Life Tidbits #7 – Submarine Life – Fifty Plus Going On Fifteen

When people find out that I rode submarines and retired from the Navy over twenty years ago, they either say “they could never do that” or “what was it like” and I would like to provide a quick documented overview.

Being obligated to maintain secrecy on specifics, I will be able to give you a taste of submarine life and perhaps down the road I will write some imaginative stories about submarines during and after the Cold War. Service on a Fast Attack Submarine was much more fun during the Cold War than after the Cold War when excitement revolved around carrier escorts and NATO operations.

I walked on my first submarine right after it completed an overhaul period, so the crew was very green since crew turnover occurs every three years or so. We did have our veterans on board that gained experience on the boat I was assigned to or transferred from a different submarine. The early 1980s were a period that we were trying to get to a 500 ship Navy so if it floated; the submarine was commissioned.

The first time you walk onboard a submarine, two things impact you. The first item is the smell of the boat, and I would be remiss if I did not confirm there is a reason they are called pig boats (no disrespect meant for pigs). The second item that hits you is these lack of space during normal operations and less during deployments.

There were many things that most people would consider abnormal that happened on submarines but when you stick 120 plus people on a vessel 350 feet long and around 30 feet wide with berthing that only supports 90 or so it is an abnormal environment on the most normal of days.

When you arrive onboard, you must complete a pile of qualifications that you are expected to accomplish to perform your primary and secondary jobs and also earn your Dolphins. Qualifying for your Dolphins requires that you learn about all submarine systems and how to combat casualties if and when they occur. You were typically given a year to earn your Dolphins, and once you received them they were pinned on your chest, and everyone tacked on your Dolphins. I doubt this is acceptable anymore.

When underway, days were 18 hours in length not 24 hours in length and an underway day usually consisted of six hours performing your primary job, six hours performing secondary responsibilities and preventive maintenance on equipment, and six hours of personal time to sleep, read, watch movies, and be involved in ships drills. You were usually lucky to get 4 hours of sleep during the eighteen hour day, but it was better than being a Nuc.

Before getting underway, you would load stores which are the equivalent to ordering ninety days of supplies from Amazon for 130 personnel, having it dropped off on the pier, and you had to load and store everything onto the submarine. The nearly six foot high passageways and berthing areas would have canned goods stacked at least one layer high reducing ceiling height, and you would use every open space for critical items (toilet paper, dry foods, spare parts, etc.) It was always fun through cases of food at others as we were lined up from the pier, across the brow and into the boat interior to load our stores.

You knew the day and time based on the food you ate. The first week to ten days you would eat all the fresh and perishable foods. Once you ran out of new and perishable goods, you ate frozen and canned foods for many months to come. Many of these meals had colorful names such as “acid rain spaghetti”, “Nairobi trail markers,” “puss rockets,” etc., but my favorite meals were Friday lunch where we had shrimp and mac & cheese and Saturday midrats where we had pizza for Casino Night. 

Showers and laundry were always a challenge since most of the water produced went to the nuclear reactor and cooking, so you were able to use 30 seconds of water to prep to suds up and 30 seconds of water to rinse when showering. You could do laundry as needed but many times you would need to wait a week plus to wash the limited possessions you had due to water conservation. The longest we went without showers was about two weeks when the evaporator broke down, and we did not have parts to fix it. The boat was a bit ripe when we pulled in.

Submarines used a unique method of assigning berthing (sleeping) space. Racks were smaller than a coffin, and you had a three-inch tray to store everything you need for the deployment if you had your bed. If you were a junior crewmember, you would typically hotrack which is sharing berthing space with at least one other sailor where you would have half the space to store what you own and take turns sleeping in the rack. Of course, you had your bedding so it was not as bad as it could have been.

We made our oxygen, water, electricity, so it was much like an all enclosed community that was a few hundred feet under water. We also had our sewer systems, garbage disposal methods, and continuously cleaned the boat since you never knew who may pop in when you were below the ocean surface. 

