Don Meadows MMC/SS (Ret.)
Names in this installment have been changed. You’ll see why later.
Air is a funny thing. In the outside world you hardly notice it. Same is true on a submarine. Oh sure you know what air is and what it does.12psi in the ballast tanks means they are empty. 2000psi is great for shooting weapons. 40psi means you can flush the head. These are just numbers, that don’t really mean anything. However, when you see air pressure in use it can and does leave an impression.
It was a rough surface transit from the surfacing point to the pier in Groton. Seas of 20 feet hounded us all the way to the New London Light. The seas were bad but when you add the freezing wind of a New England winter, it was hell. We had just completed a TRE (Technical Readiness Evaluation.) The entire crew was bone tired, and looking forward to sometime at home.
As luck would have it, I of course had the duty after the ship was tied up and topside rigged. I had it all planned out. Eat some dinner, call the wife watch a movie and then hit the rack until time for my topside tour.
We made short order of bringing the ship in. No one wanted to spend any more time in the weather than they had to. Within the hour of the first line going over it was just me and the duty section. The first part of the plan was successful. I ate a nice dinner of spaghetti with a wonderful meat sauce. Afterwards I made my way forward to the Goat Locker.
I heard the announcement over the 1MC. “Rig Ship For Lady Visitors. There Will Be Lady Visitors Onboard Till Further Notice.”
Oh one bit of information I left out. “When it is very cold, a submarine will align its ventilation system in the recirculate line up. This means the boat is still tight as if it were submerged. This ventilation lineup keeps the warm air in. Air is drawn into the ship via whatever hatch is open. However this does funny things when the weapons shipping hatch is open.
I had just picked a movie to watch when I felt my ears try to pop. At about the same time I heard the CAMS (Central Air Monitoring System) alarm. Seconds later I heard a commotion in upper level under the weapons hatch.
Being so ingrained with submarine life I went to the scene, and what a scene it was. There was our cook, (We’ll call him Bill) who dripping wet weighed about 100 pounds. His eyes were wide with terror, as he and the Below Decks Watch wrestled and pushed at something in the hatch.
“What is going on?” I asked just knowing there were no pleasant answers.
“Bill looked at me his eyes wide as the plates he served us on. “My wife,” he yelled pointing to the hatch. Now let explain Bill’s wife. She is wonderful lady and she and Bill are to this day some of my best friends. However Mrs. Bill tipped the scale I would say at about 325. On this day, Mrs. Bill had started down the weapons shipping hatch ladder and somehow gotten her…her well have you ever heard the term ‘butt in a ringer?’
Why I looked up the hatch I will never know. All I saw was stretching spandex. It kinda looked like a huge water balloon that was filling to the bursting point.
Both man had pushed and shoved but the…the lady would not move. The fans were now drawing a vacuum on the ship wedging her tighter in the hatch. Oh yeah just so you know, the hatch is 21 inches in diameter. We could hear her somewhat, and she was less than happy. I started feeling pretty bad myself.
I went to control and picked up the growler. I had for a moment thought of calling the Duty Officer and formally asking permission to “Surface Ventilate,” however I thought that explaining that Mrs. Bill’s butt was stuck in the hatch and the suction on the ship was about to pop the fan room vacuum breakers, might take some time, so I went ahead and did it. I hit the toggle for VH-1 Snorkel Head Valve, and opened VH-2 Induction backup. I actually thought I heard the fans sigh with relief.
Sure that the pressure would equalize and free the huh…blockage, I went back to the hatch. No the blockage remained, wedged tight as ever. By now the Duty Officer arrived. I quickly briefed him on status. You could just see the gears in his head turning as he wondered how he was going to explain this to the Captain.
All options were now on the table. One idea: grease. Bill went to the galley retrieved some lard and applied it to the problem. More pushing, and still nothing. Next idea: have some one pull from topside. The unlucky Sonar Tech could not find enough leverage, and that plan went the way of the Goony.
Last idea before we called for professional help. Salvage air. Salvage air is a 700psi system designed to keep water out by putting air pressure in. Now we had to be careful with this. Too much air and the local paper’s headline for the next day would have said something about a 350 pound woman with a greased butt flying over Naval Submarine Base Groton.
Once again the ship was put in Recirculate and we gently applied the 700psi till a squishy pop and a moan was heard. Other than a bruise and a great story Mrs. Bill was none the worse for wear.
So next time you see a psi, think about it. It may just save your butt.