This past weekend I had the opportunity of a lifetime to do something that very few people in the world have ever thought about, never mind done. I spent 4 days submerged aboard the Navy's nuclear powered submarine, Virginia SSN 774. Virginia is the most technologically advanced submarine in the world and will be the cornerstone of the future US submarine fleet for the twenty-first century. This all came about a few weeks ago when my good buddy from high school, Thomas, called and asked me if I'd be interested in coming along. Interested? are you kidding me! Of course I was interested..."Where do I sign up?" I asked!
Let me back up a bit. Periodically ships in the Navy go out on what they call Tiger Cruises where they invite VIPs or members of the public on board to see what the Navy is all about and to show off it's capabilities. This cruise was mostly made up of family members of the sailors so it's also a way to boost morale and give the families an inside look at what their sons do every day on board a nuclear powered submarine. A Tiger Cruise is a rare opportunity on a surface ship, and nearly unheard of on a submarine...so this really was a once in a lifetime opportunity. When they do happen, typically these cruises go out for a night and then return back to the same port, but we'd be leaving from Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, FL and transiting back up to Groton, CT...Virginia's home port. 4 days and 3 nights aboard a $2.5 billion dollar piece of deadly stealth weaponry. This was going to be awesome and I couldn't have been more excited to go.
Below I'll provide a quick recap of what we did on board for all that time and hopefully give you some good insight into what life aboard a submarine is like. Obviously there are some things that I did and things I saw on board that I can't talk about and certainly wasn't allowed to take photographs of, but other than that I pretty much had the run of the boat, save for the engine room. Basically the rear 40% of the ship was off limits. The Navy holds it's nuclear secrets very close to the vest....so no visitors are allowed back there, ever! The Captain made it very clear to us that Tiger Cruises like this are allowed with the understanding that we'll leave with a rare look into how a submarine like this functions and operates and that we must not talk about certain operational things that we experience on board. For instance you won't see any photos inside the control room except for a few that I made blurry and several of Thomas and I that were somewhat staged. We changed out the displays on some of the computers to make sure no classified information like depth gages or speed was shown. That wasn't easy either because nearly every display in the control room from charts to sonar to firing displays are marked "SECRET", "CONFIDENTIAL", or "CLASSIFIED".
So, without further adieu, enjoy the recap.
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I caught a flight down to JAX on Thursday evening and was met by a Navy driver who took me to my hotel not far from the Navy base in Mayport. The boat had come into port earlier in the week to drop off some personnel who would coordinate getting us "tigers" on board Friday morning. There were going to be 20 of us coming on so the guys were constantly ferrying people back from the airport.
Thursday night I hit a local pizza joint for a bite to eat and then retired to my hotel room knowing it would be an early start in the morning.
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A few vans left from the hotel at 730am on Friday to get us over to the Mayport Naval Station base. This base is mostly used for destroyers and larger ships like that, so it doesn't really have any docking facilities for submarines. That meant they'd be doing a BSP [Brief Stop for Personnel] to bring us on board. It was a bit of "hurry up and wait" with a planned boarding at 10am sharp so we just hung out there at the base for a bit. We'd head out on a tug boat, pull up along side the moving submarine, and walk along a gangway to get across. Once we got on they turned the sub around and we made our way back out to sea. Felt just like getting on a city bus!
Here are some photos of Virginia as she enters the channel and comes into the restricted Navy harbor. Video as well! It's hard to make out, but Thomas is up on the bridge driving along with the Captain and the local harbor master.
Once down below we were all taken into the crews mess [where the crew eats meals] and sat down to go over a quick introduction to the boat and review safety procedures. I've been down on the boat before a few times in Groton for tours, but for most of the guys this was their first time ever setting foot on a submarine. We went through some of the rules and regulations about being on board and then covered what to do in the event of a fire or some other casualty that would require us to don breathing masks.
And yes, Thomas is 3rd in command on this bad boy...pretty crazy the amount of responsibility he has! He's the lead engineer [they just call him ENG] so everything from the reactor to driving the boat falls under him...lots of work for sure.
