Tough Voyaging

From the often fascinating blog of A.E. Brain comes this absorbing account of a collision at sea. How did I miss this? If you do nothing else, follow the link and scroll down to THE PICTURE. It's amazing they made it home.

Here are some excerpts from his later update.

1. A usually-sealed access hatch was open just half an hour before the collision - a hatch that led directly to the damaged area. At 500 ft, if it had been open, the boat would have been lost. The "shellback" initiation is a traditional ceremony dating back to when Noah was a boy.
2. The torpedo tubes on the left side of the ship (they're not in the nose) are wrecked. The outer doors are missing, the inner doors jammed, and the whole apparatus knocked out of alignment. The Main Ballast Tank valves are wrecked (F..d up beyond all recognition, not just wrecked, but totally smashed), the Main Ballast Tanks themselves have large leaks, the very-expensive spherical-array sonar at the bow is smashed, and the boat is so badly damaged it may be decomissioned - a write-off.
3. The torpedos tubes are wrecked (again), and if they'd been so badly damaged as to crack the pressure hull (which they penetrate), the situation would have been dire.
4. The Mk48/ADCAP torpedos carried by these boats contain a monopropellant called Otto fuel. Another name for monopropellant is "explosive", it burns without needing a source of oxygen. It burns rapidly too, one got dropped during loading a number of years ago, and a building 100 metres away was severely damaged by the resultant explosion. Anyway, the torpedos in the torpedo tubes were badly damaged, but not enough to cause a leak of this highly dangerous fuel. Had the US Navy used the same propellant as torpedos in the Russian Submarine "Kursk"... the outcome would have been similar to the Kursk's fate. Except that the San Francisco was already at 500 ft (the depth the Kursk finally came to rest), and it was another 5000 ft to the ocean bottom. She would have been lost with all hands.

For a first hand account, read the whole thing. Sample follows:

To All, I thought that I would put out a note since a lot of you have been calling and writing to find out how things are and if I'm OK and what happened. If you hadn't heard, my boat hit a uncharted submerged sea mount at the highest speed we can go at about 500ft below the surface. There were about 30 of us that were seriously hurt and unfortunately one of my shipmates didn't make it...
I don't remember much of the collision. People describe it as like in the movie the Matrix where everything slowed down and levitated and then went flying forward faster that the brain can process. My mind has blanked it out exactly what happened. Adrenaline kicked in and I have no real memory of how I got down to middle level or what I did immediately following. I helped carry several shipmates to the crew mess deck (adrenaline is a wonderful thing - my shoulder was wrecked and I had no idea until about 4 hours later)...

For military men, Kipling has never lost his appeal. In this case, "We Have Fed Our Sea" comes to mind.

posted by Justin on 02.01.05 at 10:01 PM


That is indeed some "external damage". I had no idea that the sub was so close to going down for good. Thanks for the post.

Eric   ·  February 2, 2005 12:46 AM

A mighty and tragic story. The great seas and oceans of this planet (which really should be called "Neptune") seem to be full of such stories. The seas are full of such pathos and power, from Odysseus to the "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea". I love the look of a great ship or submarine. Our submarines are said to be our ultimate nuclear deterrent against any enemy.

The Admiral: "the sea, seamen (real he-men!), and semen!" What a man! Too bad he had to go down to Davy Jones's Locker because of Wanda's wickedness.

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