Being a boomer boat sailor, we were able to see the world. Well, some of the world. Actually, just a bit of the world. Truthfully, only a few ports! But, I enjoyed it very much and we made enough visits to give me the itchy-feet syndrome – liking to travel and experience other places.
I didn’t go to sea for about two years. After quite a few months of training, I wondered if I ever would make it to sea. Finally, of course, I did but getting there took a lot of training and time and patience. There’s no question that I was able to bounce around a little bit in my Navy career – and I am so glad that I did.
1. Great Lakes, IL – Ah! Navy boot camp. In late winter and early spring. We started out shoveling snow and walking on ice – nine weeks later we left wearing short-sleeve shirts and sleeping in the barracks at night with the windows open. I never did get out of the boot camp to see Chicago or any of the areas around northern Chicago. It just worked out that way.
2. San Diego, CA – My first time on the West Coast. And San Diego was a nice place to be. Big base, lots of opportunity to get out and around, and warm, sunny days and cool, breezy nights. I took many short jaunts around San Diego and down to Tijuana. Also, I took a number of short airplane trips up to and back from Los Angeles. I really liked southern California. San Diego is where we had to learn about physics, electronics, naval communications, procedures, and so much more. It was in San Diego that I volunteered and was picked up for Operation Deep Freeze in Antarctica. I was excited. But then an absolutely amazing opportunity came along to ride submarines. I often wish I had gone and done a winter over with ODF but I suppose my boat career would not have ended up being what it ended up being.
3. Groton, CT – From warm and sunny San Diego to cold and wintry Connecticut. I traveled to Groton (actually, I flew into Hartford and then was picked up and taken down to Groton) on a Jan 1 – I arrived in the early evening in Hartford because I remember watching a few minutes of a college football bowl game at the airport. But what really impressed me – it was snowing cats and dogs! And as I recall, we had snow on the ground for the next few months at the submarine base. Home sweet home. Groton (it is called New London but New London is actually across the river from the submarine base in Groton) is where we learned all of our basic submarine skills – damage control, navigation, electronics, escape (which isn’t ever likely), and other amazing topics. Groton is also where I was able to go aboard my first submarine for a visit. I was captivated.
4. Mare Island, CA – This is where I spent many, many months learning my tradecraft. We were escorted into highly secure buildings in the morning and let out in the late afternoon. It was a very exciting time – I was learning things that I had only dreamed of learning. And all of this would be taking place on boats running in who knows what oceans around the world. While at Mare Island, I fell in love with San Francisco and northern California. Even today, San Francisco is still one of my favorite cities and metro areas. Anyway, I remember the day we all got our orders. I had been almost a year in Mare Island – getting our final orders to our boats was a very special moment. Guys were getting orders to Japan, the Philippines, Hawaii, back to New London, San Diego. So many exciting places. Then they finally got to me – I’m a ‘Z’ of course so I am always the last on any list. Charleston? Where in the world is South Carolina?
5. Charleston, SC – I met my first boat and her crew in Charleston. Charleston was hot, muggy, and spring time was always about very heavy pollen. And everyone from the local area talked funny – kind of long, drawn-out words with a little nasally whip at the end. Things seemed just a tiny bit slower than many of the other places I had been. So this was the South? I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. But no time to wonder about things. After I had arrived and checked in with the crew, I was told that we would be leaving for sea in about 45 days – the crew was already getting ready.
6. Rota, Spain – At the time, our boat was running in and out of Rota. So my first time way out of the U.S. was on Tiger Air headed to Rota with a crew of around 120 fellow crew members. And this was for real. And when I saw the boat pull in, I was in love. I had never seen such an amazing feat of engineering plowing through the water in preparation to tie up to the submarine tender. Going aboard the boat for the first time was one of the highlights of my life. So we lived in and worked in Rota several times when we met the boat to take it from the other crew. I was able to get out quite a bit in Spain – I would love to go back to Spain and see some of the old places that we visited and enjoyed. Rota was a good place albeit a long way from home.
7. Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico – We never did many port calls due to the nature of our mission. We once, however, were called upon to make a port visit to Jamaica. This was really fortunate for us – rarely would boomers make port calls like this. And I remember that while underway I was reading up on Jamaica to get acquainted with what it would be like. We were scheduled to be there for several days in order to give some big-shots some tours and fly the flag and generally expand the influence of the kingdom. Unfortunately, however, just prior to our arrival there was some political unrest and, without question, there was no way a boomer would be making a port visit where there was political turmoil. Instead, we were able to pull into Puerto Rico. Not exactly an equal trade but a nice visit, regardless. All I remember about this visit was many of us shining spotlights into the water around the pier at night and seeing the thousands of little fish – gold, red, green, blue. It was like looking into a tropical aquarium. I had never seen anything like it. And I didn’t care for the fried bananas, either.
