Riding the Roof
By Jim 'Lucky' Gordon
Did you know that, although it was relatively calm at 5-600 feet deep, we would normally surface to ride out the roughest of weather on the roof. When a submarine surfaces it takes a couple of minutes for the water to drain out of the free flood area of fin and casing. The casing and fin have free flood holes all along the bottom adjacent to the pressure hull and ballast tank tops. The weight of that water causes the boat to be top heavy and heel over depending on the speed of the surfacing and the state of the sea. In very rough weather a rapid emergency surface could be catastrophic. So rather than risk having to surface in the event of an unrelated emergency we would face the wrath of Mother Nature on top. It wasn't a joy ride! There are a couple of particular incidents that stand out in my mind.
Icing is Not a Good Thing
In the North Atlantic, one time we were riding it out in freezing weather - cold enough for salt spray to freeze on contact. Ice build-up on the superstructure made us top heavy and very unstable. On our watch, Gil Mageau and I were doubled up on lookout doing 15 to 20 minute stints alternating with another team. It was normally just one lookout on watch. We were running shut down. That's when we kept the upper lid of the conning tower shut because it would often be submerged. (Water down the conning tower was Chicoutimi's fate). We had to lock out by entering the tower, shutting the lower lid and opening the upper lid to gain access to the bridge. We would relieve the other lookout team who then went below reversing the conning tower hatch routine.
We would then beat as much ice off the superstructure as we could for the next 20 minutes with chipping hammers. When we were relieved we would go below to the engine room, the warmest place in the boat, take off all of our wet frozen gear and hang it up to dry, then don the driest gear available to head back up. I can remember patting my face to break the ice out of my beard and eye brows to speed up the process. We might even have time to get a warm drink down. We did that for a four hour watch, 6 times up, then the next watch came on to take over.
Being Pooped - the Naval Version
Another time in warmer weather we were riding one out, running shut down, with a stern sea. J.E.D Bell was Officer of the Watch. (OOW). The sea was slowly building. When running into the sea we normally put rise on the for'd hydroplanes. As we road into a large swell the affect was that we would plane up and over it rather than through it. There was a tendency to be pushed deep enough for the swell to ride up over the bridge if the swell was big enough. We couldn't combat a stern sea the same way so it would force us deeper to the point that we were slow to recover. The next swell might push us deeper and so on. (Known as being "pooped"). It is dangerous to try to alter course in this situation. A beam sea, in the turn, could capsize us. When we realized that the sea had overtaken and was pooping us and we were slowly getting deeper before recovery there was nothing we could do but hang on.
Hold Your Breath as Long as Possible
The OOW ordered group up, full speed ahead to drive us up out of it but we were slow to react. Dinger told me that if we went under I was to hang on and hold my breath as long as possible. We weren't wearing life jackets and he said there was little chance of turning to rescue me if I was swept over. It was almost like slow motion as each swell rolled up from astern. The boat was shuddering in her attempt to regain the surface. With each swell I could feel the surge of air coming up from inside of the fin as the sea water rushed in through the free floods below to replace it. And I could see that it was rising up the sides until finally it was flowing in over the top.
Hang On Lucky!
Dinger and I were almost up to our shoulders facing each other. He could no longer communicate with the control room because the voice pipe cock was shut as part of running shut down and the tannoy was submerged. He was shouting "hang on Lucky" when I felt the increasing shudder of her screws biting in. The CO had taken charge from the control room and ordered batteries in series, the highest speed and shortest duration configuration of power from our batteries. Once we recovered enough, he ordered a man into the conning tower to reverse it so we could come below.
We rode out the rest of that one with the bridge unmanned keeping lookout on the search periscope. The North Atlantic can be ruthless at times.