The Crew's Mess
Welcome to the Crew's Mess... slide into the corner there and the messcook will be right by to take your order...black and bitter right? heheh. Wait a minute...aren't you supposed to working on QUALS??? Oh alright, I'll cut you some slack if you listen to one "No Shitter". Then I want to see you "Turn To" on Quals. You're lucky I'm your Sea Daddy.
I was getting ready to tell a sea story and wondering if anyone would find me in here. I've been recalling some of the crazy things that we did as kids. One of the craziest things we ever did was to volunteer to ride these old boats. Most of us made it back unscathed, so maybe it wasn't as bad at that. I always used to compare my present situations to 20 years before my time, when this boat was at war with Japan. Then it really was do-or-die, not some half-assed game we were usually playing. There is no substitute for the "real thing". Sobering thought I know.
My first big trip on the Sea Robin occurred around the first of September 1964. It was one of those NATO exercises, and we were supposed to play the bad guys. Our missions were usually the opposite...target practice for someone. But this time we got to write our own script and play the game our way. The patrol area assigned to us as I recall was north of the British Isles and we played the game for all it was worth. Of course we were without the shore-side amenities, but that was routine. What was not routine was the weather. It was mostly brutal. We got hammered by the remnants of two late season hurricanes on our way to the operating area. We stayed submerged mostly snorkeling. We came to the surface late..after dark to top off the battery, and went down way before daybreak. If necessary, we would finish the charge while snorkeling. All of this made for some nasty living conditions. It was cold to begin with, and heavy seas most of the time. A situation that could best be appreciated by anyone that made a Northern run I'm sure. We never did a Northern run on the Sea Robin. At least during the 4 years I was there, we didn't. I remember seeing a couple of boats return to New London with most of their superstructure missing after one of those trips. "Heavy Seas" they said,....sure. Glad it was them, not me.
We rode out the remnants of two hurricanes over one 10-day period, existing mostly on sandwiches, 3 meals a day. No way the cook could keep anything on the stove. We had lookouts on the bridge for awhile, with safety chains. That was until one wave washed the starboard lookout off of the bridge anyway. When the wave subsided, he was dangling over the deck held only by his chain. They secured the topside detail after that and manned the conning tower instead. We took some terrific rolls during that trip, we were all so tired of being bounced around. The usual bunch were seasick, as can be imagined. A few salts were also having a hard time. During the bad weather we took a 65 degree roll to starboard. I was in the control room at the time, watching the inclinometer over the secondary steering station. It just hung there at 65...and the boat was shaking like you would not believe. The port prop must have cavitated or something. I remember thinking that I thought we were going to stay there. To make matters worse, we rolled all the way back over to port 56 degrees. All you could hear was crash..bang all over the boat. Equipment was breaking loose from mounts, toolboxes sliding around, spare parts dumping off the shelves in the storerooms, dishes and cup smashing everywhere. Notebooks, manuals, everything imaginable were sliding around in oily waterways. What a mess.
Later on during that same trip, we discovered a merchant ship convoy being escorted by NATO warships coming through our assigned patrol area late one night. Battle Stations was sounded and I had a station on the radar in the conn. We maneuvered right into the middle of the convoy and commenced a periscope attack. The captain had the con and we had plotted targets all around us. The call goes to the forward torpedo room on the 7-MC to commence launching green flares. Shortly, the flares pop to the surface and light off, shooting up and illuminating the sky. The TM's had the drill down..they really could get them out in a hurry. It must have looked like the 4th up there. After a while, the captain starts taking a sweep on the scope to check for more ships. As he swept past our starboard quarter aft, he stops the sweep suddenly and orders "ST range...down scope...take her down." I was just able to key the radar before the #1 scope was lowered, and cranked the range-bug on the A scope furiously to where I thought the blip had been. "350 yards" I reported. "Get me down...sound the collision alarm..shut the lower hatch" came the next commands. All we could do now was wait. The emergency dive evolution was in progress. Negative tank was flooded, more speed was ordered, bow and stern planes were at full dive...nothing to do but wait. I crouched down next to the bathythermograph watching the depth gauge. It seemed it was taking hours for us to descend. We had a down angle, but the boat was not going down, it seemed. "What's the depth?" the old man would ask and I would say "60 ft...61ft....62ft..." Agonizing. The captain says he only saw the bow of the ship...and white water, that the ship came out of nowhere and must have turned towards the source of all the green flares to simulate a counter-attack. Now the boat started to move, but we were sure that if anything was going to get run over...we would be caught in the middle of that mess, being trapped in the highest compartment of the boat we were most vulnerable. It all seemed like an eternity, but it only took a minute or so, I'm sure. In the conn we all heard the twin screws of the ship pass over us very clearly...aft. It was obvious then that we were safe now, but right away we wondered out loud if our long wire radio antenna was going to be there when we surfaced...it was amazing. The engine rooms heard the destroyer as well. I guess we were just plain lucky. Many more adventures would come along in my remaining 3 years aboard. Ahh submarining..
Scroungy crew getting first tastes of fresh air and and a bit of sunshine after a month at sea.
l to r...
Art Hall, ??(CRS), Sam Hitt (squinting), me, Danny Trochimowitz, Tom Ward
The "BIG DAY" for a Boat Sailor.
Mine was October 5, 1964
Boat sailors always remember THIS day.
I was summoned to the wardroom and presented my Dolphins by LtCDR Robert E. Groder, Commanding Officer of the Sea Robin. We were in Portsmouth England at the time, having just finished 34 days of war games in the North Atlantic. It seems ironic to me that the boat was also constructed in Portsmouth, New Hampshire a little over 21 years previously. I still have this pair of Dolphins, mounted on a plaque along with the Sea Robin emblem.
ETNSN(SS).... foreign liberty port....it doesn't get any better than that
My first liberty wearing my "fish" was a long weekend in London with two some other shipmates. We had a ball and I felt like I was on top of the world. I was so pumped I could hardly sleep. You have to have lived the experience to know that feeling. If you have earned the title Qualified in Submarines, you've been there.
A quiet moment in the crew's mess with Robert "Doc" Michaud HMC(SS). Now that I'm qualified, they let me sit down here and enjoy myself, even watch movies. That jukebox on the bulkhead was just for show. It was embarrassing to us ET's that we could never keep that machine running. Whoever heard of a civilian jukebox that could handle the environment of a diesel boat anyway! I wish I could remember the guy in front of me (Williamson maybe). More CRS.