The Sailfish Had An Enormous Sail!

After Sailfish completed dry dock and overhaul in the early spring of 1972, we headed off the Hawaiian coast outside Pearl Harbor to conduct our first ‘Test Dive’. Everything went well and as planned until the diving alarm sounded and the boat was rigged for dive.  With watch standers in each and every compartment with their headsets dialed into the Control Room, all compartments waited patiently for the current depth readouts of the boat during the dive.  It wasn’t long before we all realized that no matter what they did in the Control Room, “Pump this”, “Blow that”, “Full dive this’ or ‘All ahead that’,……… the damn boat just wouldn’t dive!

Imagine,….. a submarine that would not dive – aren’t those things called ‘Skimmers’?,….. ‘Targets’!!…  All we figured was that a whole lot of weight must have been removed from the boat during that overhaul in order to offset the built in negative buoyancy that is required of a submarine!

Embarrassed as to our new ‘non-submersible’ designation as a surface craft submarine when we arrived back at sub base (funny how scuttlebutt travels rather quickly on sub bases), the ‘yard-birds’ worked ’round the clock’ in order to address and remedy the ‘non-submersible’ designation.  Their solution,…….  Install lead ballast bars on the ‘tops’ of our hull under the upper deck ‘clam shells’…..

Tons of lead bars were installed…..  TONS!

When we returned to the test dive site after modifications, the ‘test dive’ was flawless…  The ‘surface’ afterwards was flawless…..  The dive to ‘test depth’ was flawless…. The ‘Emergency Surface’ on the other hand was a complete “Holy S**t”!!

After blowing everything ‘including the mess cooks’, we broke surface and immediately laid over on our side!!!  Being an 18 year old ‘non-qual’ Forward Engine Room (FER) oiler on his first actual emergency surface drill on a diesel submarine at the time, all I remember was standing on the inboard side of #1 main engine yelling out loud,…. “Wow, this s**t is way f***ing cool!!”.

Little did I know..

Apparently the tons of lead weights that were installed on the upper hull areas, combined with the enormous amount of water weight that was held within the empty area of that enormous sail was just enough to throw the boat on it’s side during an emergency surface situation…..  It wasn’t until afterwards did I realize that ‘Surfacing on the side’ was NOT normal procedure for any submarine

Regardless, the boat was still deemed sea worthy…..  I guess we just knew what would happen if we ever performed an ‘Emergency Surface’, so pretty much avoided practicing that particular drill from that point on……  Besides, if any submarine HAS to perform an ‘Emergency Surface’, who really cares what side you end up surfaced on anyway – at least you’re on the surface!

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Author: Lanny

Known as the 'King of Run-on Sentences", Bill "Lanny" Lanahan served aboard the Sailfish as an Engineman from November 1971 until June, 1975. After 7 years in the Navy, Lanny spent 15 years as a Caterpillar Marine Analyst before accepting a position with the Department of the Interior working for the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Lanny retired in 2012 and currently resides at his "Mini-Wildlife Refuge" located in Middle Georgia with his wife Connie and his dog Griffin.

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