EB Sea Trails

I was sound asleep in the bunk, forward inboard, starboard side, lower.  We were on the first sea trials near the end of the ordeal known as the Electric Boat overhaul.  Because of the large contingent of yard workers onboard to witness and assist with the sea trials, we were hot bunking and it was my turn in the rack. 

I was dreaming warm, happy dreams.  Suddenly I was jarred awake by Tim Gasser, MM1(SS), dragging me out of my rack and shaking me.  “Out of the rack, NUB!  We’re gonna die!”  He screamed in my face over the collision alarm as I came to consciousness.

I stood in my skivvies, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes and trying to comprehend, while watching the chaos as these “steely eyed denizens of the deep” were falling all over each other, trying to pull on their clothes as the world took on a pronounced up angle.  There seemed to be a quite a bit of commotion in the passageway between the heads and in the Crew’s Lounge.

 It seems that during the “Cycle all the hull valves at Test Depth” part of the sea trials, the relief valve on the sanitary tank had lifted.  The test participants had isolated the tank and were pressurizing it with HP air to 50 PSI greater than sea pressure.  The hull and backup valves were not yet open.  As it happens, the tail pipe on this particular relief valve pointed straight down into the Snake Pit bilge.  The HP air blowing into the bilge from this pipe vaporized all the water collected there and blew it up into the passageway between the heads, where most of the evolution participants were standing.   

They had three indicators:

1 – A loud rushing noise.

2 – A cloud of water vapor.

3 – Activity involving sea water and hull valves. 

Of course the phone talker immediately and on his own recognizance, reported “Flooding in the Snake Pit! Flooding in Ops Lower level!”  Subsequent actions followed procedure. 

The history behind this, so I was told, was that in 1963, the year of our commissioning, the USS Thresher sank during sea trials.  One of the corrective actions to come out of the follow-up investigations was to administratively limit all submarines to an operational maximum depth of 400 feet.  This limitation was removed from individual ships after they receive the Sub Safe package upgrade.  One of the mechanical adjustments to the ships was to set all pressure relief valves that were exposed to sea pressure, for operation at a maximum depth of 400 feet. 

In 1968, when the Andy J went to Portsmouth for overhaul and installation of Sub Safe, the USS Scorpion was lost.  So again, after a thorough investigation, the administrative limit of an operational maximum depth of 400 feet was put in place.  This limitation was removed from individual ships after they receive the Sub Safe II package upgrade. 

Andy J received Sub Safe II during the EB overhaul.  Unfortunately, during this massive refueling and Poseidon conversion overhaul, the Sanitary Tank #1 relief valve was never reset for operation at the design test depth of the 616-class submarine. 

Until that day, the ship had never been below 400 feet.  The result of this oversight in valve adjustments was that, the emergency blow test was moved up in the sea trial schedule, certain sand crabs and ship’s crew had bilge water on their faces, while others had egg, and a good time was had by all.

Charlie Winterfeldt

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