Drydock Queen
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Drydock Queen

This all took place in the span of a few days, so we did not spend enough time in drydock to be called a drydock queen, actually. But we did drydock twice in less than a week, which gave us the squadron record for the number of such dockings in a year.

We had suffered some damage when the USS Trutta sideswiped us as we were tied up alongside the tender on a Monday. This incident had occurred as we were loading torpedoes from the tender, so that we could go cruise the south coast of Cuba. There was a tropical storm east of Martinique, but there were always storms this time of year.

The damage seemed slight, according to the divers who inspected our hull and the insides of our main ballast tanks. But the only drydock in Key West just happened to be empty, and we wanted to be safe, so we went into the dock. This required us to return all our torpedoes to the tender, and to return more than 100,000 gallons of Diesel fuel to the fuel farm. The deck gang and weapons gang put in a very long day on Tuesday, getting rid of all our torpedoes, including the ones that they had just loaded the day before. Then we went to the fuel pier so that our snipes, or engine room gang, could spend many hours pumping all the fuel out of our main fuel tanks and our fuel ballast tanks. By sunup on Wednesday we were ready to enter the drydock.

The docking was without incident, in spite of the moment when our bow was crossing the sill of the drydock and the helmsman rang up ahead one-third when the officer of the deck asked for back one-third on the main motors. There was no damage, but the helmsman got some re-training.

We were docked in time for the day shift of civilian welders to repair our soft saddle tanks on Wednesday, and we got some sleep during that day. We planned to undock the next morning.

However, by the time we woke up from our naps that afternoon, we found that the tropical storm had become a hurricane, and it had turned more westerly and less northerly. So we hurried to leave our precarious perch in the floating drydock on that same evening.

A ship in port can get damaged quite badly by hurricane winds, so we were eager to get out to sea where we could run away from the winds. We went back to the tender, where we proceeded to load torpedoes all night. The next morning, we moved back to the fuel pier and began refueling. Mid-day on Thursday, we had to replace the donut (don't ask) and a harbor tug came alongside to pick it up. The tug hit us even harder than the Trutta had hit us on Monday, and we began leaking fuel into the harbor. On this day I was the duty officer, and I ordered the fueling stopped. I could see that the damage was located at a bulkhead between two fuel tanks, so I immediately ordered the fueling process to be reversed. I called the skipper at home, and then I called the executive officer and the squadron duty officer.

The skipper arrived quickly, and he stood looking at the damage. He need to ventilate his emotions, so he proceeded to chew me out publicly for allowing the tugboat to collide with the ship. At this moment, the tug returned with the donut and struck the ship so hard that we both dropped to our hands and knees. The skipper quit chewing me out.

The damage was worse than what we had received three days earlier, so we had to get it repaired before we could be fully operational. We could go to sea quite short on fuel, but that would have been useless, militarily. The hurricane had turned back northerly, so the decision was made to go back into drydock for more repairs.

We defueled that same day, and we spent the night returning all the torpedoes to the tender. We drydocked the next morning, Friday, and the same welders made their repairs again. We were undocking as the sun was setting over the Dry Tortugas to the west. We were exhausted.

Of course, the hurricane was heading in our direction again. We loaded torpedoes all night Friday night, and we fueled all day Saturday. We got underway Saturday evening, and we headed for the western tip of Cuba. Our plan was to wait there until we could tell which way the hurricane was going to pass Cuba, and we could seek shelter on the other side.

The final score for the week:

Loaded torpedoes three times.
Off-loaded torpedoes twice.
Fueled twice.
De-fueled twice.
Drydocked twice.
Undocked twice.

And by the way; the hurricane turned north again and dissipated in the cold waters of the North Atlantic, never causing any damage ashore anywhere.

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