Once the safety briefing was out of the way we were all assigned to our berths. I was going to be bunking in Thomas' stateroom on the top rack. Some of the best accommodations on board! Here's a look around:
As I was getting settled Thomas came down from the bridge to find me and say hello. We caught up for a bit and then he suggested we grab some lunch. I'll cover food and dining on the sub later on, but we'll just say that we ate good all trip long. With some ribs, green beans, and a sliver of apple pie in our bellies we had to hurry along so that Thomas could get back onto his regular watch schedule. He had the 1130 to 1730 shift on the bridge so I'd be joining him. I threw on a harness and climbed the 40 feet up through the sail and onto the bridge! It's slippery and the surface is actually curved up there, so being harnessed in in a must, just incase you slip. By the time we got up there we had already lost sight of land, but we did pick up a few dolphins along the way and they rode our bow wake for a good while.
There are a bevy of computer screens and communications equipment up there on the bridge, but the operation of the sub actually gets done in the control room down below, so Thomas was constantly sending orders down to change course and speed. The Captain and his dad joined us for a few hours and we had his dad in charge for a while. He was having us come to a complete stop and then crank the prop to full speed. It's amazing how much power a nuclear reactor can put out! 0 to 14 knots in no-time flat.
It's customary to have a cigar when up on the bridge like that so the Captain broke out a few Dominican's and the 4 of us enjoyed them, chatted and took in the view. There's nothing like it in the world, that's for sure. Cranking away in the middle of the ocean on top of a nuclear powered submarine. Pretty special stuff. You've got to see this video I shot while up there. You'll see some dolphins at the beginning and then the rear of the boat towards the end. Very impressive stuff.
One thing I didn't really know until this trip was that the Eastern Seaboard is actually very shallow. In fact, you need to head out about 100-120 miles before you can dive below the surface. So coming and going from port the first 12 or so hours are spent on the surface. When the weather is nice and the seas are calm like this it's great...but wait til you see what we dealt with coming into Groton on Monday!
[when on the surface like that the radar is deployed to help navigate, which is a good thing, but it can reek havoc with other electronics. that being said, I didn't dare bring my nikon up there...just the point and shoot canon]
At one point we had a P3 Orion submarine hunter aircraft fly overhead a few times. Not too hard to find a sub when it's up on the surface like that. Most likely they were doing some exercises somewhere out there with another sub.
Once we reached a depth of around 1300' feet, at about 80-85 miles off shore, Thomas gave the order for "all stop" and we slowly came to a complete rest in the middle of the ocean. It was time for the crews "swim call". 80 miles out and we were going to jump off a perfectly good submarine and go swimming...talk about nuts! They made sure the water was very deep because a few weeks ago when they did a swim call in about 700 feet of water they had 4 sharks there in about 10 minutes. "Everybody out of the water!". At this depth we they were pretty confident we wouldn't' have any visitors except some jelly fish. They did bring the gunner up on deck with his machine gun, just in case! Thomas was still on watch for the first hour of the swim, so we stayed up on the bridge and played lifeguard while the crew all took turns diving off the side and enjoying a refreshing dip in the 85 degree waters of the gulf stream. Meanwhile, the kitchen staff was setting up for a "Steel Beach". Get this...they brought a few bbq grills up onto the deck and had burgers and dogs cooking away for all us to enjoy! Just unreal...it felt more like a Carnival Cruise than a deadly Navy submarine.
Once Thomas was relieved of his watch we raced down below to get our trunks on to enjoy the last 45 minutes of the swim call. Boy did it feel great to get in there. Once we stopped the boat we lost the nice breeze we had up there, so we had been baking for a good hour in the direct sun. The guy in the water wearing the blue trunks is the Captain..he was the first one in the water...even before the diver got in there!
What an awesome feeling it is to dive off the edge of the boat like that. One of the cool things to do when you're out there is to try and swim up the bow of the boat. It's not easy...you have to time it correctly with a swell and sort of ride the swell up onto the bow and hold on for dear life as the water goes back down. Once it's down then you can crawl the rest of the way up. The risk is that if you don't make it up and slide back down you can get cut up pretty good by all the barnacles below the water line. Apparently the only way to clean them out of your skin is with a dousing of vinegar...and it's very painful. So the first time I made it up okay...but the second attempt I had to abort and push off so I didn't get cut. Close call! Once we toweled off we grabbed some burgers and sat down on the deck to enjoy a little bbq food on the back of a nuclear submarine in the middle of nowhere!