A small taste of what I did for many years while in the Navy riding submarines and I do not regret the life I lived, friends I made, and experiences I had. The memories are etched in stone, and I will never forget the fun we had during angles and dangles, during on station operations, and when we pulled into port and lew off some steam. I am sure we would not have met today’s PC requirements, but we did not harm anyone that I know if.

  • So what questions do you have about submarine duty?
  • Did you experience a similar environment during your life?

I sure love being fifty plus going on fifteen and appreciate your stopping by.

Have a great one,


Submariner For Life

Everyone has watched a submarine movie, but there is absolutely no comparison to being a true submariner who participated in cold war operations.  I was lucky enough to be part of this small community and would love to share a snapshot of the life I lived.

I joined the Navy on my 17th birthday with no idea what I wanted to do other than get out of North Dakota and see the world. It was not that North Dakota was a lousy place since I loved it as a kid but opportunities in the late 1970s, early 1980s were limited.

I survived boot camp and went to Basic Electricity and Electronics School and phase one of Electronics Technician A School with limited issues but uncertain if I made the right choice for a career. The NAVY motto is Never Again Volunteer Yourself, and I broke this rule by listening to someone that rode submarines and decided this was the career for me.

I left Great Lakes Illinois for New London Connecticut where I would attend Basic Submarine School and Electronics Technician C Schools. I did not know what specialty I would have on submarines, but I knew if I put my mind to it I would be a submariner.

I have many fond memories of training for submarines including vending machines you could buy beer out of, eating disgusting pizza from the roach coach as it drove by, traveling through New England, weekends in New York City and Atlantic City and the list goes on and on. I will dive into some of the adventures we participated in during later blogs.

After a year plus of submarine training, I received orders to go to San Diego California and report to the USS Dixon (AS37) which was a submarine tender for Permit-class submarines. I worked in the Antenna and Sonar Shop and Electronics Repair Shop and gained incredible experience servicing submarines for 12 months. We also traveled up and down the west coast on the tender visiting Mexico, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.

There was a shortage of submarines in the early 1980s, but when a position opened up, I transferred to the USS Billfish (SSN676) based in New London Connecticut which was a Sturgeon-class submarine that just came out of overhaul. Our squadron had ten (10) subs attached, but only a couple of the boats were ready to go, and our boat was one of them.

I earned my dolphins on the Billfish and initiated as a Blue Nose. We made long deployments to the Mediterranean Sea, North Atlantic, Arctic Ocean, Carribean, and places I cannot identify and we had a ball. We also made port visits overseas in England, Scottland, Franch, Netherlands, Italy and to numerous ports in the United States.

There was a need for Recruitment Volunteers, so I went home to North Dakota for a month to assist the Navy Recruiter and made the fatal accident of meeting my future bride for the second time. We were married about a year later after I attended Electronics C-7 School in San Diego.

After my first tour on the Billfish, I attended Navy Instructor School and taught Navigation Equipment C School in New London Connecticut and Renee, and I moved to Norwich Connecticut living in the second story of a Victorian house. Our first daughter was born in New London, and we also rescued our first cat, Sheena.

After training personnel for a few years, I transferred to the USS Canopus (AS34) a submarine tender in Kings Bay Georgia. Assigned to the Planning and Estimating Department, I was responsible for all Subsafe and Controlled work package development for Benjamin Franklin-class ballistic missile submarines and other visiting submarines. I became a Chief on the Canopus and worked toward being assigned to another sub when possible. In the 1990s, there was a shortage of subs again due to the peace dividend after the Cold War. While on the Canopus we visited many ports off the East Coast with my favorite being St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.

An emergency position fill came up for the USS Newport News (SSN750) in Norfolk Virginia, so I packed my seabag and met the boat a couple of days before we deployed to European waters and ports. We enjoyed the 50th anniversary of the D-Day tour. During this deployment, we visited more ports in a few months than I had during my entire career before the Newport News. We ended up performing Nato Ops, and when we pulled into Naples Italy, I was pulled off the boat for medical issues, so my time on submarines was over.

My time in Naples was challenging as was my flight back to the states and temporary duty at squadron in Norfolk Virginia. My stomach issue was under control, so I accepted orders to run a training work center in Kings Bay Georgia so was able to rejoin my family.

