I was going to post a reply to "A Challenge That Put Wind in His Sails"
but I'll start a separate thread. Maybe this will encourage impressionable youths to take the sub way to accelerate their lives and let the adventure begin, because it's not just a job.
Originally Posted by lthrnckpa
Nords I actually thought you were a pretty bright guy. But how smart can anyone be who goes to sea in a boat that is designed to sink!!??
Brave words for a graduate of infantry training! But subs are also designed to surface... especially when you shut the hatches prior to submerging. And submariners are a lot better under the surface than on it.
Land's End, Atlantic side of the English Channel. Not exactly a resort known for its calm seas and gentle breezes, especially in winter.
Our boomer was doing a humanitarian evacuation for a crewman whose family had a medical crisis. Due to
lack of available backup boats
Cold War issues we had to stay on launch alert so we couldn't go pierside or do it off a smallboat. For reasons that seemed perfectly logical at the time we elected to do it by helicopter. Despite the totally awesome professionalism of the British helo pilots, you can't help but reconsider the wisdom of that logic when those gigantic
chopper blades are hovering 10 feet above your sail. But the helo was the best part.
The weather was crappy-- overcast, rainy, gusty-- yet we pressed on because the seas weren't "too" bad. We got the HUMEVAC guy on the sail, dressed for helo-transfer success, and they snatched him away without any trouble. We brought up his seabag with a couple mailbags and put a luggage guy on the port fairwater plane to hand them up to the helo on its second pass. Luggage guy was essentially standing on a diving platform 20 feet above the water but he was also dressed for success in a survival suit, safety harness, and shock cord clipped to the bridge padeye.
As the helo came up from astern we all turned aft to watch the transfer. The CO, with those flawless instincts handed out to COs at the command school, turned forward to check the conditions and shouted "Hang on!" The oncoming wave was easily 35 feet high because I was on a 25-foot bridge and I was still looking up at a healthy elevation.
The helo immediately waved off while we only had time to grab handholds & utter expletives. When you dump a few hundred gallons on top of a submarine sail, the cockpit (with its open hatch and trunk down to the control room) turns into a vast toilet bowl, complete with vortex and sucking noises. Luckily we were all harnessed and shackled to the bridge. First I was flushed over the side of the cockpit (swimming like hell), then the waters receded down the trunk and I was sucked back in. The phonetalker's body was plugging the hole for the rest of us so he only had to deal with temporary drowning and our added weight slamming onto him. The water drained down the trunk pretty quickly.
As the wave hit, my last sight of the luggage guy was unbelievable and the image is forever seared into my cerebral cortex. I won't use his actual name, but "Jethro" was known more for his brute strength than for his nuclear-trained mechanic's intellectual prowess. When the CO had yelled to hang on, Jethro had interpreted this to mean grabbing a suitcase in each hand, tucking them under his arms, facing the wave head-on, and crouching down in his best "Cowabunga!" pose. He must have written an incredible letter to his wife, or else he never realized the CO might be suggesting that he care for his own safety and not that of the crew's mail. Or maybe he knew what his shipmates would do to him if he lost the mail.
While we untangled ourselves from the phonetalker and staggered up, dripping & spewing, the saltwater slug had rammed down the trunk-- arriving just as the XO was about to stick his head up the hatch to see what all the fuss was about. Luckily he was only knocked down and his body absorbed most of the water's shock for the rest of the control room watchstanders. It surged behind the electronics panels and started a few fires, although the crew on the mess decks (below the control room) thought the casualty was actually flooding. So things were a bit confused. Everyone kept busy for a few minutes with fire extinguishers & mops.
I looked around and saw the helo back aft plucking the bags out of the water (they floated!). I counted noses and Jethro was missing. Those of you who've lost a shipmate know how that feels, and the phonetalker had lost his phones so I shouted "Man overboard!" down the hatch.
Good reflexes, bad idea. We'd lowered all the masts & antennae into the sail for the helo transfer, and one of the first responses to "Man overboard" is to raise the periscopes for a search. The CO and I were both leaning aft looking over the sail for Jethro when the periscopes rose up out of their wells to punch each of us in the gut, giving us a free elevator ride back out of the cockpit to the limits of our own harness shock cords. We wriggled off the scopes (the Navigator later said "I wondered why they slowed down all of a sudden") and we kept looking around but we couldn't see Jethro.
His shock cord was still clipped to the bridge so I started hauling it in. It freaked me out when it tugged back at me-- I looked aft again and Jethro had just surfaced in the water along the port side, getting smacked against the missile deck and attempting to barefoot it while climbing up the superstructure. The three of us finally hauled in enough slack to get him out of the water and huddled behind the sail while we jockeyed the boat for a calmer position in the seas. He eventually crawled up the sail ladder and we sent him below, lucky to be alive.
Where the XO, spluttering seawater, mad as a wet hen (and bearing more than a passing resemblance to one at that moment), threatened to kill Jethro for violating safety regs. "Shock cords" are accordion-folded lengths of webbing stitched together to make a six-foot bundle with clips at both ends. If someone slips slowly off a platform, the shock cord (attached to their harness) stops them and avoids a fall. If someone flat-out tumbles into space (or plummets into a 35-foot wave), the shock cord stitching is designed to rip loose into a longer strand of webbing to slow their descent and hopefully avoid banging them into too much superstructure. Unfortunately Jethro had chosen to clip two shock cords together "so he could move around", and boy did he ever. If he'd attached a third shock cord he'd have been barefooting it around the screw.
So it all ended well. Our HUMEVACee's family member recovered with him at their side. The families got their letters, only slightly waterlogged. We eventually made it back out to deeper water and submerged for the rest of the 90-day patrol. I had an interesting periscope-shaped bruise on my stomach but it faded before we got back home. (Sorry, no pictures.) In exchange for the XO's suspended execution, Jethro wrote an "I wuz there" letter to the Naval Safety Center about why two shock cords are worse than one.
And I declined to supervise any further helo transfers.