Shakedown Cruise Departure 

The overhaul at Electric Boat was far over budget and way behind schedule.  It was May and the boat was finally in the sea trials stage.  We had had several sea trials, which had been delayed by unusually foggy weather that spring.  These delays pushed us even further behind schedule.  The yard was finishing up overhaul discrepancies that were identified during the sea trials, in preparation for our shake down cruise. 

The Metal Trades Councils’ (union) contract with the EB would expire at the end of May and negotiations were not progressing. Rumors were rampant about the possibility of a strike.  The thought was that the MTC would go out on strike at the end of May, trapping several submarines at EB.  This would force the Navy to put pressure on EB to settle with the MTC so as not delay the overhaul of these boats any further. 

But wait, on the last Saturday in May, as evening settled over the picturesque Thames River valley, the tugboats from the sub base came down to the EB yard and stole the AJ right out from under the sand crab’s noses.  They dragged us up to the base, where we completed the last overhaul items with help of EB non-union supervisors.  We had dodged another bullet.

However, just as we were finishing these sea trial items and preparing to depart on our Blue Crew shakedown cruise, the railroad lift bridge over the river broke in the “down” position.  You remember the railroad lift bridge, located immediately up river from the I-95 highway bridge. Since the modern nuclear submarines of the United States Navy were so big, the railroad bridge had to be in the “up” position to allow passage of a boat.  Or so everyone thought.   

“Captain Overhaul”, the man who had gallantly out witted the MTC, would not be blocked by a mere broken railroad bridge.  No sir-ee!  He took the base torpedo retriever one day at low tide and made some precise depth soundings and clearance measurements under the bridge and its approaches.   

A couple of days later, while the railroad bridge was still broken, the boat got underway for its shakedown cruise, at low tide of course.  As she approached the bridge, with the line handlers in their life jackets and securely strapped to topside by their safety harnesses, the hatches were shut and dogged, the diving alarm sounded, and the main ballast tank vents on 1A & 1B and 6A & 6B opened.  The boat slowly settled in the river and inched her way towards the bridge.  

“Captain Overhaul” stood on the top of the sail carefully eyeballing the clearance between the top of the sail and bottom of the bridge structure, ready to abort this mission and return to the Sub Base.  Once the sail had cleared the bottom of the railroad bridge span by mere inches, the boat “surfaced” and continued out to sea.   

Many weeks later, we returned triumphantly from our shakedown cruise and five day deterrent patrol (the new Bluies got their patrol pins before the new Goldies, and this galled them no end).  Our friendly neighborhood the Coast Guard representative was waiting.  Basically, he told us that if we ever pulled another stunt like that again, ever, we would be not allowed to return to Groton-New London again, ever!

Charlie Winterfeldt

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