8. Holy Loch, Scotland – Later, our boat started making her runs out of Holy Loch. A tender literally sat out in the middle of a loch. Little boats would ferry people to and from a pier if a person wanted to get off or on the tender. Our boat crew would live on the boat or in berthing on the tender. And I really liked Dunoon, the small town that was situated on the Holy Loch. Again, I was able to spend time touring Scotland – Regina and I had picked England and Scotland as the places that we wanted to visit together someday. Holy Loch in the summer was almost storybook – it would never get dark. And in the winter – it was cold cold cold. But Holy Loch was a special place for me. I’m sorry that Regina and I were never able to visit…
9. Portsmouth, NH – So it came time for our boat to go through a shipyard period. Sailors can love or hate shipyards. I think I did both. After living in Charleston for several years – the heat, brown winters, humidity – Regina and I were completely knocked over when we arrived in New Hampshire and Maine in the late summer – it was cool, comfortable, inviting. The shipyard was in Portsmouth and we lived in Dover, ME. The shipyard was hard – long hours and dirty work and very cold in the winter. But it was also quite satisfying to tear apart our work space only then to be able to help in putting it all back together again. We really took ownership of our space, gear, and quarters. It was what we had lived in and we would continue to live in it after the shipyard – we wanted it to be right. The year or two in New England was magic – some of the best years of my life professional and personally.
10. Port Canaveral, FL – After coming out of the yards, we had to test launch some missiles. This was awesome. We spent probably two weeks in and out of Florida preparing for launches of our missiles. Of course, these missiles were all dummies and were launched out into the middle of an ocean somewhere but their flights and their programming was as if they were real missiles. Each time out, we were escorted by the Range Sentinel (here and here), a ship with more antennas than I had ever seen. I was once on-board the boat when we launched and I was once on the Range Sentinel being able to watch the boat launch a missile from a distance. (See here and here.) It is hard to explain what it was like on-board when the missile launched – there is a lot that happens. But basically, huge amounts of steam gas pushes the missile out of the boat’s missile tube and up and out of the water. Once out of the water, the missile ignites and off she goes. In the meantime, huge amounts of water are pouring back into the now empty missile tube. The boat has a hovering system which is able to quickly and automatically pump water out of the boat’s ballast tanks – thousands of gallons – as it is taking on water in the empty missile tube. It works very well but suffice it to say, it is a bit of a roller-coaster ride – kind of a surge up and down and up and down until the boat settles out. But a very neat experience. And then, being on the Range Sentinel standing off from the boat to watch a launch was something to see – one could see the telemetry antennas that were attached to the sail of the boat tracking off in the distance through the water. It was hard to imagine that a huge submarine was down under the little antennas – with a crew, no less. Then, on the Range Sentinel, there was a countdown and suddenly, off in the distance, there was a huge splash followed by this blast of ignition, and off the missile goes high up into the atmosphere.
11. Kings Bay, GA – I made one more run after the shipyards. The boat was now stationed in Kings Bay, a new submarine base that had just opened. During the shipyard period, our boat had been refitted with a new missile capability so we no longer had to travel clear to Europe and drive our boat around in their waters. Instead, and with the newer and much longer range missiles, we could do our patrolling much further away from our targets. Thus, we also could home-port out of Georgia instead of out of Spain or Scotland. Anyway, I remember before our first bus trip to Kings Bay from Charleston (not as moving and romantic as departing and arriving on airplanes to and from Spain and Scotland), we were warned to keep an eye out for alligators, snakes, and big biting bugs. Really? But when we arrived – we literally were one of the first boats of out Kings Bay – there was a short pier and a tender. That was it. And, I guess, lots of alligators, snakes, and bugs. I did my last run and refit out of Kings Bay. Kings Bay was my last naval port of call.
I loved traveling – still do. And the Navy gave me much opportunity to see a corner of the world that I would not have seen otherwise. Due to the nature of our mission, we didn’t hit any exotic ports. But, we did get some attention and the time that I had to interact with people of other nations and nationalities was – and is – very special to me.