by Tom Shannon EM2/SS USS Trepang SSN-674
I was a nuc EM on the Trepang (SSN-674) in 1985. We were about to go "under ice" for the first time A lot of guys had never been under ice so we didn't know what to expect. We were, however, confident in our abilities to handle anything we faced. The only thing that bothered me was what we would do if the reactor SCRAMmed. If that were to happen there wouldn't be a lot of time to find an area to break through the ice to run the diesel generator. Looking back now I realize it wasn't the only thing to worry about.
The ship was fitted with under ice sonar before we left New London. We would be able to "see" the ice conditions in front of us as we proceeded towards the North Pole.
After successfully transiting under the ice we settled into the normal routine. A few days had gone by with nothing but "standard" speed on the engine order telegraph. I was standing throttleman watch on an 1800-2400 shift when the EOT rang up: ALL STOP.
I thought it to be unusual but I answered the bell smartly. I always loved to shut the throttles fast to watch the temperature and pressure transients on both steam generator and reactor. It was something to do on an otherwise boring watch.
The EOT rang again - BACK 1/3 - Now that got everyone's attention in Maneuvering. The EOOW jumped between the reactor operator (I think it was Orben Loucks) and me.
"Easy on the astern throttles," warned the EOOW."We don't want to cavitate"
"Are you kidding?" I said. "They want a backing bell in the middle of nowhere and you're concerned about cavitation?"
There wasn't time to argue. BACK 2/3 rang the EOT, followed by three quick rings (answer the bell - forget about cavitation).
What the hell was going on up in control? That's what I was thinking. I answered the bell PDQ.
I had to remember about the astern throttle is one big poppet, so I had to be careful about too much of a steam transient causing power to surge in the reactor.
BACK FULL followed quickly by BACK EMERGENCY. As I'm opening the throttles I look back at the EOOW. "Sir, you have to start another feed pump!" I yelled. I couldn't believe he forgot that. Didn't he see the steam generator levels dropping?
"Need to go to fast speed on the main coolant pumps, too, sir" the RO replied. "It's like a flank in reverse". Anyway we answered the bell without incident. It took a couple of seconds but the entire boat started to shake as we "put on the brakes". I watched the speed indicator slow down to zero. Eventually, ALL STOP rang up and the event was over. All of this happened in about 3 or 4 minutes but it seemed more like 30.
When we got off watch we found out the under ice sonar detected a huge block of ice and we were headed right into it. It was my first and only Back Emergency bell.
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