I was on the Silversides from 1977-1980(first boat). Left as an RM2(SS), I do remember all the turn arounds we have done. Even hitting an underground mountain, that was an experience. Best boat of the 3 that I was on by far.
How about cranking and deck div. Oy. I hated cranking. What about “field day” which was much less fun than it sounded. I could continue. Good post.
Good ones, too. Luckily, showing up to the boat as an E5 nuke precluded any cranking.
Great article Paul. Thanks for the opportunity to get involved.
Thanks for reading.
So there I was…Sitting at the RC Div workbench, putting the finishing touches on the FWP for doing what would become an 18 month long Alignment on a loop flow detector. The boat shuddered to port and I looked up and said “Gee I wonder what that was,” next thing I knew i was outboard 5S knocking down tweetybirds. The cone had found the USS New Orleans the hard way…We proved you can roll a boat on it’s side and the plant doesn’t care. USS Hartford 2006-11 Proud I did it, Very glad I ain’t a doin’ it no more.
missed cranking too, but did have to do the helms/planes watch until I got qualified on the watch. I won’t miss the drill sets during the off watch time when in port/starboard watches!! Or having the sanitaries blown in dry dock and well the stench in the dry dock was overwhilming I don’t think Permit was the dry dock’s favorite sub! Jam dive drills and Rich Posey knows the particular one I am referring to! Lastly I don’t miss Adak!
Don’t get me started on Adak!
Enjoyed the read! I can concur with the dislike of San tanks, in a uniquely personal way far more traumatic than the “accidental in-board blow.” SpecOps ’86-’87 (we submerged prior to Thanksgiving and surfaced well after New Years), in an undisclosed location in the environs of, say… the Sea of Japan. One of my A-gang nubs, blowing out the brine from the middle level urinal, managed to drop the 3/4″ plug into a shitter AND somehow opened the ball valve, releasing said plug into San1, thus creating a “sound short” (detectable metallic noise) at a place and time where that was particularly UN-GOOD. By this time I’m a fairly senior A-ganger (non-nuclear machinists’ mate responsible for atmosphere control, hydraulics, refrigeration and a myriad of other systems including PLUMBING). My chief wakes me up… “Durham… get up… got an emergency and I need you.” I wake my groggy carcass up, and find myself in a meeting with my chief, division officer the Engineer and the Captain. “We need you do dive San1,” they say. “Huh?” says I. They went on to explain that the sound short was compromising our mission (super-secret classified stuff involving us monitoring the activities of a particular new Soviet boat). They said we can blow the tank down to about 1/2 – 1/3 capacity, but can’t risk any more than that. “Lovely,” says I. “Why me and not the NUB (non-useful body) who dropped the damn thing in there?” They went on to cajole me with the fact that I had had experience in tanks before (true, unfortunately) and that they were afraid that he would panic and die or something in there. “GOOD, he deserves to,” I thought. Plus, at 5′ 6″ / 130, I was genetically predisposed to slithering through tight places (I always caught the best naps during “field day,” and this was apparently about to become my penance). So… yep… I got all suited up in a hazmat Tyvek, taped at the wrists and ankles and neck and donned the good ol’ EAB (emergency air breathing) apparatus (sucking rubber), and into the tank I went. I made my way quickly through three tiny port-holes in the baffles (steel partitions inside the tank), located the plug right where my division officer said it would be after pulling out the schematics, and extricated my extremely sodden and smelly self as fast as possible. And THAT, my friends… is a “no-shitter.” Well, sort of. 😉
I was also tickled by Tim Casey’s comments above… especially “…the brave volunteers who do it—must be either highly intelligent, or completely nuts.”…. and, Tim… it’s not an either / or proposition… rather, it’s both. LOL
If you’re not a member of Cold War Submarine Veterans on Facebook, Paul… send me a PM. We’ll hook you up.
MM2/(SS) USS Los Angeles (SSN-688), ’85-’88
Great story! Thank you for sharing, and for taking the time to read.
BTW, I am a member of the Cold War Sub Vets group. Thanks, though, for asking.
I was on a journey that was on land but similar . Out of the blue you are in the field, A desert, A field, An ocean shore.. Traveling for hours or days in the heat of no clouds in sight or the cold mountains with snow beginning to pound you. I too had to think of the best place to go. (hit the head) Pee. Use the latrine ( take a dump ). Mostly it was out in the open. Maybe behind a tree or in a ditch. but there was one thing I could count on was the eyes of others trying not to notice. I would do the same. The shower was a canvas pail with 5 gallons of something close to worm water hung over head by a rope from a tree or a truck mirror. It can be helpful if you have a tarp to surround you but in a pinch you can take a whore bath. (A worm washcloth and a free hand). Takes less time and women are not available. One thing I know for sure is. Subshower and whore bath sounds about the same. The people we love are far away but always close to our hearts. Even if someone is watching.
