Seas and Sea Life
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Seas and Sea Life

The seas sometimes hit the forward capstan in such a way that the spray appeared symmetric and circular, as we watched it from the bridge of the submarine. This happened a lot, but the lookouts seldom remarked about it more than once. I found it fascinating.

For it to happen, of course, we had to leave the capstan mounted, as if we were pulling into port. Normally, when we went on an exercise, we removed the capstans and stowed them, to streamline our deck when we submerged. When we were just going out for the day, or when we were not planning to submerge, we left the capstans mounted. It was quite a nuisance, and took a lot of exertion, to dismount, stow, and remount the capstans, so we sometimes left them out on the deck for my entertainment.

The porpoises were also good for entertainment. They always seemed to be laughing at us, but in a good-natured way. Sometimes they swam alongside for hours, speeding up, slowing down, playing games that we could not understand. If they showed up early enough in the watch, and if they stayed long enough, we could eventually distinguish personalities among them. At least we thought we could.

Flying fish were interesting, briefly. They had no personalities. After someone saw his first few flying fish, they were no more interesting than seagulls. Occasionally a flying fish slammed into the side of the boat, which seemed to indicate that they really were as stupid as they looked.

Whales kept a respectful distance from us. We could see them spout, and loll, but we could not get to know them, as we did the porpoises.

One time I saw a giant sea turtle, close aboard. It was so interesting that I almost stopped the boat to watch it longer, but I could not think of a pretext to do so. It is one of my few regrets that I did not stop and contemplate that turtle.

At night, we were sometimes entertained by the phosphorescence of the water. Some small biota would suddenly glow when disturbed. When this happened on a dark night, it seemed as if the bow of the boat was glowing and the light was shining out into the water.

This phosphorescence is quite harmless, but it can be absolutely terrifying in unusual circumstances, such as when a submarine is ascending from the deep to periscope depth. We were quite vulnerable to collision with a surface ship when we made that particular ascent, so we took precautions, such as latching all the watertight doors, turning the boat around just beforehand to listen on the sonar in all directions, and making the ascent as briskly as was safe.

One time when we did this on my watch as Officer of the Deck (Submerged), the phosphorescence caused a moment of panic. At the proper moment in the ascent, I ordered the periscope raised, and I began to turn it briskly as I looked for any ship that might be close aboard. It was the first time that I spotted some phosphorescence through the periscope in these circumstances while making the ascent at night. I almost screamed for an “emergency deep” maneuver. The first spot of phosphorescence looked exactly like a white light on a ship would look, and there were not supposed to be any ships in the area. I could hear my heart pounding for a long time afterward, even though the quartermaster told me later that I cursed aloud for what seemed like minutes, which should have drowned out my heartbeat.

Another interesting phenomenon, when I was standing the bridge watch during the day, and when the seas were a bit heavy, was to see the seas wash over the forward deck of the submarine. From the bridge, looking down 32 feet, we could sometimes see the entire forward deck under water. The water was not foamy, but clear and green, so we could clearly see all the details. The color of the water was quite noticeable, even over the gray and black of the submarine. That color is what artists struggle to achieve in their seascapes, but that few people enjoy once the color is successfully put on the canvas.

The most interesting phenomenon of the watch, though, had to be that spray off the forward capstan, unpredictable, yet precise and symmetric. It kept me sane for another four hours.

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