Sea Stories

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E Division unrigs shore power while divers prepare for a pre-underway hull inspection on the USS WILLIAM H. BATES (SSN 680), Subic Bay, PI - 1984

Duty in Subic Bay. Just another day on the Bates. In fact, just another night on the Bates. Sometimes you just wanted to scream.

I wasn't a big fan of the night life in the 'Po, but stuck on the boat was stuck on the boat. I'd rather be sipping an icy San Migoo' and buying skewers of mystery meat from a street vendor's grill by the metric ton. Or a bucket of shrimp fried rice.

But I took my turn like everybody else. I was the Engineering Duty Petty Officer, and it was after midnight. I'd been back aft on a casual tour, and engineering, like most of the boat, was deserted. I shared coffee and stories with the Shutdown Reactor Operator, found a lighter for the Roving Watch, and then wandered up topside.

It was a beautiful Olongapo night. Warm and humid, illuminated by the lights of the Shipyard Repair Facility, the faint sounds of the 'Po drifted through the harbor. The scent of the river reminded me of things I'd rather not think about. After a few minutes of quiet reflection, I exchanged pleasantries with the topside watch and then dropped down the weapons shipping hatch.

Next to my bunk, in the welcome, refrigerated, air-conditioned comfort of the 18 man bunkroom, I kicked off my boots, rolled up my uniform and got ready for bed. Only three hours until I had to be up for my tour, but three hours was three hours - rack hard, rack fast, rack often - whenever you can, hit the rack, as Dunkleberger, a one-time RCA used to remind me.

Then, as I peeled off my socks in preparation for rack-diving, it happened.


The hull rang like the Liberty Bell, and I was jolted sideways, taking a bunk-pan painfully in the ribs.

Gasping for breath, a thousand thoughts raced through my mind.

"WTF was that!"

"What on earth was big enough to bong the hull and knock me off my feet?"

"Everything is shut-down."

"We're next to the pier by ourselves. There is nobody outboard."

"Oh, my gosh, the MG sets."

I frantically pulled on my boots, imagining that nothing but a huge motor-generator set was big enough to rattle the boat by coming unglued. Up the ladder to middle level, I raced back aft in nothing but my boots and my BVDs. Up the ladder to upper level, I wondered why I wasn't hearing an MC announcement. I was moving so quickly I was in the tunnel before I realized I hadn't seen anybody yet. Down the steps to Aux. Machinery Two, I expected to find the compartment filled with smoke and shrapnel.

Cautiously sticking my head through the hatch, my carefulness was unrewarded. Nothing. No unusual sights, sounds or smells, if you didn't count the roving watch. Back into the Engine Room and into Maneuvering. The Roving Watch was standing there next to the SRO, both with eyes as big as Crabby's lemon meringue pies. And it wasn't me in my boxers that had startled them.

"You guys felt and heard it too?" I queried.

Four squid sized eyeballs bobbed up and down.

"Anything unusual besides that?" We all scanned the panels anxiously.

Nothing. The MG sets hummed, main coolant pumps pumped, shore power powered. Just another shutdown watch on the Bates. I jumped out and dropped into AMR2 lower level, and checked the MG sets. Warm and quiet, they may as well have been turned off, for what little vibration you could feel. Back to upper level, I snapped at the roving watch, "get your behind out of Maneuvering and check every inch of the engineering spaces, starting with the bilges, and let me know what you find. I'm going topside."

So I clambered up the engine room hatch, and walked forward to find the topside watch, duty chief, and duty officer in conversation. Chiming in my two cents worth, we soon discovered that we all felt it, we all heard it, and none of us had the slightest clue what had happened, but the boat seemed to be intact. We also discovered that I was still in my boots and BVDs, and nobody commented that I was decidedly out of uniform.

It took a while, but we finally recognized similar activity on other ships and around the shipyard. Groups of people standing, talking, pointing. A few phone calls and some shouted conversations, and we confirmed that this was not localized to the Bates, but everybody in the harbor experienced it to some degree or another.

It wouldn't be until the next morning that we would be able to confirm that there had been a significant earthquake with an epicenter not far from Subic Bay. What we had felt and heard was the pier slamming into the camels, and the camels slamming into the Bates that night.

Quite an experience, an earthquake in a submarine. I wonder how many of us can say that today.

I don't think I went back to bed. But I did put my clothes back on.

Lee Oslund
I remember that quake in Subic rather well. I was in the rack at my favorite hangout in Subic City. The building shook and everyone in the building ran outside until they were sure that it wasn't going to come down on top of everyone.
Jerry Roe
I remember the quake well. Mike Langenheim and I were coming back to the boat fresh from "Quarter Beer Night," at one of the local watering holes. Mike and I staggered back to the boat, feeling the effects of the San Miguel's, and that's when the quake hit. We managed to walk back to the boat straight as an arrow because of that!.

Hey Mike, was that the same night you fell overboard?

Michael Langenheim
Different night (I think). Missed you at the reunion.
Lee Oslund
I was aboard Pintado in dry dock at MINSY during the "89 earthquake that hit the San Francisco area during the world series. I remember I was in maneuvering at the time with the boat rocking on the blocks. Shipyard workers fleeing like rats from the reactor "house" built around the RC, and the EDO gets it in his head that he is going to flee the boat and cross the brow while the boat was rocking. NOT something I would have done. It was potentially a one way trip to the drydock basin.
Alan Weakley
I remember it well. Was on watch in the TR and seeing the torpedoes flexing in their stows was harrowing! I thought we had been rammed.
Brad Williamson
I never thought about it until tonight, but sitting at my desk two weeks after the earthquake and subsequent tsunami had devastated northern Japan, it just dawned on me. We could have been hammered by a tsunami an hour later. Imagine what would happen to a boat tied to the pier as the water level went up by ten, twenty, thirty feet, like it did at Fukushima.

Next time, not that I'll be there, starting the diesel and shutting all the deck hatches might be a more prudent course of action. Lucky for us, and the residents of the 'Po, especially Sean's wife, there was no tidal surge.

Sean Gawne
By the way, that's Subic in the background on the little icon there.
Sean Gawne
Ah yes Brad, I remember that one very well, as I was also on duty that night, but my poor wife was over in Olongapo. At first I had thought some monstrous ship like an aircraft carrier had come into port with too much speed and caused a wake, but that made no sense as it was around 10 pm. I went up topside and was talking to the watch, nobody could figure it out. It wasn't until we got into town the next day and saw all the damage, brickwork down on the sidewalks and so forth, that we figured it out. Definitely one of the more memorable duty nights, that is for sure.

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