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The Submarine That Got Stuck in the Mud

Posted August 20, 2018 12:00 AM by RSBenner

Although I was never in the US Navy, I had the opportunity to climb around quite a few submarines in my younger days. Although this did not make me privy to all the rules surrounding a submarine, I imagine keeping the boat off the river bottom and out of the mud has to be one of them. However, in the case of the USS Guitarro, this rule was broken.

The USS Guitarro (SSN-665) was a nuclear powered, fast attack submarine of the Sturgeon-Class. Built at the Mare Island Naval Ship Yard in Vallejo, California, she was launched on July 27, 1968. After a submarine is launched, however, it does not immediately get commissioned. A series of acceptance tests must first be passed before the boat is admitted into service for the US Navy. However, in the case of the USS Guitarro, this rule was broken.

On May 15, 1969, the Guitarro was moored at Mare Island during its acceptance testing phase. On this day, a group of workers began instrument calibrations in the rear of the ship. This calibration required 5 tons of water be taken into the aft ballast tanks. About 30 minutes later, a different group began working on a project which required the boat be within a half degree of trim. The group reported a two-degree up-bow attitude (a result of the water added by the first group of workers) and added water to the ballast tanks towards the front to achieve their objective. These two groups, each unaware of the other, continued to add water to their respective ballast tanks for 3 ½ hours. Twice during this time, security personnel informed the trim workers that the boat was sitting so low that water was occasionally entering an uncovered manhole in the bow section. There was no response to this warning.

While the trim workers were on lunch, the aft workers finished their calibrations and began emptying the rear ballast tanks. About the time the trim workers returned from their break, both groups noticed that the boat was severely lower at the bow and that water was pouring into the open front hatches. Although the workers attempted to close the hatches and watertight doors within the submarine, lines and hoses running through them prevented it. The Guitarro continued to fill with water until she sat in the mud on the bottom of the Napa River, earning her the nickname “Mare Island Mud Puppy.”

The Guitarro was raised from the mud three days later. The sinking caused a 32-month delay in her commissioning and damages were estimated at $15 to $22 million. She was finally commissioned on September 9, 1972 and remained in service until May 29, 1992.

Investigation into the sinking identified a problem in the construction process – it lacked centralized control and responsibility. As the saying goes, the bow half didn’t know what the aft half was doing.

References:

http://ussnautilus.org/blog/the-sinking-of-uss-guitarro-ssn-665/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Guitarro_(SSN-665)

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#1

Re: The Submarine That Got Stuck in the Mud

08/20/2018 7:45 PM

My guess is that someone's career took a similar path to this submarine.

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#2

Re: The Submarine That Got Stuck in the Mud

08/20/2018 11:52 PM

This is why nothing should be just "rubber stamped". The sub I was on was still in the shipyard after a refueling, completing an overhaul, and preparing for initial criticality. Even tho the shipyard workers had their jobs to, the crew still had to maintain control of the ship. We had status-boards put up to mark tagged-out items and ongoing work. No work should have been authorized without a safety review by the duty officer. Timing is everything. Like, you can't perform conflicting jobs at the same time, or tag-out the drain pump and its backup at the same time, or (obviously) all the lights at the same time. It can get busy/hectic there.

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#3

Re: The Submarine That Got Stuck in the Mud

08/21/2018 12:04 AM

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-11605365

Thats one particularly impressive c0ck up

The above noted was the maiden voyage of one of the UKs newest super dupery subs. I believe the Commander's career took a slide. It wouldn't be so bad but that shallow is on the oldest charts of that area. The Navy have known about for over 300 years.

I believe that a major accident at Texas City refinery was caused by groups not knowing what others were doing. A rundown line was out of service but hadnt been properly isolated while some downstream work involving disconnecting piping rewelding etc was going on. With the line out of use the instrument techs did some stroke testing on the run down control vlave. Unfortunately as isolation wasn't done properly this let hydrocarbon run down to the open end causing a fire / explosion and deaths.

This sort of thing should be prevented by a good permit to work which would also have solved the sub problemfrom the OP

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#4

Re: The Submarine That Got Stuck in the Mud

08/21/2018 1:55 PM

Rickover had issues with most of the Navy shipyards and saw to it that Guitarro was the last nuclear powered vessel built in a Navy shipyard.

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#5

Re: The Submarine That Got Stuck in the Mud

08/21/2018 1:58 PM

Not solely a US phenomenon. A few years ago Vickers in the UK built a ballistic missile sub where the missile tube section was installed upside down.

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#6
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Re: The Submarine That Got Stuck in the Mud

08/21/2018 4:11 PM

Somehow the mistakes we mere mortals make seem laughable in contrast.

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#7

Re: The Submarine That Got Stuck in the Mud

08/22/2018 8:47 PM

A similar event happened at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in 1965 (I think). The sub SS(N)606, (I think) had the same thing happen. They trimmed the boat and left the aft hatch open and it was flooded. Cost a lot to fix it. I worked at the PNSY from 1960 to 1964 and worked on the Nautilus SS(N)571, SS(N)605 and SS(N)620 and SS(N)636. I was involved in the refueling of the Nautilus where they had to make a pit in the drydock floor so the reactor could be dropped through the bottom of the hull into the pit. Them were the days. I was on the list to go on sea trials on the Thresher, but didn't go due to space availability.

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Re: The Submarine That Got Stuck in the Mud

08/22/2018 9:13 PM

You're lucky you missed that ride on the Thresher. (At least I think it was that ride)

It's always risky testing something for the first time.

I was at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard around 1977 for awhile. "From Sails To Atoms"

I had a patch and a cigarette lighter for my collection from there.

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Re: The Submarine That Got Stuck in the Mud

08/23/2018 11:00 AM

Thresher made it through sea trials and went through several other class tests after commissioning. The bad ride came later. I was at NAVSEA 08 in 1977 and one of the interesting things we got to see were films of the UNDEX testing on Thresher.

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#10
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Re: The Submarine That Got Stuck in the Mud

08/23/2018 12:30 PM

The Thresher went down I believe in 1963 or 1964. A long time ago so I don't remember the exact time. I was at home at the time and was called to report to the shipyard to review all the drawings for the Thresher to try to determine what went wrong.

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