Saturday, March 31, 2007

Open Mic, & Story

So, no-one showed up for open mic tonight, the first time that's happened. I've given up trying to figure out the traffic patterns of when and why people come to Rockhoppers. It's like waiting for a bus -- no matter when you get to the bus stop, or what time the bus is scheduled, the bus comes when the bus comes. A friend or two did show up, and we swapped stories. Here's my best story from the night. In the late 90's I was in the Navy, working on a ship. The USS Dixon (AS-37) was a submarine tender, designed to replenish and repair submarines at sea. It turned out that is was dangerous and stupid to replenish and repair submarines at sea, so the ship spent 11 months of the year 'welded' to the pier. Once a year it had to go to sea for at least 30 days, so it could still be considered 'sea duty' for the people working on the ship. Sea duty came with more pay and promotion opportunities. So, we got to live and play in sunny San Diego most of the year, and then go to something like 'fleet week' in San Francisco, or Seafair in Seattle. The summer before I came aboard, the ship went to Alaska and did charity work in some town on the coast. On the way back from this stop, they headed fairly far out to sea, rather than hugging the coast as usual. Well, a bad storm came up, and the ship was getting tossed around pretty good. Here is a web page about the ship.

A little about the layout of the ship is in order here; the ship was capable of repairing anything up to and including a nuclear reactor, and had a huge machine shop. The machine shop was in the middle of the ship, and had huge doors that were normally bolted shut. Once a year, or so, they would open the doors to make sure they still worked, grease the seals, and bolt them shut again. Sometimes they would open the doors to bring in large items, but never while at sea. The machine shop was fully equipped, with every possible type of machine tool, and supplies and materials locked away in cages around the edges.

When the storm hit the ship, the old tub got to rocking and rolling, a lot. In fact, the storm was so bad that people were getting injured from falling. Many people were sea-sick, which was OK with the kitchen, because all they could make were sandwiches and kool-aid at this point.

The storm continued to build, and finally the chief engineer called up to the captain to tell him some devastating news: he couldn't keep the boilers lit. The ship was about to go dead in the water. The fuel oil was sloshing so much in the burners that it was smothering itself. This meant that the ship would be at the mercy of the sea, with no way of steering into the waves. They would likely take a number of waves full on sideways.

That's exactly what happened. The ship went on emergency power, a huge generator driven by a 10-cylinder Caterpillar diesel engine, and lost all headway. The waves were pounding the side of the ship, and she was rolling, rolling beyond what her designers intended. The crane in this picture:

fell off the boat completely. They didn't find this out until later, though. With the waves pounding the side of the ship, the walls would alternate as the floor, in an unpredictable pattern. If the people aboard were miserable before, they were triply miserable now. Only a few hardy souls were able to function at all. The corpsmen were out of the normal pain and anti-nausea drugs, and were using morphine stylets from the Korean war. They were starting IV's while they were on IVs themselves.

Then, everyone heard a disquieting noise, or noises, actually. It sounded like something was crashing into the ship -- something besides water! Investigating, a damage control team found a hellish nightmare in the machine shop. The large doors had begun leaking, and there was a few inches of water sloshing back and forth. In this large space, with the ship rocking side-to-side, and front-to-back, the waves were occasionally several feet high. Worse, some of the large metal billets had broken through the supply cages, and were now crashing back and forth, smashing into the side of the ship with tremendous force like a battering ram.

Some of the machine tools had integral electrical transformers, and these had been broken open, spilling their insulating oil. That oil was also sloshing about liberally with the sea water. This made the situation even more dangerous for the damage control team, but they had to act: the ship was in mortal danger. The brave men and women (there were 1600 sailors aboard, 1200 men, 400 women) set about lassoing the billets, holding them in place between rolls and waves crashing inside and out, and welding them to the metal deck and uprights wherever they could. Some had to go below the machine shop to watch for (and put out) fires from the welding. Others made for the giant doors, and tried to secure them so that no more water came into the ship.

Eventually they finished the dangerous task, not without injury, but without loss of life. The ship was safe, for now. Then, the lights went out. The diesel fuel for the emergency generator was contaminated by water, and the generator was out of action -- in fact the huge 10-cylinder engine was ruined. Now the ship was truly dead in the water, as the storm raged. Many hours later, the storm abated, and the main engines were thankfully re-lit. No-one had been killed, but the injuries were many, some very severe. The ship limped back to a safe port.

After that trip, the ship stayed close the coast for the rest of it's life. It's now been used as a target and sunk, possibly with the very torpedoes it used to carry. Ironic?

No comments:

Video, Live Cams, Stories, Art, and much, much more from Whidbey Island