After nuclear power school and prototype I was sent to the fleet and assigned to a submarine. My "boat" (submarines are not called "ships") was the Ohio (SSBN-726). I was part of the pre-commissioning crew, and then the Gold crew once construction of the boat was completed and control of it was turned over to the Navy. Above is a picture of the Land Level Facility at General Dynamics' Electric Boat Shipyard in Groton, Connecticut. The submarine in the water was the Ohio. The boat on the pier was the Michigan. It was the second boat of the Ohio Class of Trident submarines. This picture was taken in 1979 for the keel laying ceremony of the third Trident submarine. At this point it was known as the "28 boat", and was no more than the round ring you see on the pier between the two boats. It was eventually named the Georgia (SSBN-728). While the Ohio looked like it was ready to go it was actually two more years after this picture was taken before it went on its first sea trial. The ants in the picture are people.
Being part of the pre-commissioning crew, and one of the first crew members of the boat, makes you a "plank owner" which gets you a large certificate to hang on your wall, and entitles you to a piece of the boat when it is decommissioned.
Above is a picture of the Ohio in July of 1981 during its first of three sea trials. The white "targets" that were painted on the deck were there to help the pilot of a Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle (DSRV) find the three hatches into the boat in the event that we were to sink, which, of course, was entirely possible since this was the first time that the boat, or any U.S. boat of this size, had been at sea. You can't see me, but I was in the boat way back in the engine room, waving while this picture was being taken.
We obviously didn't have any serious problems during our first sea trial (none that I can talk about, anyway), but not all boats have been that lucky. Above is a picture of the USS Thresher (SSN-598) on it's first run after a period in the shipyard. The Thresher was also the first boat of its class. It never returned from its initial deep dive. It's presumed that at some depth a hull valve or seawater pipe, probably in the engine room, gave way which caused the boat to start to flood. Possibly because of the location of the flooding and the spraying of seawater on some electrical panels, the Thresher's reactor shut down. This led to a loss of propulsion which meant that the engines couldn't be used to drive the boat back up to the surface, whose weight was increasing rapidly because of the flooding. In a case such as this an emergency blow procedure is performed to bring the boat to the surface (which some skippers in Hawaii now do just for the fun of it...ahem). High pressure air is released into the main ballast tanks on both ends of the submarine. As those tanks fill with air the boat should float to the surface. Unfortunately it's believed that air filters that were installed to prevent particles of dirt from getting into the emergency blow valves were too small in diameter, and the moisture in the air going through them began to freeze effectively blocking the flow of air to the main ballast tanks. The boat never reached the surface and was lost with all 129 hands on board. "Poking holes in the ocean" is serious business.
Above is the USS Ohio on the Hood Canal near Bangor Submarine Base in Washington state, USA.
The USS Ohio emblem.
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