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Fish Story

Fish Story

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Fish Story

214 pagine
4 ore
Dec 22, 2019


What is it really like to serve aboard a nuclear submarine? This is your chance to find out! No Hollywood-style undersea battles or espionage, just the day to day life experienced by the officers and men of one of these vessels.

Set in the 1980's, toward the end of the Cold War, aboard USS Surgeonfish, a fictional Sturgeon-class fast attack submarine, this is the story of a young officer's first year at sea from the points of view of himself and many of his fellow officers. Included are: culture shock and acclimatization to a new world, the combination of tedium and backbreaking work that is a specialty of the military, and a large dose of humor. From reporting aboard, to learning all the skills that a submarine officer needs, to finally being the Duty Officer in charge of the ship, it's all here.

To excel as a submariner requires courage, attention to detail, and dedication. To survive long enough to excel requires learning to laugh at oneself. All of these qualities are tested daily. Some of the ways they are tested may surprise and amuse you!

Dec 22, 2019

Informazioni sull'autore

PAUL MICHAELS is not your conventional writer. Born in the Northeast he was an all-American boy who loved baseball and apple pie. He began writing poetry at the tender age of nine and attended many different schools since his family moved often because of his father’s work. After college, he attended acting and drama classes but ultimately he decided he’d rather write and create stories than act them out. He worked as a commercial illustrator in New York City then moved onto writing advertising slogans and then ran a small farm in Kingston, New York. After that he began helping out at a friends radio station and seeing the inner workings of writing and producing a radio show, his passion for writing non-fiction blossomed. His favorite authors include Harper Lee, Truman Capote and Stephen King.

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Anteprima del libro

Fish Story - Paul Michaels

Fish Story

Paul Michaels

Dedicated to the officers and men of the US Submarine Service, especially those aboard the author’s several boats. For obvious reasons, no names are mentioned.

Smashwords Edition, License Notes This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Published by Paul Michaels at Smashwords Copyright 2019 Paul Michaels


This is a work of fiction, sometimes inspired by real places and real events. All characters are imaginary, and no reference to or disparagement of any real person, living or dead, is intended. That said, real events happen to real people. If any reader thinks that they recognize themselves or their vessel, perhaps they took part in similar situations in their younger days?



The New Man

The Midwatch at Sea

The Submarine Birthday Ball

Fun in the Engine Room



After the Watch

Blue Noses

Field Day

Again, the Midwatch

Port Call

On the Surface

Letter Home

The Operational Reactor Safeguards Examination

New Captain

In Drydock

The Engineer’s Exam

The Dry Season

The New Man (Again)

Background Information and Glossary


This is a story of a young officer’s first year aboard a fictional Sturgeon class fast attack submarine during the not-so fictional 1980’s, toward the end of the not-at-all fictional Cold War. It is primarily a collection of sea stories, from a variety of sources: personal experiences,related by shipmates, and well known legends of the submarine service.

Covering a whole year in many different lives is not easy. Time frames are not always realistic or perfectly consistent, nor is personnel turnover (or lack thereof.) This is not a connected narrative, but many chapters refer to events in earlier chapters.

The Sturgeon class was named after the first ship of its class, USS Sturgeon (SSN-637), and they are often called 637’s. They were built in the 1960’s and ’70’s as a larger and more capable followon to the successful Permit class. The 637’s were gradually replaced by the Los Angeles class, starting in 1976, but some remained in service until around 2004, when the last was decommissioned. They were capable and popular boats, and they are missed.

The late Cold War was a great time to be a fast attack submariner: there was no end of secrets and missions could be exciting indeed. This book is about life aboard these ships, a life that few get to experience for themselves. Don’t look for nuclear reactor trivia, nuclear weapons secrets, or daring incursions into the Moscow sewer system. Instead, see how 110 or so young men (a very few might as old as 40) survive stress, boredom, and backbreaking workloads using camaraderie, humor, and a well concealed but definite pride in their work.

The New Man

The man who swung up through the tiny black hole in the big black submarine had a determinedly jaunty air and a swagger that looked suspiciously practiced. He paused to put on dark aviator sunglasses against the glare of the overcast sky and adjust a crumpled blue ball cap with a pair of golden dolphins and the name of USS Surgeonfish embroidered on the front before coming towards the brow. He wore a large, jangling bunch of keys on a green cord around his neck, and his shiny Lieutenant bars and the gold dolphin badge on his chest stood out against his rumpled and grayed cotton khakis and battered black combat boots. The Ship’s Duty Officer, whom the topside watch had summoned and whom this obviously was, strode up to the new Ensign and vigorously shook hands, his face breaking into a sudden, brilliant smile. He had everything but a suntan.

Bill Davis - call me Bill, not sir. And you’re the long awaited Ensign Johns, I suppose?