Pretty soon everyone made their way back down below to shower up and get back to the actual business of running a submarine. Playtime was over! The boat fired back up and continued east for another hour or so. Around 830pm I made my way up to control with Thomas to watch the diving procedure. It's pretty intense as they go over a checklist of things to prepare the boat and then at around 9pm the OOD [Officer of the Deck] came over the PA to announce "Dive, Dive". The ballast tanks were flooded with water and within a few minutes the deck was awash and shortly after that the periscope slipped beneath the surface as well. We were officially submerged and wouldn't resurface again until late Sunday night!
The biggest questions I've been asked since being back is "what's it like to be underwater?", and "did you feel anything down there?". So let me explain. Once you lose sight of the surface in the periscope you have no idea how deep you are. There's no telling the difference between 100' deep or 500' deep. The only way to tell is by looking at the read-outs in control or the display in the Ward Room. Once underwater everything is smooth as glass...the boat slides along very gently through the water at some very significant speeds and you really can't even tell if you're moving or standing still. As far as feeling claustrophobic, not the case. You have to remember...this thing is 377' long and 34' wide with 4 decks inside. There's plenty of room in there. Sure you have to turn sideways to get by someone in a passageway, but other than that it's just fine.
The rest of Friday night was spent with Thomas and a few other officers in the Ward Room playing cards and watching a movie. Just a typical Friday night underneath the ocean.
More after the jump...click below to continue.
A few weekends ago we visited a neighboring towns' Farmers Market. They do it every Saturday morning at the base of the "High Speed Line" [not sure why it's called that, there's nothing really "high speed" about it!]. The market is about quarter mile long and has everything from fruit and produce to coffe and fresh baked goods. They even have some live music to set the mood.
The market runs all the way til Thanksgiving, meaning they'll have great produce all throughout the Fall to enjoy!
I've got a few shoots lined up in the coming weeks but as we approach the beautiful Fall months I wanted to let people know that KRN Photography is open for business and able to help out with your photography needs.
Let me know if you need some family portraits, newborn photos, engagement photos, or even a simple headshot done and I'd be happy to help out for a very reasonable price.
Be sure to log onto krnphotography.com for more info and photos!
A while back [circa 2008] I posted some photos of a meal that Kel and I make every so often that we like to call "Kindergarten Dinner". Usually when we're beat and don't really want to cook an elaborate meal for dinner we go this route. As you know from that post in 08', the entire meal consists of chicken nuggets, mac n cheese, and corn, all of which can easily be found in our freezer or pantry and be whipped up at a moments notice.
Unlike that post from 08' where the meal is served on paper plates, this time we decided to class it up a bit and break out the fine china.
It was like Christmas morning last month when Kel got to open about 100 boxes of plates, dishes, mugs and silverwear that had been sitting in storage for the past 5+ years so we figured why not give them a try! Now I get to breakdown all those damn boxes to get them ready for the recycling guy.
Another Pan Mass Challenge is in the books! It's really hard to believe that I just completed my 5th, though every time I get up and walk my legs kindly remind me that I most certainly did! 9 months of planning for Team Xaverian all comes together over 2 days that can only be described as "organized chaos", but it's so worth it.
This year it was somewhat bittersweet as I'm not sure of my 2011 PMC plans. I may take a year or two off, or I may just do the 47-mile 1-day loop? It's all still up in the air, but I do know that riding in this event every year has become something I truely treasure and I'm not about to just walk away. The spirit you see among the 5,000 riders, 3,000 volunteers and countless spectators along the route is infectious. I'll certainly be involved with the PMC and of course the growth of Team Xaverian in the years to come...you can count on that!
I know you're all hungry for some photos and the recap, so here you go. I'll post some final thoughts at the end.
[in case you're new here to kn.com, click on any photo to enlarge it]
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My 2010 PMC started with a Friday morning drive from NJ up to Sturbridge, MA to register, eat a filling meal, and enjoy the opening ceremonies later that evening. It was great to see the Team assemble out there and get fired up for the ride the following morning. We were treated to a performance by Ayla Brown of American Idol fame during the opening ceremonies and we had the two US Senators from MA in attendance as well since they'd both be riding the following morning as well. Political differences aside, I think there's something to be said for the magnitude of this event, and of course the cause, that two sitting Senators are willing to give up a Saturday in the middle of summer recess to ride 110 miles on a bike.
