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inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #0 of 85: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Sat 26 Sep 15 16:59
    
This week we welcome Chuck Charlton, <chuck> on the WELL, to discuss
his memoir blog, Forces Adrift, about his life on a submarine.

You can read his memoirs at <http://forcesadrift.com>

Here is a bit about Chuck:

For the first two weeks of kindergarten, Chuck Charlton beat up a
different kid every day. Then one day he was beaten up by yet
another kid in his class. He forsook violence as a lifestyle, and is
glad that he did. But a dozen years later he came face to face with
the draft. He side-stepped conscription and afforded college by
means of a full four-year scholarship from the Naval Reserve Officer
Training Corps. In exchange, he spent his first four years after
graduation on sea duty, from 1969 to 1973, as a line officer. He
served in an old diesel-powered submarine, as Weapons Officer. So
much for forsaking violence.

But fifteen years after he surfaced for the last time, he signed up
for the Well for the first time. There he began describing what
life, or if not life then existence, was like on a smelly old
pigboat. In the 25 years that he has been on the Well to date, he he
has written extensively about the submarine experience.

This is his memoir.

Other facts about the author:

- While on submarine duty he got married and became a father.
- while in the Navy he got frocked. (Ask about it.)
- When he got out of the Navy he worked as a Registered Electrical
Engineer for 40+ years.
- After his Navy years he bought an airplane and got his pilot
license with instrument rating.
- He is now retired, living in San Francisco, and busier than ever.
- He has grandchildren in two hemispheres.
- He is a volunteer docent at USS Pampanito in San Francisco and at
USS Hornet in Alameda.

Leading this interview is Alan Turner <arturner>:

Alan Turner was born and raised in Delaware, a small state just
south of Philadelphia.  He is a designer by training, originally a
landscape architect, and has always been interested in large
machines, particularly machines large enough for people to live in.

Alan did not serve in the Navy, but he did design parts for the
automation and damage control systems of some of the Navy's newest
ships.

Welcome Chuck and Alan
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #1 of 85: eel pie (arturner) Mon 28 Sep 15 04:49
    
Thanks, Julie.  First off, I encourage any of you who haven't read any
of <chuck>'s posts on The Well in their original form <archives.145>
"The Sea" or on his website <http://forcesadrift.com> "A Contaminated
But Nontoxic Memoir" to do so.

Each one is a short story in itself about an event in his years as
a submariner.  They're an entertaining look at an interesting life.
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #2 of 85: eel pie (arturner) Mon 28 Sep 15 04:54
    
Chuck, We know from your bio that you went to college with a NAVY R.O.T.C
scholarship.  Why did you choose the Navy over another branch?
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #3 of 85: Waiting for Baudot (chuck) Mon 28 Sep 15 08:07
    
Why Navy? It was a smart shopper's only choice.

Actually, if any of the other services had a better deal, I probably
would have taken it. In those days the Navy was the only service
that offered a full scholarship to any of about 50 national
universities. I mean it was full tuition and fees, free textbooks,
and a stipend adequate for room and board. The other services
offered nothing close to it.

All things being equal, I probably would have been better off in the
army for active duty. I don't think I ever felt comfortable with the
formality and the proprieties of the Navy. The army and Air Force
were more democratic. 

I had second thoughts about the Navy even before I signed up. To
qualify for the Navy scholarship I had to take a standardized
written test, similar to the “College Boards” (SAT). In fact, the
Navy test was prepared by the same folks who put out the SAT, it was
administered a week after the SAT in the same room and by the same
proctor, and it resembled the SAT so closely that the few
differences were striking. I actually paused for a bit, even though
the test was timed, to try to figure out why was the Navy asking odd
things like, “What is a leek.?” Were they trying to select for a
social class?

[But things were definitely NOT equal when I was going through the
decision process in 1965. When I got out in 1973 I took some time to
remember some of my friends and classmates who did not survive their
military obligations.]

Aside from the overwhelming financial advantage of the Navy deal, my
preparation for making the fateful decision was based on two things.
I read a Hornblower book that I found on a shelf at my grandmother's
house. And I talked to my uncle, who had been a Navy officer. He
thoroughly disabused me of any sense of romance, or even dignity, of
being in any service at any level.

But the best deal is the best deal. So I signed up, and within a few
years the Navy enabled me to see a Portuguese bullfight, tall Danes
in miniskirts, the Edinburgh Tattoo, window-shopping on
Davidstrasse, the white cliffs of Dover, weekends in Montego Bay,
and New Orleans for Mardi Gras two years in a row.
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #4 of 85: Waiting for Baudot (chuck) Mon 28 Sep 15 08:52
    
As an administrative note, my first sea story topic on the Well was
<archives.109>, and my first userid was <fluster>. If you look at
the earliest posts in that topic, you'll see one that is an unusual
format, because I posted it from a Commodore-64. It will be obvious.
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #5 of 85: Alan Turner (arturner) Mon 28 Sep 15 10:18
    
Thanks for that link, too.

