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Holy Loch
Another Rainy Day in the Early Seventies
by Sid Harrison ETCM(SS) USN(RET)
There was nothing out of the ordinary about wind and rain in the Loch and after awhile you learned to ignore it and to just go with it. Patience was often the best ally in getting topside painted or swinging gear with the crane between boat and tender or moving birds, pulling scopes or antennas or doing zinc checks and so on. You learned to wait. Wait, and then to move quickly to accomplish the task. But that particular day was different. It was so long ago I don't recall what time of the year nor the name of the outboard boat.

The wind had been building all the day before. It would slack and we thought "well that's it" and things might calm down a bit. But like a sucker punch, suddenly it would come at us again as it backed to a different direction accompanied sometimes with a whoosh of rain so thick the dry dock became only a temporary shadow in the distance and sometimes the rain was no more than the typical Holy Loch fine rain. But that day that fine rain was driven by force that hit the skin like needles. I had been topside several times since before dawn kicking mooring lines and generally checking stuff with that uneasy feeling one gets when you know it's going to get worse before it gets better. After quarters on the Pulaski we pulled our dogshack forward and tied it off to the sail - normally it stood near the brow to the tender but that day it just seemed too exposed. Plastic covers flapped wildly around a couple of pallets tied down on the deck that we had intended to swing on to the tender. But that like everything else, was on hold as we waited for the idle cranes. All depended upon a break from a wind that offered no letup.

Below there was also no escape, as all day in the background we were aware of our boat's movement with each surge of wind and water. As COB/1st Lieutenant I tried to stay out of the way of the Duty Officer and Duty Chief who were the designated worriers for the day. But I still kept finding small reasons to go topside, occasionally going to the tender to get a bird's-eye view of our boat and the submarine tied outboard.

By the evening meal conditions had deteriorated even further. Most of the liberty sections were gone - those who were lucky enough to catch the last liberty boat before the tender temporarily shut down all small boat traffic. Communications from the topside watch became increasingly more difficult as the roar of the wind made MC transmissions less understandable.

The crew's mess was cleaned and the movie had started as I stretched out on a benchseat in the goat locker. My soaked foulweather gear was swinging slightly on it's hanger in front of a vent when the 1MC clicked on. Nearly drowned out by the wind noise in the background, the topside watch was frantically yelling something about needing help. Definitely not a proper IC procedures but it was clear he was in trouble. I grabbed my jacket and raced topside. The wind nearly took my breath away as I held on to the handrail around the sail as both submarines bobbed like toy's in a child's bathtub. The rain was thick and blowing almost horizontal now and the surge between the two submarines reached almost to the brow that connected them. That brow, although tied off, was rolling with the surges until the rollers seemed they might slip off the edge, then it would slowly roll back. Reaching to open our dogshack door and before I could yell above the wind, I saw what the problem was. The dogshack on the other boat had been blown around and was now hanging over the edge of their deck with it's door facing a chasm of broiling water between us. Inside it was a terrified topside watch with no way out except through a door that would drop him between the two moving submarines. Our watch was yelling something through the wind and pointing at the other boat. I nodded in acknowledgment and made my way below again.

At the bottom of the ladder to MLOPs I pulled open the gear locker and grabbed a deck harness on my way to the crew's mess. As soon as I snapped on the lights the projector was turned off and everyone, once they had the word, donned harnesses and jackets and scrambled topside. We all edged our way aft and one by one we raced across the moving brow and hooked into their deck-track. But quickly seeing that although we could reach the shack we couldn't turn it - the only option was to unhook. Unable to hear above the wind, hand signals were exchanged for some to slip loose from the safety of the track and tie-off to those remaining secured. Timing our movements to the boat's movements, wet hands grabbed the shack, slowly turned it and inched it back. Then someone yanked open the door, grabbed the kid and pulled him out as we flipped the shack toward the centerline. Not knowing if their MCs and phone were operative one of our sailors went below to roust out their crew.

Back on the Pulaski, the last thing I saw as I went below was the other boat's crewmembers leaning into the wind as they put lines on their dogshack and tied it off.

The next morning dawned gray and quiet. The tender's small boats had resumed normal operation, the cranes were running again, and later the XO said he got a call from the other XO with their thanks. Just another one of those non-hollywood, routine, cold-war submarine days. One I just remembered. 

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