Saturday morning was ushered in with the traditional 4am wake up call at the Hampton Inn so we could shoot over to the start line and grab some breakfast before we shoved off. 5 years into it and that early start never seems to get easier, but before we knew it the anthem had been sung and we were off into the darkness on our up into the hills of western Mass.
Our first meet up with Kelly, Kristin the girls and lots of other supporters was at around the 45mile mark in Sheldonville, MA. This is a traditional meeting spot for Team Xaverian over the years and it's a welcome site to see all of the smiling faces after all those hills we've just come over. Check out some photos of all these characters who came out to wish us well!
After leaving our cheering section in Sheldonville we climbed another steep hill and turned onto the famous Cherry Street of Wrentham. This entire street goes all out each year and it's worth slowing down to take it all in. Here's a quick video I shot as we rolled along...
The rest of day 1 was a bit of a slog for me...I had a shooting pain in my right quad that got worse and worse as the day went along. 5 years injury free, so I guess my luck finally ran out...so I just rode at my own pace and forged ahead.
We met up with the crew again after lunch at around the 84 mile mark in Lakeville before the final stretch into Bourne.
Traffic in the Bourne area was a bear so Kel just made it to the finish line as Patrick and I were making the final turn...she still managed to snap a shot of us though!
We did get a chance to meet up at the end and get some more photos together before we hit the showers. And I guess while we were cleaning up Wally the Green Monster was proposing to Patrick's girlfriend Kristin. Not sure if she said "yes" or "no"?
After showering at Mass Maritime Academy and getting our things settled we made our way to the food tent so we could start to replace the thousands of calories we burned during the day. [the amount of food they have here is amazing...pizza, burgers, dogs, chowder, baked potatoes, salads, you name it] Add in a massage, some Team photos, a few beers, and everyone was beat tired. Most people are in bed by around 8pm and we were no different. For the 2nd year in a row the Team was able to secure choice rooms on the "ship". The Academy uses this ship in the winter time as a training vessel for the students and it's the only bunk facility available that has a/c! It's a bit cramped, but the a/c is well worth it.
We had no idea what that lady in the silver skin suit was doing...but she was getting all sorts of looks in the chow line!
Revelry was at 4:15am on the ship, though we were able to sleep in a bit. Most of the folks riding to Provincetown on Day 2 shove off around 5am, but since we were heading to Babson College in Wellesley we figured we'd leave around 6ish. This timing worked out perfectly so we'd be able to meet up with the other Team Xaverian riders who were doing the 1-day, 47 mile Wellesley loop. We got up, had breakfast and a cup of joe and then got on our way. You wouldn't believe the amount of activity at 4am on a Sunday morning...trucks being packed with bags, egg and cheese sandwiches coming out by the caseload and gallons and gallons of Dunky's coffee being poured by the second. All of course while it's still pitch dark outside. [3 guys from Team X who rode with us on Day 1 did head out to P-Town for Day 2]
We had someone snap this shot of us at the first water-stop of the day around the 25 mile mark and below that is some footage of the Team out on the roads in Carver, MA. It's very cool to see everyone on the Team in the same jersey and shorts...very professional looking as we move along the roads. [Thanks to JACORRE Design Studio for helping us put it all together!]
Our next stop for the day was at the 50 mile mark for us and the 27 mark for those coming from Wellesley. The meet-up was timed perfectly. We topped off the water bottles, snapped a few shots and then set off on the final 20 miles up towards Wellesley! We knew this was going to be the really special portion of the ride for us...coming together as a Team for the final push to the finish.
What an amazing feeling it was crossing that finishing stripe with supporters lining both sides of the road. Not only did we ride 200 miles over the course of a single weekend, but we're going to raise nearly $50,000 for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute as a Team. A "team" that only 4 short years ago was nothing more than an idea. This year we had alums, friends, parents and even a student ride along with us. As Brian Murphy said just before we arrived into the finish, those last few miles feel effortless as you think about the reasons your riding, the people you're riding for and the people who will benefit from the money we're raising many years down the road. It's like all those things are pedaling the bike for you. Having one of the current XBHS students who is now a brain cancer survivor meet us at the finish, along with Dr. Chris Turner [ a 1985 grad of the school] and his staff, really brought what we're trying to accomplish full circle and it was hard not to get emotional seeing that all come together.
