The Hunt for Red October.... in September.... at King's Bay, Georgia
United States Naval Submarine Base
Things all started for us with a 5 mile dinghy ride from Fernandina Beach, Florida where "Genesis" was anchored. We took a ride one day just to see King's Bay, a US Naval Submarine Base, which is a restricted area. We had no idea that we would actually see a submarine, much less photograph one! We went as close to the entrance of the bay as we dared.... and took our photos using a telephoto lens. The submarine was docked at the wharf, and a patrol boat stayed close to the submarine and the entrance to the bay. King's Bay, Georgia, is near St. Mary's, Camden County, Georgia, on an arm of Cumberland Sound, 35 - 40 miles north of Jacksonville, Florida.
A week later, we moved the boat to Cumberland Island, Georgia. We were out in the dinghy around St. Mary's inlet (between Florida and Georgia) and, lo and behold, here comes a submarine in from the ocean. And what a production it was!!! The submarine was flanked by two huge escort ships, complete with machine guns. Smaller Coast Guard vessels were milling around and there we were, right in the channel where they were heading. We quickly moved the dinghy next to Cumberland Island, just out of the channel. We were going to have a front-row seat to watch all the action. And, we actually had our cameras.... including the telephoto lens! We quickly got the cameras ready.
A Coast Guard boat came fairly close to us (machine gun at the ready) and gave us a wave. We were snapping photos like crazy..... the submarine was traveling fast! I looked up at one of the huge escort ships and saw an officer standing outside giving us the stink eye! Well, as they moved down the channel to the submarine base, so did we. We were traveling outside the channel, but were still snapping photos. The Coast Guard decided we were too close and turned on their blue lights and headed for us. They came alongside us and informed us that we were supposed to stay back 500 yards, and we weren't supposed to be taking photos. They asked LA for his driver's license and asked what type of cameras we were using. Every answer was "yes, sir", "no, sir". Serious business for these guys. Luckily, they didn't confiscate our camera chips (or cameras!). So, we put away our cameras... and stayed back... way back!
After the sub was out of sight, we headed back to the boat... pumped up from all the excitement! As we were getting in the boat, here comes the Coast Guard.... this time, by helicopter! Yep, we got a fly-by. They circled around our boat and they were flying low. I looked up and they were photographing us! I'm sure they were getting the name of our boat for security reasons. After all the excitement, we decided we'd better keep a low profile. We decided right then and there that even if we saw another submarine coming in, we would stay away!
Don't know much about submarines?? We knew a little bit..... Hollywood stuff.....mostly from watching movies such as "Hunt for Red October" and "Crimson Tide". A submarine is a watercraft capable of independent operation below the surface of the water. Submarines are referred to as "boats" for historical reasons because vessels deployed from a ship are referred to as boats. The first submarines were launched from ships. Most large submarines comprise a cylindrical body with conical ends and a vertical structure, usually located amidships, which houses communications and sensing devices (radar, radio, electronic warfare devices) as well as periscopes and snorkel devices. In modern submarines this structure is called the "sail".
Submarines are huge! See the photo on the right.... there is a man on top of the submarine's "sail". He is standing at the bottom of the antenna on the right.
How do submarines work? For general submersion or surfacing, submarines use the forward and aft tanks, called Main Ballast Tanks or MBTs, which are filled with water to submerge, or filled with air to surface. Under submerged conditions, MBTs generally remain flooded, which simplifies their design, and on many submarines these tanks are a section of interhull space. For more precise and quick control of depth, submarines use smaller Depth Control Tanks or DCTs, also called hard tanks due to their ability to withstand higher pressure. The amount of water in depth control tanks can be controlled either to reflect changes in outside conditions or change depth. Depth control tanks can be located either near the submarine's center of gravity, or separated along the submarine body to prevent affecting trim. A submerged submarine is in an unstable equilibrium, having a tendency to either fall or float to the surface. Keeping a constant depth requires continual operation of either the depth control tanks or control surfaces.
Before and during World War II, the primary role of the submarine was anti-surface ship warfare. Submarines would attack either on the surface or submerged, using torpedoes or on the surface deck guns. They were particularly effective in sinking Allied transatlantic shipping in both World Wars and in disrupting Japanese supply routes and naval operations in the Pacific in World War II. In WWII, American submarines sank over 50% of the enemy ships, despite the fact that they were manned by less than 2% of our sailors.
The development of submarine-launched nuclear missiles and submarine-launched cruise missiles gave submarines a substantial and long-ranged ability to attack both land and sea targets with a variety of weapons ranging from cluster bombs to nuclear weapons. The primary defense of a submarine lies in its ability to remain concealed in the depths of the ocean. Early submarines could be detected underwater by the noise they made. Advanced propeller designs, extensive sound-reducing insulation, and special machinery allow a submarine to be as quiet as ambient ocean noise, making them extremely difficult to detect. It takes specialized technology to find and attack modern submarines.
King's Bay Naval Submarine Base encompasses approximately 16,000 acres. Military and civilian personnel, including contract personnel, number more than 9,000. King's Bay, Georgia lies in marshy, flat terrain behind a long, low barrier island which separates it from the open ocean. Submarines reach the base via a long channel which has been cut through the shallow coastal shelf and muddy tidal sound. Despite the potential vulnerability of a hurricane strike, the risk of submarine operations being disrupted is reduced considerably by the rarity of direct land-falling hurricanes along the neighboring coasts at the St. Mary's inlet.
Facilities at the base enable King's Bay to serve as a homeport, refit site and training facility for the Navy people that operate and maintain the Ohio-class strategic submarines. The original facilities here cost $125 million. Throughout the 1980's, the Navy spent more than $1.7 billion in the military construction alone.
The Trident Refit Facility has kept a significant portion of America's submarine warfare capability at sea since 1985. They provide incremental overhaul, modernization and repair of Trident submarines and also provide maintenance and support services to other submarines. It boasts the largest covered dry dock in the Northern hemisphere, measuring 700 feet long, 100 feet wide, and 67 feet deep. It is the only facility of its kind on the East Coast. It also maintains and stores torpedoes carried by the Trident submarines.
The Trident Training Facility has over 520,000 square feet of classroom and office space and trains sailors in the skills necessary to operate and maintain the Trident submarine and its systems.
St. Mary's Submarine Museum
We visited the St. Mary's Submarine Museum in nearby St. Mary's, Georgia. Open since 1996, the museum contains a wide variety of artifacts, memorabilia and submarine history. Look at the stainless steel object sticking out of the roof.... it is a Type 8 periscope. Although the bottom of the periscope can be viewed from the inside, the optics no longer focus.
This is what is looks like to look through a periscope. Shown is the St. Mary's River, with Cumberland Island, Georgia in the background.
Shown above is a nuclear submarine helm station with depictions of the gauges used. Imagine.... back in WWII.... 18 and 19 year old navy men were actually at the helm of submarines!
There are several display cases with submarine photos, certificates, plaques, medals and submarine models. Many of the artifacts were donated by men who served on submarines. The St. Mary's Museum does not have a decommissioned submarine on display. The closest decommissioned submarines are in Mobile, Alabama and Charleston, South Carolina. We used to drive by the Mobile, Alabama submarine location on our vacations to Florida, but we never stopped to check it out.
I hope we make it to Charleston so we can finally go inside a submarine (a decommissioned one, though)! Stay Tuned!
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