One of my least favorite memories of the USS San Francisco was the stop we made in Guam in 1982. In an earlier blog, I talked about the first part of the visit where the wives came to visit. But in the middle of the stay, two things happened that made it a very bad memory. The first thing that happened is probably still classified so let me just say that during a routine evolution, sea water was found in a high pressure air line. You don’t need to know a lot about submarines or high pressure air lines to know that its probably not a very good thing to find sea water in them.
When 4500 pounds of pressurized air rapidly squeeze through pipes in any amount of volume, anything that is carried along with that air becomes like a carving knife on the surfaces they come into contact with. That air is used for a number of things inside the boat but one of the most important things is the emergency blow system that can rapidly return a boat to the surface in an emergency. Salt water in that system can also cause a very highly corrosive effect so it was important to get this taken care of as quickly as possible.
The second thing that happened was the approach of one of Guam’s typhoons. The wives were gathered up and sent back to Hawaii and we got to work trying to fix the boat. Normally, typhoons and submarines have a mutually compatible agreement… they come and we go under them. It has worked well for most subs for years. You still feel some of the effects but as long as you drive anywhere but where the typhoon is, you are pretty safe.
But if your emergency blow system is out of commission (as well as some other pretty important equipment) you will not be diving anywhere. If you can’t get it fixed you will be buttoned up next to the safest pier you can find and pray the storm surge doesn’t get you. Even though the lines are tied up pretty well, any appreciable surge would probably snap them like ribbons. All of the other ships were leaving so we would be on our own.
Auxiliary Division and others worked feverishly around the clock with the help of the tender guys and we did some pretty creative things to try and empty any traces of salt water from the HP air lines. Flush after flush with testing that continues to reveal the extent of the contamination. All the while, we were being fed information about the location of the typhoon as it got closer and closer. I can never remember being so tired in my life after we finally managed to get the all clear just in time to clear the port.
I think we were too tired to be afraid. But as Irene closes down on the east coast tonight, I can imagine how many people are feeling. We all know that hurricanes can come at any time. We get complacent and are willing to take the risk because of the joy of living close to the water and all its adventures. But no one can ever be fully prepared for Mother Nature’s fury in a way that will completely shelter them.
Prayers go out to all. Listen to the advice of the emergency workers. And we will see you all on the other side next week.