Monday, April 27, 2009

I don't want to be known only for kvetching (the submarine post)

One unexpected pleasure of my vacation was a visit to a submarine. Dick and I spent a night in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and after a quick drive through the city, packed with tourists on such a fine day, we just had to get away. He said, "Let's go see a submarine." Now, I figured he meant that there was a submarine in port somewhere. It is Portsmouth, after all.

But I was wrong. There's a museum all about (and containing) the U.S.S. Albacore, once the Navy's test submarine, pictured above, at its launch in 1953.

When we arrived, all I saw was the not-so-big black hull of the old submarine. It looked so low-tech. But it was interesting, for I immediately saw its resemblance to the backs of the whales we had seen the previous day when we were out on the ocean. Even though this particular submarine is named after a tuna, I'm guessing that the first person who dreamed up the idea of a submarine was indeed thinking of whales. They dive, as submarines do, and can stay submerged for a long time. Here, I'm writing about a subject that I know absolutely nothing of, so if you want to know more, click on the word museum above.

I know just about as much about whales, come to think of it. But what's even more amazing to me is the lack of knowledge that exists about whales. No one knows what the average life span of a whale is! Nor do they know where whales give birth to their calves. The lack of knowledge about whales is very surprising to me. The ocean, it seems, holds more mystery than the vastness of space. Just why that is so is something else that I'm ignorant of, but I'm very curious about just why there is such a paltry amount of information to be gleaned.

Anyway, I came here to write about the U.S.S. Albacore, or really, just about how much I enjoyed my little hour-long journey inside of it. It was a blast. I've been to the best museums in the world, but this little miss-it-if-you-blink place was a gem. If you think you may be on the New Hampshire coast some time, give it a visit. If you're a curious person, especially one who likes to touch things, you'll love it.

The first thing one sees when entering the submarine is the bunks. I promised in an earlier post that I'd have my own pictures, and so here is one of me, comtemplating how it might feel to spend 4-5 months sleeping in one of these small bunks, surrounded by 50 fellow cooped-up naval seamen:

Being only five feet tall would be a major advantage. I was pretty comfortable. However, halfway through the submarine, we met a Navy man who was over six feet tall, and he had served on (or is it "in"?) a submarine. He said he was shorter and thinner in those days, and it had been difficult. He said he hit his head a lot, but he loved it (and I don't think he was talking about hitting his head). "The married guys were very cranky", said he, "They'd be missing their wives for the first three weeks. Then they'd be happy in the last week, thinking of being home again. Submarines ain't for married guys!" He was fascinated by the fact that this particular submarine had no weapons. "What's a submarine for?" he asked.

I can't give you details, but this submarine was built mostly to study how to build a better submarine. The weapons? They have no bearing on that, evidentally.

I felt like a kid in a candy shop. Sorry for the cliche, but it fits. I was giddy with excitement. There were so many dials and little rooms, boxes, drawers, the fabled periscope, and more cables and wires than you can possibly imagine. What I liked to imagine was how life was and what everything was for, for I really had never given submarines much thought before. I once had a neighbor, who was born in the 1910's, and he had told me that submarines were far more fascinating to him as a kid than the invention of the airplane. I found that astonishing. After my visit to the Albacore, I could see why. And then again, there's that whole mystery of the ocean thing, which now I know is quite literally true.

Small things caught my eye:

Yes, I know it's only a bunch of drawers. But what did they originally hold? It doesn't really matter, I suppose. Oddly, I've always been fascinated by little drawers. The more the merrier.

One reason why I was enjoying the Albacore so much is that there was nobody on guard. The person in charge of the museum sat in a little building a short walk away from the actual submarine. Visitors were totally free to touch and linger to their heart's content. And even though it was a small vessel, the one hour we spent inside could have been far longer. Afterwards, I'd wished I'd brought a book, one about submarine life, and sat in a bunk all day living the life of a sailor on his day off. I don't even know if they ever did get a day off, now that I think of it.


Leigh Russell said...

I think it would make me feel claustrophobic, but how interesting. And to think, people spend weeks (?) in these tin tubs. Yes, I'd definitely feel claustrophobic!

jmcleod76 said...

I got to take a tour like this once. There is a retired submarine permanently attached to the Carnegie Science Museum in Pittsburgh. Very neat!

TMC said...

Seems this itty bitty naval bunk turned out to be more comfy than the Ikea mattress... :)