Friday, January 27, 2012

Subron 8: The Skipper's Car

Another in the ongoing "Subron 8 Sea Stories" series.

We had just secured the special sea detail and I was stowing my foul weather gear, heading for the crew’s mess to get a snack before going on watch. Pughead joined me and, as we were drawing coffee, asked me if I remembered the docking incident a couple months earlier, when our bow clipped a car parked dockside.

“Oh hell yeah,” I laughed, “we really creamed that sucker.”

“Well, you know whose car it was?” he asked me.

I told him I didn’t and he started laughing, “It was the skipper’s car, man.”


Docking at New London Submarine Base can be tricky, depending on the state of the water. The base is on the New London River and the piers are at right angle to the current, which runs stronger at low tide than at high tide. When you turn and start moving into the pier you need to get with the program, because the current is moving you sideways. If you are on the upstream side of the pier you can ram the pier if you don’t come in fast enough, and if you’re on the downstream side the current is taking you away from the pier. New London doesn’t have any tugs, so the maneuver requires that you make the turn, approach at pretty high speed, and then back the motors hard at the last minute to stop alongside the pier.

It’s not as hard as it sounds, but it’s not for the faint of heart either and standing on the forward deck during that maneuver is something of a treat. I was coming up for my crow pretty soon, and being an Electrician would no longer be on the deck gang, and I was going to miss it.

On the day in question we were approaching on the downstream side of the pier and, since we’d been at sea for several weeks, there was a pretty good crowd of families and such there to greet us. We’re eyeing the distance between ship and pier and the closing rate and are pretty happy because we’re coming in close and fast; at this rate we might not have to use the capstan to winch in to the pier at all. And then a certain sense of unease begins to set in; the sea wall, is getting really close, we are still moving at a hell of a clip, and we haven't felt the screws stop in preparation for backing.

I look up at the bridge to see if they are awake up there. No, actually, it appears they are not; they’re waving to the people on shore. Hello? I’m not sure whether to shit or yell “fire.” I start waving my arms and pointing to the oncoming sea wall, and feeling like some kind of idiot. Three other guys join me and finally the geniuses on the bridge notice that all is not well.

As soon as I see that the OOD is screaming into the 7MC I turn back to watch the oncoming sea wall, and decide that maybe I don’t want to watch that. But it’s hard to take your eyes away from it, as the bow of the boat looks bigger and bigger and those cars and people look smaller and smaller. We feel the screws stop and then go back, really fast. I’m not sure the EM’s actually let them come to a complete stop before reversing them, and they really pour the coal to them. The boat is shaking like a drunk having the dt’s and it’s slowing, finally, but…

Diablo hadn’t had the GUPPY mods and we still have the peaked, overhanging bow, and all eyes are on the “bullnose” as it zeros in on a car parked on the seawall. A woman is standing beside the car, her eyes big as dinner plates as she watches the oncoming disaster, and nobody on shore or on the boat moves a muscle. I don’t think anyone so much as blinks an eye. Me, I’m not even breathing.

We’re down to about the speed at which a man walks when the bullnose hits the car right between the headlights. The boat continues forward about ten more feet before a lower part of the bow hits the seawall and the brings us to a nice gentle stop. Later investigation reveals no significant damage to the ship, but that car... Well, in a contest between 1,800 tons of submarine and a couple tons of car, the car does not fare well.

Now it’s our turn to play dumb ass because we are all frozen in place staring at the crushed car and are forgetting to get the lines over, and the guys with the high foreheads up on the bridge are screaming at us to get moving and tie the damned ship up. Oh yes, that. I, personally, don’t think they have any room to be quite so indignant, but whatever.


So I asked Pughead who had been conning the ship when we hit the skipper’s car, and how much trouble he was in.

“You don’t remember?” he asked, I shook my head. “Well,” he went on, “That’s the interesting part. The Captain had the con.”

“You’re shitting me. The skipper hit his own car?”

“Yep, and it gets even better. He turned a claim in to his auto insurance company. ‘One car hit by submarine.’ Claimed it on his, you know, not collision but his ‘act of god’ insurance.”

“Did they pay it?”

“Well, they were going to, but then they found out that he had the con and said that meant that meant (are you ready for this?) that he was driving the submarine. So they said that the accident was his fault, and charged him a deductible under his collision insurance.”

We’re laughing our asses off and he says, “But it gets better yet.”

“Oh yeah, how can it get better?”

“He’s trying to get the Navy to pay the deductible.”


  1. Good one! Thanks for sharing. I can visualize it, and laughed a lot.

  2. That is even better than the time a Lt banged our cutter into the side of the pier. I enjoyed him repairing the damage like a deck seaman the next day.

  3. Hilarious Bill. I always enjoy a good "war story" LOL

  4. Coming from the tugboat Navy, I remember when our skipper knocked over a porta-potty on the end of a pier at San Diego Naval Station while pulling a mothballed DE to be towed to Long Beach. I was the radio talker on the bridge and he told me to call NPL2 and tell them that he apologized for knocking over their shithouse on Pier 38.

  5. bruce1:38 PM

    that is a great story made even better by the captain conning the boat.

    I hope no one was in the port-a-potty, but that would have been a good one too.

  6. Anonymous2:36 PM

    I love this Back in '97, when I was first told about it, I happened to be standing on the dock watching my near sighted husband pull the USS Pasadena into Pearl Harbor dock. I wasn't laughing then.

  7. Being a wing nut I don't have anything that can top that. The closest thing I experienced to that was an F-4 down in Turkey blowing over one of the recovery crew trucks. Done by none other than the Wing King.