Running a training work center at Trident Training Facility in Kings Bay Georgia was challenging but fulfilling, and it was great being with my family again. I loved providing tours to the old World War II Submariners and was extremely involved in Master Training Specialist responsibilities.

Military downsizing continued through much of the mid-1990s, and I tried to join the mine sweep force with the scrapping of large numbers of the submarine force. Washington denied my request to transfer to mine sweeps, so my options were limited.

In late 1996, further downsizing occurred, and I had the opportunity to retire early, so I took advantage of the option and left the submarine force I loved.  It was a sad day when this part of my life ended, but I am still a submariner in my heart.

I will follow this blog with details on my Naval career, but I wanted to provide this overview. I miss the crews I was with and the fun times of my younger years,

  • Have you experienced a similar loss when you left a job you loved?

Thanks for stopping by and listening to this submariner from North Dakota. Being fifty plus going on fifteen provides many opportunities to revisit memories.

Have a great day!!


Louis L’Amour – Fifty Plus Going On Fifteen

There are many famous people that were born, raised or lived in the great state of North Dakota and better yet my hometown of Jamestown North Dakota.

Louis L’Amour is one of these famous people whose accomplishments include writing hundreds of short stories, novels, television scripts, and screenplays. Many of his stories were translated and distributed worldwide and at one time there were more than $200 million copies worldwide. Louis L’Amour lived from 1908 to 1988.

I have always dreamed that one day I would write a book like Louis L’Amour did and better yet a series of books. Louis L’Amour wrote western books and I would write alternate history. Unluckily, only one of us have authored books at this time so I better get in gear.

My goals have included measuring my life experience compared to Louis L’Amour. I cannot compare growing up in the late 20th century to his growing up in the early 20th century there are comparisons.

Louis L’Amour experiences were many. Some of them include being an elephant handler at a circus, working as a fruit picker, gold prospector, longshoreman, lumberjack, and miner. He also skinned cattle in Texas, lived with bandits in Tibet, served on an East African schooner, and was a tank officer during WWII. Finally, Louis L’Amour was a professional boxer who won 51 out of 59 matches. My life experiences are varied also so there is hope here.
Louis L’Amour lived in North Dakota, Oklahoma, California, Colorado, France, and Germany. In this area, I can compete with Louis L’Amour although our experiences are in different eras.

In the early 1950s, Louis L’Amour transitioned into writing stories under his own name and this is when the magic occurred. Not only did he have a solid following of his books but many of his books were made into movies. The Duke, John Wayne purchased the movie rights to many of his books and one of my favorites was “How The West Was Won”. Incredibly, over 45 of his books were made into movies of films. Well, I have struck out here, my picture has been in the paper and I have had an article written about me though.

Louis L’Amour wrote with a style of his own until his death in 1988. The true measurement of a man is the size of the shadow they cast and Louis L’Amour cast a shadow that will never be filled again.

I was a fast attack submariner during and after the cold war and on fast attack submarines space was extremely limited. One thing you could guaranty was that there would be a large selection of Louis L’Amour books on the sub to be read, traded, shared and re-read.

Being underway for months on end could be and was lonely. Entertainment was limited so a good book would take you from under the sea to the great plains, mountains, and deserts of the old west. A much simpler but deadlier time when death was a daily occurrence.

Louis L’Amour books cross-generational interests. My grandpa Max would always have a Louis L’Amour book near him and on my grandfathers passing, he gave these books to me. It felt very special to receive this from grandpa when he had 50 plus grandchildren and he did not have many possessions as he approached the age of 80.

There is still time for me to become a writer although I doubt I will ever be a writer that touched lives like Louis L’Amour. Great American heroes come in different sizes, colors, sexes, and beliefs but Louis L’Amour will always live in my grandfather Max’s and my heart as one of the greatest.

I have other favorites like King, Michener, and others but Louis was one in a billion. Who is your favorite writer?

Its Great To Be Fifty Plus Going On Fifteen.

Jay Patterson