Thought I'd share with you guys the worst day of my life, Jan 8th 2005.
Here's a little short story I wrote about what I remember from the incident. I was one of the two sailors studying the reactor coolant chemistry graphs. I flew 15 feet (measured distance, not message board distance) and cracked some ribs against the mammoth coolant charging pumps. I still have a scar on my face from slashing my eyebrow against some hot pipe flashing. The crew of the USS San Francisco was a happy crew. With the help of its new skipper, Commander Kevin Mooney, they transformed the ship and themselves from the worst submarine in the Pacific Fleet to a front-running, highly skilled, and well-maintained ship in a little over a year. The San Fran became known as a "Hot Boat". The Navigation, Sonar, and Operations departments passed a grueling series of inspections and demonstrations with flying colors. The Engineering department, in six month's time, upgraded their Operational Reactor Safeguards Examination grade from lowest possible score to the highest a sub has ever achieved. The crew had just completed a two month mission stalking Chinese submarines all over the Pacific when it received its next mission: two weeks of rest and relaxation in glorious Brisbane, Australia.
After a short, regularly scheduled maintenance shutdown in Agana Harbor, Guam, the reactor was fired up once more and the San Fran was underway. Brisbane or Bust. It's a non-stop, five day transit at flank speed all the way, because that's how submarines do business- "get there quick, and get there quiet."
The crew was ecstatic, which is the polar opposite of normal attitudes when getting underway. Not only were they bound for Down Under, the equator would be crossed as well. That entails a ship-wide, formal ceremony filled with shenanigans and harmless, constructive hazing for those who have not yet crossed this waterborne landmark. Normally all gruff and no-nonsense, Master Chief Seilkop was roaming the ship with an eye patch and a pirate's scruffy beard, brandishing a plastic cutlass. The currents coursing through the ship and her crew were running high.
Saturday, January 8th, 2005. Saturday is field day, where the ship gets scrubbed from top to bottom- on the inside, of course. On the outside of the hull of this underwater iron missile, the ocean is rushing past at 35 knots, 500 feet below the surface. Saturday is also Burger Day, the best meal besides the rare crab leg dinner. It's lunchtime, and most of the sailors are all lined up throughout the passageways of the middle deck, waiting their turn in the lunch line. The rest of the crew is manning all of the underway watchstations, controlling the ship and running the reactor plant. They know that a bacon cheeseburger is in the near future and are contentedly awaiting watch relief. The crossing of the equator is only three hours away, and the ceremony is all set to go. The two 60-inch plasma TVs (one each in the crew's mess and the officer's mess) are burning an 8mm of the latest flick that is still only a week old in the theaters. Perth is just a couple of days away, full of awaiting Sheilas and countless beers.
Two sailors are in the Engineroom, studying chemistry graphs of the reactor's coolant system. A handful of smokers are all the way back in Shaft Alley, the San Fran's only smoke pit. A few petty officers are gathered around the Plotter, constantly updating the ship's position and planning her course. Pretty routine, except no one's asleep in their racks- they're all roaming the ship with excitement.
A half-second rumbling, loud enough to drown out all other noise on the ship, is accompanied by a slight shiver down the keel, the spine of her hull.
A split-second for the sailors, their chiefs, and the officers to catch a glance of eye-contact with one another, a glance that said, "what the fuck was that?"
And in no time at all, the USS San Francisco's voyage came to an ubrupt, violent halt.
WHAM!!!!!!! Right in the kisser, the ship struck a mountain at flank speed, 500 feet down, head-on, and stopped instantaneously with an awkward rebound that left it sinking deeper. The ship halted, but everything that wasn't bolted down kept moving forward at flank speed. On a submarine, the only thing that isn't bolted down is the crew.
Those who were lucky to be in a passageway that runs athwartship were simply slammed against the bulkhead. Heads smashed the screens of both plasma TVs. Noses were bloodied, teeth lost against control panels.
The unlucky ones were those in the passageways that run forward-to-aft. Bodies were rebounding down passageways in unison, caroming off of machinery and piping. Bones were breaking and heads were splitting open, with each little bounce.
Imagine a Greyhound Bus full of people in a similar wreck, except instead of cushioned seats the bus is filled with steel and sharp angles.
The skipper, uninjured, rushes into Control to take command and finds a warzone of bodies and blood scraping itself off of the floor, reassuming control of the ship despite its casualties. Only one man, the Chief of the Watch, is still in his chair because it sits perpendicular to the boat's motion. He yanks on the Emergency Blow solenoid, and 3,000 pounds of air rush into the fore and aft ballast tanks. Hopefully this will float the sub back to the surface. There's a problem, though- five of the six forward ballast tanks have ruptured and the emergency air is gushing out of the San Fran like lifeblood out of a torn artery. The only thing that will save the ship is forward velocity, which will allow the Planesman to steer to the surface, to possible safety. Sinking deeper means certain death.
Back aft, the Engineroom is a whole separate chaos. Automatic nuclear protection systems have tripped and the reactor is trying to shut itself down. The Throttleman is unable to send steam to the propulsion turbines due a system interlock, which must be manually disabled by another sailor out in the Engineroom. Every sailor that was back aft is incapacitated and seriously injured. The Engineroom Supervisor is unconcious and losing blood fast. Master Chief Seilkop is struggling to sit up, his shattered forearm dragging. Without anyone to reset the steam interlock, all is lost. Petty Officer Matt Thurman, sprinting back to the Engineroom to assume control of the crippled watch, manages to coordinate a complete reset of all steam interlocks seemingly instantaneously to get the ship cruising again, back to the light of day, to safety.
Thankfully, the San Fran's crew knew exactly what to do to get the ship back to the surface and keep her there while waiting for the Coast Guard's fastest cruisers to arrive for support. Unfortunately, one sailor needed immediate medical attention and was unable to be removed from the ship, where he passed away despite the heroic efforts of the San Fran's sole medic. Petty Officer Joseph "Cooter" Ashley remains on patrol, and his spirit will forever run silent, run deep.
The survivors of the San Francisco collision become withdrawn and sad every time they think about Cooter, whose skull lost that battle with the fire hose locker. They remember standing at his funeral, answering the mournful, ceremonial roll call, when Master Chief Seilkop called out Cooter's name last. The silence that followed was the the most painful of many lives.
Anyways, sorry to be a bummer, but posting all this made me feel a little bit better, at least. And now, gimme a little moment of silence for General Fucking Cooter. Hey, you made it this far through the post, don't give up on me now!
We are not like those other golfers. We throw our clubs and keep our balls where they belong. -Ol' Bob