Sunday, June 05, 2005

Going Vertical on Builders Trials

Yet another sea story....

Anyone who has been on a pre-commissioning unit knows that one of the most apprehensive times onboard is during builders trials, especially when you take the boat to test depth for the first time. Although it’s a relief to be done with much of the dirt and noise of construction, making sure everything works in an at sea environment presents a different set of stresses on the crew. Especially if you spent any time in the yards and saw what heavy lunch hour drinkers the yardbird welders could be. Made you wonder about the integrity some of those welds.

I was onboard for all the builder trials on the 731 boat including our first time to test depth. It was 1984-85 mid winter and we left EB Groton during the day with a full contingent of senior riders from squadron, contractors and EB yardbirds. We meet up with our escort ship Raytheon’s SubSig II out of NUSC Newport. She would monitor our builder trials evolutions (transit to test depth) and keep contact with us via Gertrude UQC.

It was night by the time we started our descent into the dark reaches of the Atlantic. The descent was a slooooow process moving in increments of 100 feet at first and then something less as we got deeper. We would hang at each increment while everyone on watch checked for leaks. The plan was that once we reached test depth we would signal SubSig II that the Alabama was ready for the next test, a normal ballast tank blow to the surface. This would also give the escort time to verify the area was clear and to reach a safe distance.

We had just got to test depth when... The COLLISION ALARM goes off, (Assume flooding)! On the 1MC comes "Station sounding alarm, report." repeated and repeated. The Gold crew Navigator Cmdr.Ward was on the Conn and the Supply Officer was the diving officer. When no report came back the IC chief in control immediately reported that the alarm was coming from the engine room. Without hesitating Cmdr Ward ordered the emergency blow. Then came the sound of BOOM, BOOM and the rush of air filling the ballast tanks. Emergency Blow had been initiated and we were on our way to the surface like a cork. This all took place in seconds.

Emergency Blow (Source: US Navy)

The thing I remember most about this was I was on my way past the mess decks heading to the NAV Center to start my watch. When the alarm and emergency blow happened my first thought was to shut and dog the missile compartment door I just stepped through. But, when I turned around all I saw was the deadlight and the handle spinning. Next was the DC station on second level forward of Missile Fire Control. I was on my way past the wardroom passageway when I came face to face with the senior rider onboard from squadron. He was white as a ghost, looked confused, and was yelling "WHAT THE F*$K IS GOING ON." I had no time to speculate with him, I wanted to get the second level DC equipment back to the DC party staging in the mess decks.

I found out sometime afterwards that immediately after the emergency blow the diving officer started calling out depths and for a short time the depths were still getting deeper before we started moving in the right direction. The OOD had tried to get the escort ship on the UQC with no response. When we got to the surface we found out that the escort had turned tail and ran as fast as she could when we initiated the emergency blow.

So was there any flooding?
No, it turned out that one of the crew had got his shirt sleeve caught on the collision alarm and set it off while inspecting for leaks back outboard the aftermost engine room mezzanine. He didn't realize he had set it off or that it was stuck in the on position due to a broken spring. When he heard the alarm he went to wherever his assigned DC station was back aft.

When I eventually got to the NAV Center I was told we registered between 14 and 15 knots vertical velocity on the SINS and ESGM accelerometers during our ascent.


At 11:56 AM, Blogger bothenook said...

i don't know anything about builder's trials, but a post refueling overhaul sea trials can't be much better. one of these days i'll post about the engineroom fire that almost got away from us, which would have added a third star to the nuke fleet lost boat flag.
it was that close.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Solomon2 said...

Especially if you spent any time in the yards and saw what heavy lunch hour drinkers the yardbird welders could be.

I've been to a construction shipyard and know exactly what you mean. I've never been on a submarine, though I can see myself doing it - but I don't think I have the guts to be in a boat for its first deep dive. As for continuing downwards for a few moments after the start of the emergency blow, that seems normal to me (inertia, steering)- but I still would have been scared s--tless.

Was the fabric on the sleeve the culprit, or the sleeve's buttons?

At 9:31 PM, Blogger Lubber's Line said...

Bo - never had to deal with a fire onboard except in the laundry, an engine room fire sound pretty worst case to me, you got to post that one.

Solomon2 - Collision/flooding alarm stations a placed throughout the boat, usually in places that make sense (lots of hull penetrations). The one that was tripped was the one farthest aft in an area sometimes called "shaft ally". It's been 20 years so I don't remember all the details but I'm sure the crew member who tripped the alarm was doing a contortionist act with a flashlight as he looked for leaks.


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