Yes, indeed. There are many parallels.
OK.. You got the highlights of them all, and a good recollection, but I’ll add one to your list:
I served first on the Silversides out of Norfolk (SS 679) and my first underway was OK.. I got used to the smells, the noises, the good-natured ribbing of being a non-useful body, etc, but what really surprised me wasn’t the smell of the boat.. it was the world after surfacing. I had apparently gotten very accustomed to the amine smell, the 2190 TEP lubricating oil used everywhere in the engine room, and all the other sundry smells on board in two week transit to our destination in the Mediterranean.
I was attached to Machinery Division, and was asked s be the first to drain, climb up and open the inner and outer Engine-room escape hatches once the maneuvering watch had been secured in order to help the EMs get a leg up rigging shore power.
When I cracked that outer hatch, I nearly lost my lunch.. The world – it really stank…
Funny! Thanks for sharing.
It takes a long time to get the diesel fuel smell out of your body and it never comes out of your dress blues.
Remember mess cooking you got to shower every day but most of the crew got to shower weekly. If the engine man caught you exceeding your one gallon limit you might get to do a watch on the stills. Boy were they hot. I served on USS Carbonero a WWII diesel powered boat.
Diesel submariners are REAL men. Thanks for reading and sharing.
I served 5 long years on SSBN 740 Gold aka USS Rhode Island. Towards the end I was a Missile Technician 2nd class senior in rate qualified. I enjoyed time with my fellow shipmates BSing on watch, and formed life long friendships that I condsider my brothers. However that being said, I am damn sure not getting back on a submarine. Here’s why:
1. Qualifications – you get done with one, and there’s still 20 more to do.
2. Collateral duties – just another sign there’s never enough personnel for all the work required for a submarine to go to sea, and return.
3. Patrol extensions – getting so close to the end of patrol, and hearing the captain come over 1MC saying two more weeks.
4. Midshipmen Ops – there were always doing something stupid, and we would be blamed.
5. Email – you didn’t have to under go this insanity, but todays submariners know how much of an asshole radio men can become if you piss them off.
6. Chain of Command – me not re-enlisting provided me the extreme joy of having to change the way I do things for each new chief, AWEPS, WEPS, XO, and CO.
7. Watch – never again.
You’re making me shiver just reading. Thanks for sharing.
Good one’s Paul. I was in M-Div on the Lafayette and Kamehameha, and my seabag still has the boat smell 23 years later.
Some of my “fun” memories were the Red Hats (drill monitors) who started drills at the most fun hours. I realize the drills were to train us to save our butts and also to prove our boats were ready for ORSE and NTPI exams.
Our patrol area was between the Arctic Circle and the Arctic ice fields north of Iceland, thus the lower levels of the boat was very cold. My first patrol on the Lafayette was as the Engine Room Lower Level watch. I just couldn’t stay warm. We had to keep the R-114 chillers running and to do that we had to keep dumping cold air where ever we could. If the machines were running, we weren’t chilling water, and if we weren’t chilling water, then the forward electronics got hot, and the inevitable 2JV call came back from Missile Control or the Nav Center as to why their systems were getting warm. Making a chiller make cold water when it was cold already was a challenge as it required the operator to make ever minute adjustment to the sea water inlet to the chiller (28-30 degrees) which caused the machines to groan loudly, but kept them running. This then caused the Sonar Girls to call back and ask us to please quiet the machinery (not the terminology used).
I remember one time the evaporator went down and I spent two days getting the unit back up. Didn’t sleep for nearly three days straight, nor did I shower as that would’ve taken time. When I was done, I took a “Holywood shower” which seemed to upset some other shipmates. Well, I figured I didn’t shower for three days so I had three days worth of shower water to use, plus I WAS THE ONE WHO FIXED THE STUPID THING so we could have fresh water in first place. Once these indignant shipmates discovered that, they were glad to let me continue my shower.
Don’t fondly remember the weather in Holy Loch. One day in August of 88 we had all four seasons before noon. We had snow, sleet, rain, and sunshine by 1100 hours, all the while we were doing a diesel fuel oil transfer.
Ever do any yard time? Did nearly two years aboard the Kam in Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Long, Long hours and having to deal with NRO.
Great stories. Thanks for sharing. I spent only 18 months in MINSY. That was enough yard time.
Forgot one part of the submarine shower ritual: squeegee-ing the tiny shower when you’re done. There’s nothing quite like being partially showered, freezing cold, and then having to try to contort your body in a tiny metal box to squeegee all the water off of it.
