Cruise aboard sub gives appreciation for Navy men's sacrifices


April 19, 1999|By Jeff Holland | Jeff Holland,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I was one of a small group from Annapolis and Anne Arundel County who had the privilege of accompanying Mayor Dean L. Johnson on a cruise last week aboard the nuclear attack submarine USS Annapolis from Groton, on the Thames River in Connecticut, to the sub's namesake city.

The tour was arranged by the Navy League of Annapolis, the support group that "adopted" the vessel during a formal ceremony Friday morning. I'm no landlubber, but I had never sailed on a Navy ship bigger than an Academy YP, and outside of watching "The Hunt for Red October," I had no concept of what to expect.

We boarded the sub at the dock at the Groton submarine base, dropping through a hatch into a bewildering maze of passageways, ladders and stairs. It takes about nine days to find your way around the 380-foot boat; unfortunately, we were only on board for three.

The sub headed out of the Thames, running on the surface to about 100 miles offshore. That's about where the 100-fathom line marks an area deep enough to submerge safely.

Meanwhile, guests were herded into the officer's wardroom where we were given an orientation by Cmdr. Daniel Nylen, the commanding officer. He showed us a plan of the boat and told us that we could go pretty much anywhere, except for the area in the stern that houses the nuclear plant that powers the turbines.

Then we were shown the "heads," the nautical term for the bathrooms. These were stainless steel compartments with showers, wash basins, and tiny toilet stalls. We were given our berth assignments and shown to our "racks." A dozen or so lucky crewmen had been given liberty to provide room for us "riders." Racks are called racks because they allow crewmen to be stacked like pizzas in an oven.

Mine was way up in the bow and way up high, so I had to grab an overhead pipe, swing my feet up and vault into place. After all the gymnastics it takes to get up there, you aren't inclined to leave it for just anything.

But the meals weren't just anything.

Somehow they manage to serve four hearty meals a day to 130 hungry crewmen from a galley the size of most restaurants' walk-in refrigerators.

The last night out was pizza night. Mayor Johnson, Ward 7 Alderman Michael Fox, Severna Park resident Howard Pinsky and I all crowded into the galley to help make pizza for the crew out of mountains of dough, gallons of tomato sauce, huge mixing bowls piled high with grated cheese, and mounds of pepperoni, peppers, onions, mushrooms, sausages, and other ingredients.

After the 20th pizza or so, we began to run out of sauce, so we started making "white" pizzas with extra cheese and secret ingredients discovered in the spice rack. These proved to be among the crew's favorite varieties.

We surfaced as we approached the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and picked up the Maryland pilot who would guide the sub up the bay to Annapolis.

He was Annapolis resident John Colgan, who's been a member of the Association of Maryland Pilots for 26 years. He climbed to the bridge at the top of the "sail," the tower that supports the periscopes and the antennas.

"I love these things," he said. "I run freighters and tankers up and down this waterway all the time. But this is like riding a Harley up the bay!"

We riders crowded into the enlisted men's mess, a small room crammed with tables and benches, and watched the periscope images on the monitors. We knew we were close to home when we caught sight of Thomas Point Light.

USS Annapolis anchored in the depths off Kent Island, and I caught a ride home on the pilot boat.

Spending a couple of days with these dedicated young men gave me a real appreciation for the sacrifices they make to help keep our country's defenses strong.

They're away from their families for months at a time, routinely working 80 hours a week in crowded conditions where privacy is nil. They train constantly to be ready when they're called upon to defend America's interests. And they were delighted to show off their boat and answer all of their guests' dumb questions.

Like, "How deep can this submarine go?" "About 800 feet." "How fast can she run?" "About 25 knots." "How the heck do you flush this head?" "You'd better let me show you that, sir. "

Pub Date: 4/19/99

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