FLYING ALONE

By Ron Munden

In the article, “The Sinking of the USS Guitarro – Well There Goes That Weekend” I discussed my role in the raising of the Guitarro.  The story ended with me driving home after a 33-hour workday at the shipyard.  On that Saturday afternoon I arrived home fully expecting not to go back to the shipyard until Monday morning.  After taking a shower and getting something to eat I headed to bed about 8 P.M.  Sunday was going to be a “sleep in late” day for me.

That was not to be.  At 6:30 A.M the phone rang.  It was the shipyard.  I don’t remember who called but they said that the submarine was being raised and would be going into drydock #2.  The dock blocks had to be reset, and this would be completed by midnight.  He continued and said that someone had decided that more equipment on the boat could be saved if shipyard personnel filled critical compartments with fresh water immediately.  Since this would change the configuration of the boat, a new set of stability calculations would be required before the ship could be moved into the drydock.  They told me to come back to the shipyard.

So before 8 A.M. I was driving back to the shipyard.

When I arrived at the shipyard, I was surprised to learn that the shipyard had not been able to reach Bill, the Naval Architect that had directed my work the previous day.  These were the days before cell phones and Bill did not carry a beeper.  So, I was on my own.

Fortunately, these calculations were much simpler, and I could reuse some of the work from the previous day.   So, everything went smoothly.  I finished the calculations by 4 P.M. and notified the duty officer.  I waited for someone to come to pick up the calculations and got ready to head home.

A Navy Captain arrived to pick up the calculations.  It was the Shipyard Planning Officer, the highest-ranking officer in the Planning Department. I was about six layers below him in the organizational structure.

I was shocked when he said they expected to dock the ship at about midnight, and he wanted me to stick around and inspect the dock blocks as soon as the ship was in dock.  I sure was not going to tell a senior Navy Captain “no” so I said, “YES SIR.”

This meant that I had to stick around the shipyard for another 8 hours but that was not the big problem.  I had never inspected dock blocks before.  I had never seen anyone inspect dock blocks and I had no idea what a dock block inspection was.

The good news was I had 8 hours to decide how I was going to do the job.

At midnight I was standing at drydock #2 watching the USS Guitarro being pulled into drydock.  Sometime before 1 A.M.  the water in the drydock had been pumped out.  It was time for me to begin my inspection.

I started down a narrow set of stairs built into the side of the drydock.  I was carrying a clip board — I thought a dock block inspector must carry a clipboard.  When I got to the bottom of the dock, I discovered that after water is pumped from a drydock the bottom of the dock is coated with 2 to 3 inches of mud.   Also, some fish don’t get pumped out, so a few fish were flopping in the mud.

Before stepping into the mud, I took a long look at the ship.  It was sitting upright.  I was pleased.

Then I stepped into the mud in my tennis shoes.  I was about mid-ship.  I walked to the hull and looked at a dock block. It appeared to be in good shape — not crushed.  I slowly moved from block to block toward the bow of the ship looking at each block. At the bow I crossed to the opposite side of the ship. Surely a dock block inspector would check the port and starboard sides of the block setup.  I then moved toward the stern of the ship doing the same thing.

Mission completed.  I had done my first dock block inspection.

By 1:30 A.M. I was in my car and headed home — muddy and very happy my first dock block inspection was over.

Footnote:

In June 1970, I received my master’s degree in Naval Architecture from the University of California, Berkeley.  For my thesis I developed a computer program that calculated dock block loading and stress on the hull of a ship going into drydock. 

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