A good memory for me was making “Shot” glasses from styrofoam cups I used to hide in the sail during an inport sail inspection. Gave me some perspective on how much pressure was “out there” underway.
Good article. Brought back many fond memories. Rode the “Croaker-roach” (USS Croaker-SS246) for a little over a year and did 5 “Detergent” patrols as an FTB on the Patrick Henry (SSBN 599).
I remember one event on the Croaker, when we were in pierside upkeep in New London, like it was yesterday. One of our “A -Gangers” (I forget his name now, but I think we all called him “Dilbert”) was diving #2 sanitary in the After Battery when I happened by the open sanitary deck access hatch on my way to the Aft Torpedo Room following our noon meal.
Suddenly, this greasy-haired, grimy-faced head pops out of the sanitary hatch and Dilbert, dressed in a filthy skivvy shirt (use your imagination
for what it had smeared all over it)
and full emersion suit peeled half down and tied around his waist by the sleeves says: “Hey Will, do me a favor will you? How about grabbing me a horsec**k sandwich out of the crew’s mess and bring it back to me?” I stared at him for a brief moment in disbelief and then said: “Sure, whaddya want on it?”
“Just some Mayo,…And some chips; If there’s any left”, he said.
I dutifully made my shipboard “Gedunk” run for him and fetched his lunch on a plate from the galley. When I returned, he was back down in the tank out of sight.
I peered into the darkness, called his name, and asked what he wanted me to do with his sandwich & chips.
“Thanks Bud! Just set it there on the deck where I can reach it.”
” OK”. I dubiously set the plate down and retired to a convenient observation position on the middle rack of the last tier of the starboard bunks and waited. Not unlike setting a trap and waiting for your prey. “This I gotta see”, I thought, chuckling to myself.
Sure enough, a minute later, a greasy, slimy hand reached up out of the tank, felt around for the plate, found the sandwich and pulled it down into the tank. The hand left dark marks on the bread like a white handtowel has when kids wash their hands and don’t quite get them clean. I laughed to myself thinking: “Man, YGBSM! The chips looked lonely and abandoned sitting there all by themselves. But not for long. Soon the greasy, slimy hand reappeared like a snake out of a hole and fetched half the chips.
Curiosity got the best of me and I got off my perch, sidled over to the open hatch for a reality check and peered in. There was Dilbert standing there looking back at me knee deep in s**t with a nonchalant look on his face, a half eaten sandwich in one hand, chips in the other and his cheeks bulging like a chipmunk’s. as he chewed. I shook my head at his total lack of concern for the environment and “ambiance” of the restaurant he was dining in.
Jesus Dilbert! How can you stand eating down there in that?, I said. “I can hardly stand the smell up here!”
He waited till he finished chewing and swallowing before answering: “No problem, Bud”, he shrugged. “Man’s gotta keep up his strength and It all ends up down here anyway.”
Blowing sans inboard. Wrong valve lineup one time and blew sans into the galley. Doc said it was cleaned and good to go. When asked if he was eating food from the galley he said “f@&k no!”.
I remember making two north patrols baling water ways with tin can. Water would drop from the bulkheads. It was cold enough to wear jacket. North patrols were tough on the crew for sure.
You guy’s on the nuc boats don’t know the trials and tribulations
George, you got that right! You guys were nuts . . . :).
Ah, life in the United States Navy, never without its moments. I served aboard an aircraft carrier and I had my moments also, like sleeping underneath the flight deck where planes were landing and having to listen to the ever siren sounds of the arresting gear and the never to forget time when taking a shower, instead of water coming out of the shower head, out came JP-5 jet fuel. Overall it was a good experience and friends were made with some friendships lasting more than 25 years after leaving the service.
Allan, thank you for taking the time to read this post. I hope you enjoyed it. Indeed, navy life is very unique.
What I hated most about submarine duty was the 18 hour day. After several weeks of this and no sunlight my circadian rhythm was gone. I’d wake up on my rack, look at my watch and it would say 6 o’clock. Hmmm. Is that 6 AM or 6 PM? I’d slide open the curtain on my rack, lean out and try to get a sniff of what was cooking in the galley. Smells like eggs. Must be 6 AM. Wash up and go to the mess and find they are serving lasagna dinner. Oh, it’s 6 PM. Never mind. I’ve never been the same (sleep wise or circadian rhythm wise) since.
You left out Field Day. Chiefs standing around with flashlights during Field Day. I assume that you still enjoy a Patrol Sock which is why you omitted it. Good article. I enjoyed Pizza night but agree that the quality was low. Marked the passage of time. USS Alabama, Blue crew. USS Drum. USNS Mercy, by accident.
Ha ha! Good comment. Good memories. Thanks for reading.