Monday, October 6, 2008

I Smelled A Submarine Today

I finally got out for a long ride. On my way home, going up the hill on Clayton Rd. between Strecker and Clarkson Rds. I caught a whiff. It was faint at first. The breeze created by passing cars swirled it away. Once the air died down I caught it again, this time for real. It lasted for a good two breathes before it was gone for good.

Those of you who are Qualified know the smell. It is unmistakable. It is the combination of bodies, breath, machinery, sea air, cigarette smoke, galley food, and amine, churned through charcoal filters and scrubbers, injected with oxygen and recirculated again and again. It transported me off my bike. Suddenly I could feel the Olongapo sun and the gentle vibration of the power plant under a full bell. I could see the floating city around Hong Kong and the beautiful girls on yachts on the approach to San Diego Bay. I could hear the bustle of Yokosuka harbor, the laughter in Control, and the klaxon diving alarm. Then I was at the light at Clarkson Rd.

Next month will mark 20 years since I last set foot on a Boat. To this day I can still feel the boredom of long sea transits, the terror of submarine combat, and the tedium of the Cold War with its endless drills and inspections. It was 300 days a year at sea with people I could never forget but now rarely think about. Earning my dolphins was the biggest achievement of my life, and forever connected me to an elite class of sailor. It gave me the confidence to do all the things I have done since.

As I worked my way east on Clayton Rd I started to think about submarine life and some fun stories to tell my kids. Like the time we surfaced in a typhoon in the South China Sea. Or the time we stopped in Adak, Alaska on our way through the Bering Straights and sea water froze to the hull. Or the time we were using "dud" O2 candles for garbage weight and accidentally set the TDU on fire. Or the time we stole XO's stateroom door. Or the time we put a stuffed pair of khaki pants and deck shoes in the stall in the officer's head. Or the time the sea lion made himself at home on the Pioneer array.

Smells are a powerful thing. I don't know what combination of car exhaust, suburban vegetation, fast food, and garbage is necessary to recreate that smell, but for sure it was a one-in-a-million fluke.

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