Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Carter Departs For New Homeport... Twice

Cross-posted from The Stupid Shall Be Punished:

My last boat, USS Jimmy Carter (SSN 23) is on her way to her new homeport in Bangor, Washington. (As usual, read the article quickly, since you'll need to register starting tomorrow.) [Update 2231: Longer lasting version of the article is here.] What makes this departure interesting is that they had to do it twice. According to the article:

“When they were in transit, somewhere in Long Island Sound, they took a nasty wave,” Lt. Mark Jones said. Water poured into the bridge hatch and damaged some computer equipment below, requiring that the submarine return to port, he said.
“It was essential, but an easy-to-fix piece of equipment,” Jones said. “It was an easy switch-out on the computer, and they were back to sea and on their way by Saturday.
"Carter had departed Friday for Bangor, Wash., as part of a planned change of homeport, after being commissioned last February. Bangor, which has increased security measures, has long been the homeport of the spy submarine USS Parche, which was decommissioned last year...

"...It left Groton Friday morning for its trip to Bangor, and was transiting the Sound on the surface until it reached water deep enough for it to dive.
"Two lookouts and the officer of the deck were standing watch at the top of the sail, as required when the ship is on the surface, when a huge wave swamped them, sending hundreds of gallons of water flushing down the bridge hatch at the same time.
"The Navy sources said the bridge was completely submerged by the wave, and that if the lookouts and the officer of the deck had not been clipped in because of the foul weather they could have been washed overboard."

The article goes on to mention that this is very similar to the scenario that caused the fire on HMCS Chicoutimi last year. Of course, taking water down the bridge hatch is a fairly common phenomenon on submarines, so most of the equipment that can be doused is fairly protected. I'm assuming that with the Carter, since she's a unique configuration, they moved some of the equipment around, so probably something that wasn't quite as "hardened" ended up in the path of the water as it bounces out of the "bear trap" (the area beneath the bridge access trunk designed to collect the water that comes down). Note that on Seawolf class boats, the main Control room is not on the top deck, so the bridge is access from the deck above Control -- and is a little more forward than other boats, just forward of the Combat System Electronics Space -- which has lots of nice juicy electronics. Also, the "boot" in front of the sail tends to worsen the effect of some waves coming in from certain angles, IMHO. I used to assign myself the surface watches coming in to Groton all the time on Connecticut, and I got plenty wet.

The article also mentions that the boat was in the yard for work on her hydraulic system just prior to her departure. This also doesn't surprise me; as you might guess, the extra 100 foot section has quite a bit of extra hydraulics that isn't present on the first two boats of the class. I wouldn't be shocked to learn that they had to do a little re-design work to make the system as robust as it needed to be.

There are few things more embarassing for a boat than to have to limp back into port after leaving for a long deployment (or, in this case, COHP). On my deployment on the good ship Topeka in 1992, we had something similar happen. Got underway on 03 Aug 1992 with all the pomp and circumstance surrounding such an event, and dived the boat. When we came back up to PD that evening, we started hearing this loud banging noise from the bridge. It turned out that the fairing for our radar mast had come loose on one side, and needed to be replaced. So, we contacted the base, got new orders, turned around, and headed back in. (Luckily, our sister ship USS Pasadena (SSN 752) was in port at the time, so we were able to cannibalize the fairing from her.)

Of more interest was what happened ashore. The squadron called the CO's wife and the ombudsman, letting them know that the boat was coming back in, but it would only be for a few hours, and the wives shouldn't bother to come down to the base. The word went out over the wive's phone tree, and by the time this was passed around, the wives understood that they were all to meet at the McDonald's on base with the Commodore, who was going to brief them on what was going wrong with the ship. Needless to say, there were dozens of anxious wives on the pier when we arrived. The XO eventually relented and let the guys whose wives had come go up and talk to them. We then got back underway that afternoon and rushed to catch up with the Battle Group.

Break... new topic. I mentioned earlier that the word on the street was that the author of this article, Robert Hamilton, was going to be leaving The Day and going to work for EB. Today's paper confirms this. We'll miss your straight-shooting reporting and submarine knowledge, Bob.

Going deep...


At 12:40 PM, Blogger Dean said...

Love the blog. My grandmother worked for EB constructing Nautilus class boats.

It seems to me that there may be a design flaw here. I find it unimaginable that a boat would have to limp back to base from the relative safety of The Sound. How big of a wave could this have been? I don't ever recall anything bigger than 5ft working The Sound. Can this really send water down the hatch?

Conversely, if this is an expected occurance, shouldn't the electronics be better protected? It's foolish to let the boat back out with only a band-aid rather than fix the problem. What happens next time she takes on a few gallons?

At 5:43 PM, Blogger Bubblehead said...

The Seawolf class boats have so many redundant backups that I'm sure the part wasn't something they couldn't have done without if they were going out on a war patrol; but, since they were so close to port, I'm sure they decided just to head back in... and yes, I'm sure they'll come up with a repair that they'll install when they get to Washington. In the meantime, they'll only be on the surface for transiting the Canal and whatever port visits they do.

At 6:47 PM, Blogger Lubber's Line said...

We've had some nasty weather for the last couple of days here in Southern NE. It was blowing a constant 20 to 30 knots with some strong gusts out of the SE the other day. I've seen 15'+ rollers out by The Block in conditions like that. Especally if they were doing a transit out of The Slot with that wind direction. You can also get add some ground swell and possible rouge waves once you pass out of the land shadow of Long Island and Block Island.


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