I couldn't possibly list everyone here who donated to the Team, lent their support over the weekend, or helped us in any other way. I can only say thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who helped to make this possible! It's all very humbling. Since this is my website and all I am going to say a special thanks to my wife, Kelly, for all that she does over the course of PMC weekend. It may not look like much to an outsider, but she's up just as early as us riders, moving from location to location to make sure she'll be there to cheer us on as we come by and top-off our bottles if we need it. It's a huge undertaking and such an important part of the weekend for all of us who ride. Thanks Kel!
Even with all these photos and the meager words I've written it's so hard to capture the spirit of this event over the computer...you've really got to come out and see it for yourself. Hey...why not ride along with us next year? We're eager to grow the Team...
There are so many great memories from this weekend whether you were out on two wheels or just putting your hands together in support of those riding by. Early on Saturday at the top of one of the nasty climbs there was a scruffy looking motorcycle guy standing there clapping and thanking every single rider for pedaling. Many of us thanked him back for being out there so early and supporting us...at one point he shouted back "if it wasn't for what you guys are doing my wife wouldn't be here today". Moments like that are why I ride. Riding a bike can make one hell of a difference in somones live. Heck, if it wasn't for those riders in the early years of the PMC raising money for research and care maybe I wouldn't be here either?
Please feel free to leave a comment or two about the weekend in the comments section below, I'd love to hear your perspective on the ride.
and lastly...if you'd still like to make a contribution to the entire Team please follow the link here. We'd greatly appreciate it!
We're off to Boston shortly for the PMC this weekend. Can't wait to get up there for the opening ceremonies tonight [be sure to watch it LIVE on NECN if you're in New England] and to hop on the bikes bright and early at 5:30am on Saturday morning to get the ride underway! Team Xaverian is ready and it should be a great weekend as always.
The restaurant is in an old home that has a great outdoor deck and some cool charm on the inside. All the dishes are Cuban/Latin inspired meaning that many of the items have a good kick to them.
We were there for Farm Fresh Restaurant Week which is a typical restaurant week that I'm sure you know from your hometown, but the restaurants here were encouraged to use all local produce in their dishes. The deal is 4 courses for $30...can't beat that. The best part about this area is that many of the local restaurants are dry, meaning you can BYOB. Talk about a huge savings on your dinner bill! We brought a couple bottles of wine and saved a bundle. Incidentally, I just assumed that people would always bring wine when it says BYOB, but a guy across from us had a cooler filled with beer. Awesome!
To start things off I had the martini gazpacho and Kel got the black bean soup...both right on point.
Next up was the appetizer and we both went with the fresh jersey corn on the cob, but of course they do it with that Latin twist and it turned a simple piece of corn on the cob into a spicy little appetizer!
For the main course I went with the Vaca Frita [basically steak over polenta] and Kel did the fish tacos. We of course shared back and forth and both were just amazing.
Lastly was the dessert: I did the carrot cake and Kel went with the tres leches. The perfect way to finish off a perfect meal!
Botton line, we both can't wait to get back to this restaurant!
Once you stop, you can not stop. And the only reason I did stop the other night is because it was getting too dark to actually see what I was washing!
Patrick lent me his washer to clean the patio and house a few weeks ago and we finally got around to firing it up last week one night after work. He did the entire patio in about 45 minutes and it looks great. It's not that it was dirty or ugly, but once you see it cleaned you can really appreciate how dirty it was before.
Kel was out running some errands the night we were doing this so I decided to leave a small spot so she could see the before and after.
Pretty amazing, ha? This is a small concrete area along side the basement door where we keep trashcans and stuff like that. Looks amazing now that it's spruced up!
I need to do the siding that is on the front porch area next. Rain can't get under there so it's a bit dirty and dusty...should look great after a few minutes with this bad boy!
Who knew I loved cleaning this much?
[ p.s. that Xaverian t-shirt I'm wearing there is still going strong from like 1993! ]