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COTV on Not-so-Yellow Submarine

You never know where Hans, our fearless leader, is going to take the club members. Sometimes even Hans isn’t quite sure how to get there! One of our frequent add-ons to an already full schedule of events for COTV was a trip to Point Loma Naval Base in San Diego. This trip had several iterations as the date was changed by the Navy, so the cast of players changed as well. Eighteen members met at the Boers residence between 10:15 and 10:30 on what promised to be an exceptionally hot Saturday for mid-March.

It was a motley crew of cars with several non-Corvettes mixed in so that people could ride together and this made it a little harder to look behind on the freeway to see if the whole group was intact. Hans and Joe Priebe led in Hans’ C-7, followed by the McIntoshes, the Converses in their Tahoe, Jim Sommars and Steve Page in Jim’s C-7, Norm Luckcuck with John Marsh and Mary Kino in his regular Chevrolet, Curt Stevens with his friend Joe Lawrence and Dave Hellman in another SUV, Bill Stedfield and his co-pilot Bob Smith, and the Webers, as well.

Hans and Joe had the course plotted, although there was a little confusion at the very end, but we all eventually got to the main gate of the Base, regrouped and met Sal Maier, our “escort.” Our tour was scheduled for 1pm, so we were to have lunch before going aboard. Our retired Naval Captain, Bill Stedfield, pulled some strings so we were able to eat at the Dolphin Inn’s restaurant or basically, the Galley, for a magnificent $5.55 each. We shared the space with enlisted personnel and feasted on turkey burgers, fish sandwiches, chicken caesar wraps and a salad bar.

At 1pm, Sal met us and walked us to the gate where he manually let us onto the pier area where the sub, the USS San Francisco, a Los Angeles Class, fast-attack nuclear powered submarine is docked. The sub came back into port fairly recently after a 6-7 month tour and is undergoing maintenance and will then be placed in a floating dry dock before departing on another tour. While not at sea, the crew continues to work on the boat and also to complete additional qualifications in the classrooms.

Our party was split into two smaller groups of 9 in order to more easily maneuver in the very tight spaces. We had two guides, Spears and Williams, who shepherded us down the narrow ladder from the deck into the sub itself and then escorted us around the sub for almost two hours – we had lots of questions as you can expect, knowing us! The regular crew on board can be from 130-140 which includes 15 officers.

We also met and spoke with the computer equipment chief and the engineering officer for some time. The “racks” or berths are 6′ long by 2′ wide and the storage space for your stuff underneath the mattress is 3” deep. If you are in a group where the crew rotates in and out of certain racks you only have 2/3 of that storage space because 9 racks sleep 12 sailors. Sometimes the “boat” can be submerged for a period of 54 days (recently) so there are some movie screens and X-box games in the crew and chiefs’ messes to alleviate cabin fever.  The boat can remain under water indefinitely, the only limitation being food. 

We viewed officer quarters and enlisted berths, the ward room for the officers (here the table does double duty as it is the largest flat surface on board and can be used by the medical corpsman if surgery is required!), the torpedo room with 21 torpedoes, parts of the machinery room, and the control room with all the sonar, mapping, and guidance functions. Even though the weather outside was hot and sunny, the a/c was operating  below decks.

The boat has the facilities to desalinate water and oxygen generating equipment, which replenishes that used by the crew, and scrubbers and burners, which remove carbon dioxide and other atmospheric contaminants. While in port, the systems receive support from equipment on the dock so that they are not stressed. The engineering officer explained to us that the nuclear plant is only recharged once during the life of the submarine and in the newer models, will not need to ever be recharged, so the systems are very efficient.

Although no photography was allowed on base and our cell phones had to be surrendered before entering the sub, we were able to get our guides to both, take a group photo, and participate in one with us, so we have proof that a good day under water was had by all. We then headed home at our own pace and we are sure the conversation with spouses and other members who were unable to attend will prove that we all learned more than we ever expected to know about nuclear submarines.