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Because we are surrounded by it, I guess we take for granted how truly awful a submarine is. Not that I'd trade it for another specialty (except aviation, those clowns have it good) but when you think about it, we put up with a lot of shit. Who lives, literally, only feet from equipment that would kill you and everyone else on board?

Torpedoes...a few dozen of these packed in and some of the crew sleeps amongst them. Don't mind the warhead that can split a ship in half, but the fuel, if ignited, makes hydrogen cyanide as a by-product.

Battery...essentially a giant car battery. Makes hydrogen as a by-product, and if mixed with salt-water generates chlorine gas. Stores enough energy that if released all at once could lift the ship (all 7000 tons of it) one mile into the air. Good stuff.

Oxygen generator...makes oxygen (and hydrogen) by passing high voltages through water. Ingenious. Lets put a few thousand volts next to pure oxygen and hydrogen. Lovingly referred to as "the bomb."

Nuclear reactor...aka "the Magic Hot Rock." Probably the safest nuclear power plant in the world, operated by any agency, civilian or military, foreign or domestic. But you still have several million curies of radioactive material stored in there. Also, the associated steam plant, if released to the confines of the engine room, could boil everyone in it alive.

The 688 class submarine was built first and foremost to fight Russians during the cold war. Crew comfort was a secondary thought. 150 men (average age 24, maybe only 3 onboard over the age of 40) live in a steel can 300' by 30'. There isn't enough bunk space, so a portion of the crew "hot racks," i.e. three men are assigned to two racks. When he a hot-racker gets off watch, he should have a rack open, still warm and smelly from the last guy.

There are less than a half dozen showers onboard. Small, stainless steel closets. Water is conserved, so you get wet, so you only turn it on to get wet and rinse off. No standing under the shower head to wake up in the morning. Food is cooked in a galley smaller than most public bathrooms you've been in. The crew's mess is the only place for the's a mess hall, a lecture hall, and occasionally, a movie theater. Trash is compacted into steel cans, 50 lbs ea. Seven are loaded into a tube (the trash disposal unit, or TDU) and jettisoned when the water is deep enough (don't worry, it's deeper than YOU can swim). Human waste is stored in sanitary tanks (san tanks) and is pumped or blown over the side when far enough from land.

It takes a special bunch of guys to volunteer for this kind of duty, and even then any psychologist would be entertained by the antics of these young men while underway...their strange ability to remain sane despite conditions we don't subject hardened criminals to.

Lets get to the meat of the story...

The name shave been changed to protect my ass from reprisal.

So there we were off the coast of Oahu. I was sleeping the sleep of the man happy to be in his bunk. Senior enough that I didn't have to hot rack...but also a "rider." I didn't belong to this crew, I was riding as a favor to my Captain so I could work on qualifications (my ship wasn't going anywhere for a while, and I had deadlines to meet).

I was awakened to the cries of "It's flooding the whole galley!" Flooding is one of those key words on a submarine that gets EVERYONES attention. For a ship that makes it's living going under the water, we like to make sure we can get up again. But the smell affronting me was wrong, not sea water, but worse. Human waste. It seems the Auxilliaryman of the Watch, when ordered to line up to blow sanitaries overboard, line up wrong. When the #1 san tank was pressurized, it flowed not to sea, but into san 2. San 2 wasn't lined up for this, so the shit went the only place it could. A tornado of offal was reported to have blown out the garbage grinder (think trash disposal, but bigger) in the galley.

It filled up the galley, ran over the door jambs and flowed into the crew's mess. It came up the deck drains in the wardroom pantry and athwartship passage way and flowed into the dry storeroom (where bread, pasta and the like are stored). It blasted up the deck drain in the lower level shower. The doc was in there at the time and was coated from his waist down in the processed meals of his shipmates.

After flowing about the galley and crew's mess it ran down the outboards (the frames of the ship) into the Auxiliary Machinery Room. The AMR is where we keep the atmosphere handling gear, refrigeration, and the diesel generator. It managed to leak from the pantry into 21 man berthing and filled up some poor guy's rack (he wasn't in there at the time). He lost everything in his rack...his clothes, his laptop, books and magazines. It flowed into the aux tank, where we keep canned goods, fruits and vegetables.

The ship came to periscope depth, and lined up to ventilate, the air was thick, the smell inhuman. Or more accurately, all too human. An estimated 500 gallons of human waste was blown into the ship.

Think of where you work. What would your company do if the sewer backed up 500 gallons of waste into your workplace? Shut down, call in the professionals? Well, we are the professionals, and where are we gonna go? This is our workplace and our home. We started cleaning up immediately.

Now, we stand 6 hour watches. Offgoing guys had to cleanup. On hands and knees scooping up the mess, bagging it and shuttling it off to the heads to put it back in the san tanks and anything that can't be cleaned loaded into the TDU. For the next 18 hours, offgoing watches had to grab rubber gloves, paper towels, Simple Green and Orange Muscle and "get down with the brown." Now you need to realize, the galley and crew's mess is contaminated. We can't use it to make meals. The only messing space not contaminated is the officer's wardroom. The whole crew had to cycle through the wardroom (only 10 seats) for the next three meals. And what meals they were.

Breakfast...Graham crackers and cereal (with milk).

Lunch...Graham crackers, cereal (with milk) and PB&J sandwiches.

Dinner...Graham crackers, cereal (with milk), PB&J sandwiches, and soup.


For 18 hours the crew cleaned up shit, ventilated and shot trash from the TDU. The contaminated mattress was too large to shoot, so it was bagged up and put in the freezer for disposal later. The doc ran out of wiscodyne (disinfectant), but only after giving the galley and crew's mess a clean bill of health. We ran out of paper towels and "cleaning juice." Over $10,000 worth of food was contaminated and had to be jettisoned. Spaghetti, bread, canned food, vegetables, fruit...all shot from the TDU. Weeks later, the crew was still finding little pockets of poop in the AMR on weekly field days (all hands deep cleanup of the ship). The smell lasted longer.

Ah, the call of the sea!

Avast, Matey!


credit given to original author if known

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