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"Adventures at sea": How not to do a helo transfer.
Old 10-11-2007, 05:11 PM   #1
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"Adventures at sea": How not to do a helo transfer.

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.

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Originally Posted by lthrnckpa View Post
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 guillotines 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.
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Old 10-11-2007, 05:47 PM   #2
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WOW!! I'm trying to decided whether you bubbleheads are incredibly brave, or incredibly foolish? Glad you got Jethro back alive.
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Old 10-11-2007, 06:09 PM   #3
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Quite a story, thanks for posting it. I had a hard time picturing your situation until I realized the sub didn't really have a sail on it, that's the name of the superstructure tower. 35 foot wave?? Wow, that's some kind of rogue wave. Glad you got your buddy off, though probably not half as glad as he was.

I know you don't have a photo, but this guy drew what must have been going on below.

http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/5...side%201.0.jpg
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Old 10-11-2007, 06:24 PM   #4
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What a great story -- painted a vivid picture of something that most of us could not even imagine.

But I gotta tell ya, from the title I thought I was going to read a cautionary tale about someone using a Home Equity Loan to pay for a cruise! Quite a surprise, I must admit!

Thanks!
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Old 10-11-2007, 09:11 PM   #5
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I know you don't have a photo, but this guy drew what must have been going on below.
I haven't seen that one in years, thanks! Jeff Bacon rocks.
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Old 10-11-2007, 11:24 PM   #6
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Ahhh - a bona fide good 'ol sea story!
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Old 10-12-2007, 09:41 AM   #7
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So Nords, why submarines?

I know why I became a ground pounder, although in retrospect it seems pretty naive and foolish. It was the spring of 1980 and I was completely sick of college. Carter was NOT going to get re-elected, and Reagan was NOT going leave our hostages in Iran. The only force the President can commit without the approval of Congress is the United States Marine Corps. So I enlisted in the USMC. He'd have to send infantry, so that's what I joined up for. And it would most likely come from the East Coast, hence Camp Lejeune, NC. when I reported to Lejeune, I even requested the regiment that would be on air alert status in January 1981. Believe it or not I actually had visions of myself leading a teary-eyed, grateful hostage from the depths of the building to their first sunlight. I was 20, young, naive, and oh so foolish.
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Old 10-12-2007, 09:54 AM   #8
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Nords, Great sea story. You really, really, have a way with words. I'm going to want to read that book you're working on ...

I'm not going to attempt to tell it since I haven't the time or ability to properly spin it, but I did witness with amusement a day in Istanbul where while lowering the admirals yacht from the Independance it proceeded to capsize and bang against the side of the boat in the heavy current ... Unhappy Admiral, not very happy Captain when the Admiral took his boat. Smirking Airdales ...

T.R.
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Old 10-12-2007, 10:58 AM   #9
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Nords Nords Nords,

How your story, so humorously narrated, propelled me back to storms on destroyers. Funny how one’s mind purges memories of terrifying moments until dredged up by word pictures like yours. Any wave that crashes down on you from above is a wave to be avoided. At least submarines, unless they’re doing strange duty on the surface, can get below it all in a storm. Destroyers have to suck it up and ride it out. There is something extremely unnerving about standing on the bridge, fifty or so feet above the surface and straining your neck to look up at the next wave approaching abeam. During those moments I feared becoming part of a submarine-ing vessel. Can’t say I miss those times so much. Thanks for your story.
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Old 10-12-2007, 12:45 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by lthrnckpa View Post
So Nords, why submarines?
My dad sold Westinghouse steam plants to nuclear utilities in the 1960s-70s, so at a very young age I learned how a nuclear reactor worked. He was always bringing home free samples and cool books/drawings.

I had several superb Marine mentors at USNA and that was my first choice during plebe year & the Army's airborne school... right up until I did a six-week submarine cruise aboard USS GLENARD P. LIPSCOMB (SSN-685). Prospective commanding officers' training at the AUTEC range by Andros Island, doing everything from "Blind Man's Bluff" a dozen times-- once for each midshipman PCO. In between we enjoyed topside BBQs & swim calls. Those guys even had the pull to extend me onboard for a week (after the start of the academic year) for Bahamas liberty to permit completion of a critical part of the boat's schedule.

After that I was hooked, and the money was a lot better. It turned out to be a good choice because Rickover was threatening to draft "volunteers" again and I would have never had a chance been strongly encouraged to join the force.

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... propelled me back to storms on destroyers. Funny how one’s mind purges memories of terrifying moments until dredged up by word pictures like yours. Any wave that crashes down on you from above is a wave to be avoided. At least submarines, unless they’re doing strange duty on the surface, can get below it all in a storm. Destroyers have to suck it up and ride it out. There is something extremely unnerving about standing on the bridge, fifty or so feet above the surface and straining your neck to look up at the next wave approaching abeam. During those moments I feared becoming part of a submarine-ing vessel. Can’t say I miss those times so much.
What you guys (and the Coast Guard) regarded as "just another day at sea" would have had every submariner puking in the bilges. We did not tolerate pitching & rolling at all. Even six-degree rolls (admittedly at 400 feet) would get nervous looks and crashing crockery.

Once a group of 1980s boomer COs were given a Cold-War scenario that required them to operate at shallow depths for a 90-day patrol. The exercise said that equipment damage forced them to stay close to the surface (to copy radio broadcasts and be ready to launch missiles) in DEFCON III while enduring 20-30 degree rolls. All but one boomer CO immediately crumpled and requested to return to port ASAP (despite the DEFCON), except for the guy who'd actually spent some time aboard a destroyer and understood that people would adapt.
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Old 10-12-2007, 03:08 PM   #11
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What you guys (and the Coast Guard) regarded as "just another day at sea" would have had every submariner puking in the bilges.
You mean even Navy guys get seasick? I don't feel so bad. I crossed the Atlantic in the 60s on an old Sea Transportation Service ship, I think it was the SS Patton. We hit a North Atlantic storm that lasted for days, with waves washing over the bow. After some of that we were all told to go and stay below. At dinner time with the ship rocking we were in the mess deck when I saw the locked port hole go below sea level, then pop open, then it was like a fire hydrant at full blast with tables flying around. Every time the ship heeled that way it was like the fire hydrant turning on again. Some crew rushed over and timed locking it back up while the ship was heeling the other way. I lost my cookies about then and didn't regain them for three days.
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Old 10-12-2007, 03:36 PM   #12
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Submariners often get seasick, because you never have time to become accustomed to the motion. When you are below about 150 feet, you can't feel anything but the very largest waves, so most of the time, it is like sitting in a windowless office on dry land. The only time we typically faced the rolling seas was on transit to and from the dive/surface point. When leaving port, you need to get far enough out to sea so that the water is deep enough to make it safe to dive; conversely, you surface when the water gets too shallow and make the final run into port on the surface. That surface transit can often take hours, however. For example, to go into Groton, Connecticut, it is necessary to surface about 50-100 miles south of Long Island. In rough seas, the surface transit is hell itself, because submarines roll horribly due to the round bottom. For many hours, the air in the boat takes on the sweet smell of reprocessed chow. I was extremely thankful that I was the exclusive maneuvering watch Officer of the Deck on my boat, which meant I got to stand up on the sail in the fresh air whenever we were entering or leaving port.
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