Yes s- uh, Bill, the Ensign managed. This was hardly the welcome he’d been taught to expect at Officer Candidate School, where reporting aboard was taught as a formal business. He felt suddenly out of place in his very plain dress blues. While no one else was wearing any decorations on their working uniforms, he felt certain that they were all well endowed with colorful ribbons and medals. The meeting on the outer hull of the submarine was also not at all like the polished and formal rituals he had seen on the quarterdecks of the few surface craft that he had toured. The barely military posture of the two dungaree and life jacket clad sailors standing watch topside had relaxed rapidly into a casual air not unlike that of Lieutenant Davis himself, now that the Lieutenant had arrived to put the new man in his place. The Duty Officer and crewmen obviously shared a bond beyond that existing between fellow officers, particularly when one officer was a brand new Ensign.

The cap’m’s at his morning meeting, the Duty Officer said easily, And the XO has been closeted with some papers all morning, but I’ll get you in to see him shortly. Let’s get you below decks out of the sun while those blues still look half decent. Oh, you’re Sam, right? he added.

Sammy, the Ensign corrected him brightly, To my friends. The two crewmen, who had so far watched the exchange in silence, suddenly shared a meaningful glance. The one who had taken new officer’s orders mouthed Sammy, to the other, and they both giggled under their breath. Lieutenant Davis appeared not to notice; he spun and headed for the open hatch. Sammy, who had noticed and correctly interpreted the reaction to his ill-advised statement, followed him with a suddenly sinking heart. Before the two officers could enter the hatch, the topside watch called out.

Mr. Davis, I logged him in my log. Do I need to do anything with these? he asked, holding up the sheaf of papers that the new Ensign had handed him upon his arrival.

Bring those with you, Sammy, said the Duty Officer, continuing to the hatch and stopping. Ensign Johns retrieved the papers and walked over to the opening. Ever been in a 637 before? inquired his guide. When Sammy indicated that he hadn’t, Bill wordlessly took his orders and all the other files and papers from him and stepped into the hatch. This is a little trickier than on a 688. Watch how I do it, he said, as he grabbed a handrail bolted to the hull and half jumped half slid through the angled opening until his feet hit the top rung of a narrow metal ladder far down in the hole. He hopped down the ladder, letting go of the grab rail at the perfect moment and sliding his backside across the shiny metal flashing between the inner and outer hatches. He grabbed the ladder with one hand, the other holding the handful of papers, and proceeded to the deck six feet below in a sort of controlled fall, skipping most of the rungs of the ladder. He grinned up through the hatch. Your turn!

The new Ensign took a lot more time making his way below. The topside watch ambled over from the brow to watch, and Sammy Johns was well aware that any slip he made here would circle the boat in much less time than he would need to find his own way around. He took it slowly, working his way from handhold to handhold. The twin hatches were about two feet apart, set at an angle; this, he remembered from Submarine School, was a result of the way this type of submarine loaded torpedoes. The decking below, and of the level below that, were removed to leave a narrow canyon ending in the Torpedo Room at the bottom of the ship. Torpedoes were then slid through the hatch using the ship’s capstan onto a metal ramp that rose hydraulically from the torpedo room to receive them. Sammy lowered himself through the hatches, sitting momentarily on a tiny steel step that a thoughtful designer had left in the gap, and succeeded in reaching the top of the ladder with one foot. From there, he proceeded to the deck, using one more hand and several more rungs than Lieutenant Davis had needed.

The passageway was narrow and low, but no more so than on the Los Angeles class submarine he had toured at Sub School. Bill Davis indicated a narrow door just aft of the ladder. Ship’s Office. I gave them your paperwork to look at. They’ll find you when they want you. He headed forward and down a steep metal staircase. At the bottom, he swung left into an even narrower passageway. A closed door had a brass plate engraved Wardroom Stateroom #3 and 3 names on separate plaques, one of which was LT Bill Davis. A few feet aft, the passage opened into the wardroom.

Hang out here for now, he said, indicating a chair at the table. The crew doesn’t know you yet, so you might get into trouble just wandering around. I have some Duty Officer stuff I have to do, and I’ll see about getting you in to see the XO. In the meanwhile, if anybody offers to show you around, let them. Otherwise, I’ll take you around later. He disappeared through the door, squeezing past a new officer entering. The newcomer was dressed in the same rumpled khakis and battered boots but wore the single silver bars of a Lieutenant junior grade and no gold dolphins. He had thick glasses and thin blond hair, and promptly came over to shake hands. Scott Brown. I’m the Damage Control Assistant. You must be Ensign Johns, and I think you’re going to be the new Electrical Officer.

This was interesting news. Some of Sammy’s friends had received letters from their new commands containing this sort of information, but the instructors at Sub School had warned against counting on any specific job until they actually arrived and received one. Sammy introduced himself and asked about the job of Electrical Officer, having heard that it was a common first assignment.

Most of us have done it, Brown said. I was E-Div for about four months. You have a real heavy chief who takes care of everything for you and doesn’t want to leave, so it’s a good place to get started. I was the Reactor Controls Assistant after that before I got to be DCA. Damage Control Assistant is a great job, but it’s a lot of work and your mistakes get noticed by the Captain instead of just the Engineer. Speaking of whom….

