20 April 2007

Tourists, arriving

Back in the days before pier security was tightened up, we used to get the occasional person (or few) dropping by and asking for a tour of the boat. Sometimes it would be a fellow submariner, from a different class of boat; other times it would be a skimmer, or perhaps a member of one of the other services. In Groton, SubScol students were fairly common.

The POOD would call below to get permission from the SDO, and the SDO would usually say yes, provided a tour guide could be found. I was almost always willing to volunteer; in part because I was proud of my boat and of what I did, and in part because I remembered two young men who were willing to take the time to give me the same courtesy. (One was on a diesel boat - Blueback, I think - when I was going through RM 'A' school in San Diego; the other was on HMS Spartan, which spent a week or so in Groton when I was in SubScol.)

I'd usually take 45 minutes to an hour to give a tour. I'd start out topside, talking about the ship's size and pointing out whatever masts and antennas* happened to be raised. Then we'd go below and I'd show them the CO's stateroom, Control and the Nav Centre, and let them look through the deadlight into the fan room. Down to middle level for the crew's mess and galley, Countermeasures (where I'd talk about the doc), berthing (where if possible I'd open a convenient bunkpan to show how much storage room we didn't have for personal effects), the weirdroom and officers' staterooms, and the goat locker. Then down to lower level for the machinery room and the torpedo room. And somewhere along the way I'd pause to talk about the EAB system and how it worked, and about other DC gear.

Skimmers often have (or at least use to have) open house, where they'll throw the boat open for the general public to come aboard and look around. I've only seen a submarine do that once.

We were doing our homeport shift from Norfolk to Pearl, and along the way we stopped off for a namesake-city visit to Olympia, Washington. Just getting there was a trip in itself. On Thursday we transited the Strait of Juan de Fuca, mooring for the night in Seattle. (Cinderella liberty!) We got under way early the next day for a full-day transit of Puget Sound, arriving in Olympia early in the evening.

Back in those days the city of Olympia loved us.** Official (and unofficial) representatives of the city had been at the commissioning ceremony, and when we pulled in to Roosevelt Roads and St Croix during our first underway as USS (vice PCU) Olympia, there were Olympia citizens waiting on the piers.

To start with, they had arranged a big party for us in a warehouse not far from our berth, though I was unable to attend as I had duty the first night in.

There were a few dozen protesters on the pier when we pulled in, waving signs and chanting ("Take the toys away from the boys!"). I had the first watch up in the bridge, with an M-16, and I sat up there and chanted along with them ("More nukes, less kooks!") Besides the protesters and the party-goers, there were also quite a few people who just came down to the pier to have a look at the boat.

The next morning I went up topside to have a look around in the daylight. The protesters were gone, but they'd left some of their signs propped up to remind us of their displeasure. One of these signs caught my eye, and I wasted no time in going below and dragging a couple of my nuke buddies up to see it: WE WELCOME THE PEOPLE BUT NOT THE NUKES. ("See, Joel? Even the damn' hippies know the difference between nukes and real people!")

After duty-section turnover I went out with a handful of others (all nukes, as I recall), looking for breakfast. We found it in a hotel restaurant, and after eating, we went next door to the hotel bar. There were seven or eight of us, and we hadn't gotten three steps inside the door when a man seated at the bar looked up at us and announced, "I'm buying these boys a drink." The bartender bought the second round, and I never did see who paid for the third round; the bartender just came over and started setting glasses in front of us again. I figured if I wanted to see much of the town, I'd better get out of there quickly, so I drank the third one and left.

It was like that the entire time we were there - almost impossible for us to buy our own drinks. I don't think many people wore civvies the entire time we were there; most of us wore our dress blues whenever we went out into town. And the response was amazing: People driving by would honk and wave. Or they'd pull over and ask if we knew where we were going. If not, did we want directions? If we did know, did we want a ride? If we didn't care, would we like to go with them? There were reports of crewmembers being taken out to people's cabins, deep-sea fishing, up for rides in private planes.

And the party the first night wasn't all. Sunday afternoon there was a parade, followed by a reception at the governor's mansion. And Monday was brewery day. The Olympia brewery loved us, too; during new construction they'd shipped us several cases of beer mugs, enough for every man in the crew to get one, and they'd provided some nice glasses for the commissioning banquet, too. When we went out to tour the brewery, we discovered that they had some keychains for us, engraved with with out names and ranks, and the date. And it wasn't a matter of telling them your name, and then waiting while they did the engraving. No, someone had sent them a copy of the sailing list, and the keychains were all ready and waiting; all we had to do was dig through the bowl to find the right one.

And then there were the tourists. The decision had been made to throw the boat open to the public. Members of the duty section would be posted at various locations throughout the forward compartment, and the visitors would come below and be directed along a set route. At each stop, the tour guide posted there would give a brief talk, and then the people would be given a chance to buy something from the ship's store before being escorted off the boat. Officially, the tours ran from 0800 until 1700, but....

To begin with, any time you went up topside, day or night, you'd find people - plural - standing there, just looking at the boat. By the time duty-section turnover started (0700, if I recall correctly), they'd be queued up a block long. So the duty officer would sigh, and as soon as turnover was complete, say, "Okay - take stations and start bringing them down."

By 0900, the queue was a good two blocks long. And it stayed that way. All day. Around 1645 we'd send some poor sap from the duty section out to the end of the queue to start turning people away. "We're sorry. We know you've been waiting a long time, but we have to stop the tours for the night. Maybe you can come back tomorrow...."

And still they'd keep coming. The official tours stopped, but crewmembers would be bringing folks down for private tours. Finally, about 2200, the SDO would put his foot down and say, "That's it - no more tours." And the last tour would finally go down about midnight.

I was responsible for a few of those private tours, too. I was sitting up in the bridge with my M-16, mostly watching the water for swimmers or other threats, but also keeping an eye on the crowd on the pier, and I noticed a cute young lady sitting on a bollard looking at the boat. She sat there for what must have been two hours, just looking, and just before I was due to get relieved, she stood up and started to walk away. So I called out, "Miss!" She looked back, and I asked, "Would you like a tour?" She nodded, so I told her to wait, I'd be getting relieved in fiteen minutes or so and would be happy to provide. So she did, and I did. (Her name was Tina, and I got several letters from her over the next few years; in fact, I believe she was the one who sent me the teddy bear you can see in the picture here.)

As far as I know, I was the one to give the final tour during that visit - at 0200 Wednesday morning, to two young ladies who I'm pretty sure had been amongst the protesters the night we pulled in. They asked a few leading questions ("Is the crew politically aware?"), but they seemed to be genuinely interested in what I was showing them. Though I'm not quite sure how interesting they would have found it if I hadn't been standing right in front of the 21-Man door when a certain ET2 started to walk out, stark naked, on his way to the head....

Wednesday morning we were up early to repeat the trip in reverse, stopping for another night in Seattle before continuing on up to spend a few days in Nanoose Bay, BC.

The semi-official estimate I heard was that we put around 5000 people through the boat during that port call. And I've never seen anything like it since.

* According to the book we used when I was learning antenna theory in SETTS, radios have antennas; insects have antennae.

** Though it seems they have undergone a somewhat drastic change of opinion since then.


Mega Munch said...

I used to like giving tours too. I'd volunteer on duty nights and weekends. It's not like I had anything better to do!

Mega Munch said...

Just to clarify, by "weekends" I mean DUTY weekends. I didn't volunteer to come in on my Saturday's to give tours. I didn't like them THAT much.