Blogger’s Note: What do you do when you have one of the coolest experiences of your life but you can’t take any pictures during most of it? You think about the way your favorite authors, using only their words, manage to take you to places you’ve never seen and make them so clear in your mind’s eye you feel like you are there. This is my ATTEMPT to capture the first time I went underway on a submarine while keeping the sensitive portions of the journey out of the story. The following is my own personal account of events that happened on this day, and no portion of it may be reproduced without permission. SHARE, don’t steal. Follow the journey with your senses, but mostly with your heart because love runs deep.
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As I open my eyes, the clock on the wall comes slowly into focus. It’s zero six thirty and I’ve had an uncomfortable but decent two hours of sleep. The smell of old coffee, the standard shipboard chemicals, and the sea are in the air. I’m curled up against the arm of a well worn black pleather couch, the sounds of Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan exchanging their infamous quips heard in the background as the Golden Girls plays for its second, maybe third, hour on the television directly in front of me. I’m more awake now and it occurs to me that many of the people once sleeping on couches, chairs, even the floor, have started to pace around our ready room aboard this small offshore support vessel (OSV). For a second time, someone pops their head in the door and says breakfast is ready in the galley below. Most of us choose not to partake. We’re too excited for what’s about to happen next.
I can see through the porthole behind me that it’s still quite dark outside – the days in the Pacific Northwest growing shorter as of late. I don’t really know where we are at this point, but I’m certain we are somewhere in open ocean waters between the United States and Canada. No matter. It’s been nearly seven hours since we started our journey, and it’s time to take a look outside to see if we’re any closer to our long anticipated moment. With my near full-length black down coat zipped tight and my tall black rain boots secured, I follow two of my fellow Navy spouses out the aft door to the deck outside. It’s drizzling slightly and the chill in the air is biting, but the seas are calm. As we walk cautiously left and round the corner, we look out at the horizon and I gasp a little. She is there. Against a dark azure sky, a single light shining on her sail, the silhouette of the ballistic missile submarine USS KENTUCKY is now traveling beside us. On her manifest, my partner in life for the last 9 years. He is her executive officer, but he is MY everything.
In this moment, I’m overwhelmed by a series of emotions. First, relief that my husband is safely inside and now only several yards away from me after many weeks away from home. Second, awe at the sight of this enormous, ominous vessel that I know can contain enough nuclear fire power to obliterate our entire planet. I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t be terrified to see her surface next to my ship in the middle of the night in any other circumstance. Third, a deep sense of gratitude for each and every person on that submarine and their families waiting here with me now and back on shore who have sacrificed so much for this ship to execute her mission. And finally, pure JOY and exhilaration. I’m about to ride a submarine for the first time AND she’s on her way HOME.
As it gets lighter, the OSV and the boat draw closer to one another and we are instructed to go back inside. We’re traveling at about 4 knots now they say, and the crew is getting ready to position the brow so we can board the sub. We gather our things, listen to a final safety brief, fasten our life vests, and line up on deck to make our crossing. The sights and sounds of the sea and everyone’s excited faces and chatter create a cause for pause. I want to remember this moment, and I briefly reminisce about the days when, as a Navy civilian, I rode ships much larger than this one. There’s nothing quite like it. Suddenly it’s my turn to cross and once I step foot on KENTUCKY, her Chief of the Boat, complete with a still lingering and (astonishingly) authorized underway mustache, greets me with a hello. We exchange a laugh before I climb down ladder and am escorted with 15 other family members to the crew’s mess. I can hardly wait to see my person and find out what they have planned next.
Part Two will be published next Sunday, October 14, 2018.