A Lieutenant Commander entered, carrying a coffee cup. Brown called, Hey Eng, (pronounced as Enj) here’s the new nub, Ensign Johns. The Engineer took his cup through the back door of the wardroom into a tiny kitchenette and dropped it into the sink. He ambled back into the wardroom. He was dressed far better than anyone else had been so far, in a clean uniform with a row of ribbons. He was tall but tended to slouch. He said an absent hello to the new man and then turned his attention to Brown. Nub means Nuclear Unqualified Body, and you might be Nuclear but Unqualified still applies, he said, punching Brown lightly on the chest where dolphins were usually located. Don’t you owe me a weekly work list?

Brown sidled out. The Engineer watched him go, and followed. He looked back at the new Ensign. You’re next, he said with a grin that showed a lot of teeth. E Division is ALL screwed up. And he was gone.

The newly proclaimed nub found himself alone in the wardroom. The room was tiny, mostly filled by a long table with an orange colored Naugahyde cover. The walls held a few pictures, mostly of the Surgeonfish in various places or at sea, and a mirror over a narrow buffet. Locker doors, several with combination locks, covered the walls, and a television hung from the ceiling over the forward end of the table.

An enormous dungaree-clad figure strolled in and checked a couple of combination lock dials, making notes on a clipboard. The man wore a wide green web watchbelt and was evidently the Below Decks Watch, familiar from Sub School lectures. Ensign Johns naively assumed that his watch was the justification for an enlisted man swaggering freely into the supposedly sacrosanct wardroom. The Below Decks appeared to notice him for the first time, and sang out loudly in a surprisingly high voice. Hi! You must be Mr. Johns, the new officer. I’m Karlovich, your ultimate sonar tech.

The new Ensign had just started to reply as a couple more men came in. Before he could speak, his ultimate sonar tech gave him a boisterous introduction. The other sailors, who all seemed to know his name but whose own names he had no hope of remembering, clustered around. He was slapped on the back. He was asked about his sexual preferences and how he planned to treat his division. He was asked whether he came from the Naval Academy in a tone which suggested rather less than the degree of respect that Annapolis graduates are taught to expect. The men swirled around him while he tried to give some sort of replies. Sammy was greatly relieved when Bill Davis came back into the wardroom. The inquisitors quickly left through the opposite door, except for the Below Decks, who presented his clipboard to the Duty Officer.

Lieutenant Davis looked at the logsheets for a few seconds, scribbled something on each page, and returned the clipboard to Karlovich, who departed with a wide, leering wink over his shoulder at Sammy. The two officers were alone again.

Bill Davis flashed his smile. I probably shouldn’t have left you alone like that. You now have a reputation onboard, small but growing. I’ll listen around tonight and see how they liked you. Now, since the XO will still be busy for a while, how would you like to look around the ship? The skipper should be back in half an hour or so, and if we get in to see the XO about that time, he’ll introduce you.

They left the way they had come in. Going forward, Bill indicated three tiny staterooms opening off the passage. The first contained Bill’s own bunk. The second contained the Engineer Officer, working on paperwork at his desk. Drop by later, and we’ll start getting you into the swing of things, he said, shaking hands. I’m Dan Wilson, as you can see, he continued, indicating one of the small brass name plaques by the door, but everyone calls me by my first name—Eng.

The last door was closed. That’s the Navigator and his two division officers, Bill said. The Nav’s the Senior Watch Officer, so he normally generates watchbills. The Eng will be your main boss for now, though, at least until you get qualified EOOW and probably a year or two after that.

How hard is it to get qualified? Sammy asked with interest. Qualifying Engineering Officer of the Watch was usually the first big step that a new officer took, and his success at it could affect the remainder of his tour.

Not very. This isn’t prototype, after all. You weren’t one of those who liked prototype, were you? he asked, continuing without waiting for an answer. Prototype is a hands on course at a land based reactor prototype. It is required of all nuclear personnel and widely held to be worst six months of an officer’s life. Don’t say it again until you get qualified on here, but you’ve got lots of company. The men on a real boat all want you to get done quickly and start standing watch instead of them, so the process gets streamlined, to say the least. We have a couple of prototype commandos that you have to watch out for, but getting your EOOW card signed off shouldn’t take more than a few months.

Prototype commandos?

Former prototype instructors. Remember how a few of the enlisted students got picked up to be staff instructors for two years before going to sea? These guys come to the fleet with two years of experience with the kind of rulebook and paperwork crap you went through at prototype, and some of them don’t catch on to reality too fast. If you ask one of them for a checkout, you’ll be sorry. Now check out this head.

The tiny head, or bathroom, was a study in dull stainless steel, spotted with water and fingerprints. Even the walls were covered with riveted sheets of metal, rather than woodgrain Formica paneling like the passageway to the wardroom. The sink and shower were obvious enough, but the toilet sported a large green lever not found in home models. Bill squeezed to one side of the narrow stall and demonstrated the facilities.

Look close. You pull the lever, the big ball valve at the bottom opens, and whatever is in there goes down into the tank, sort of like in an airliner. There is no flush as such, but this valve here shoots water into the bowl to rinse it out and help wash stuff down. They told you about blowing sanitaries at sub school? Bill asked, looking back at Sammy. "Well, you want to

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