You started posting about your experiences in the Navy shortly after
you joined The Well.  Did you intend to start a memoir, or did your
Well postings just naturally accumulate into one?
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #6 of 85: Waiting for Baudot (chuck) Mon 28 Sep 15 10:36
    
This whole collection was intended to be a memoir, but I didn't know
that at the time. Several factors came together. The online audience
on the Well in the 1980s was technologically knowledgeable in a
Whole Earth, Co-evolution kind of way. For my first few weeks on the
Well I just read and didn't post. When I finally began sharing, it
quickly became obvious that many people were interested in
submarines. It was also obvious that an amazing number of people
have completely wrong understandings of how submarines work.

Then I saw some postings on the Well by John Chipps, about working
on the railroads in the 1940s. He did a great job of telling a story
and making the readers feel like they were there, working on the
railroad with him. I then I decided to see whether I could write
about submarines as well as John wrote about railroads.

The reaction to my submarine posts here on the Well was
enthusiastic, and my writing improved as I learned how to use the
medium. Connecting the dots back to answering the question you
asked, Alan, my writing was intended to be as good as John's, and he
was writing memoirs, so I was trying to write like I would write a
memoir.

I didn't figure this out until I had spent twenty years writing the
stuff.

[For those of you on the Well, look in <true.old.119> for some
examples of John's writing.]

When I retired last year I decided to pull the pieces together and
make them a collection.

One thing that I'm looking forward to, having written all this,
collected it, and posted it in one place for the whole world to see,
is to hear from other submariners about their entertaining,
edifying, or terrifying experiences.
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #7 of 85: Alan Turner (arturner) Mon 28 Sep 15 13:26
    
The Well really can teach you how to write well just by the some of
the examples it provides.

I didn't do a detailed comparison, but it doesn't look like you
edited your posts when you webbed them, even though you could have.

Have you heard from any other submariners through your website?
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #8 of 85: Waiting for Baudot (chuck) Mon 28 Sep 15 17:59
    
The stories that you see now are largely the same as they were the
first time I typed them. The only major cleaning up that I've done
has been to put them all into one document and edit them for proper
idiom in the use of "ship" and "boat." Also, I went through them and
edited for consistency of voice. By that I mean taking out "would"
and "should" and other wimpy words. Then I pulled the items apart
again so I could format them individually.

I've been in touch with a number of the sailors that I served with
in the process of putting this together over the past few weeks.  I
have even talked to some of them on the phone, which is been an
interesting experience. These are people I hadn't heard from in 40
years or more.  Then I had to cull their information to get back to
just stories about the Odax, not stories about other Navy
experiences.

A fascinating part of the process here has consisted of finding a
lot of stories that I posted elsewhere. Some were not on the Well.
Some were on the River, some were in other web sites, and some were
scattered around the Well in locations where I would not expect to
find them.  In fact, I just found another one that I'm hoping to add
tonight.
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #9 of 85: Alan Turner (arturner) Tue 29 Sep 15 09:35
    
I'm looking forward to that.

Having chosen the Navy intentionally, was the decision to become a
submariner yours to make as well?  Some sailors I know chose the
Nuclear Navy because there was a pay advantage and possibly other
benefits as well; was that also the case for diesel submarines?
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #10 of 85: Waiting for Baudot (chuck) Tue 29 Sep 15 09:45
    
The decision to go into submarines was a two-stage exercise. Between
our sophomore and junior years in college, we were exposed to a
variety of specialties to choose from within the Navy department. We
got weeks of aviation indoctrination, including several flights with
opportunities to be at the controls of an airplane. In one exercise,
I actually got the plane upside down on purpose, and got it back
right-side up again. I had scored quite high on my Aviation
Qualification Test and on my Flight Aptitude Rating. Flight school
was a tempting option..

Then we spent weeks exercising an amphibious assault. On some days
we practiced maneuvering the ships into position and launching the
landing craft. On other days we practiced running up onto the beach
with our rifles high over our heads to keep them dry.

Somehow in that very active summer, we spent an afternoon at a
submarine base. We had a pro forma demonstration of a vertical
missile tube firing a huge slug of sea water high into the air. Then
the officer in charge quietly said, “Okay, that's it for show and
tell. Now let's go over the dunes to that beach over there, have a
little free beer, and chat in small groups about what you really
want to do with the rest of your lives.”

On the first day of Junior year, we had to pick Navy or Marine
Corps. That decision charted our academic programs for the next two
years.

Toward the end of senior year, we had to select a specialty from the
list of options that were still available to us, based on our grades
and other factors.

That's when I chose submarines.
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #11 of 85: Alan Turner (arturner) Tue 29 Sep 15 11:42
    
And then on to Submarine School, I presume?
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #12 of 85: Scott Underwood (esau) Tue 29 Sep 15 11:44
    
That's a great story.

Chuck, I've mentioned before that my father came from rural, southeast
Alabama, and I think you came from a different rural corner. When he
joined the Navy in 1950, at 18, he travelled farther in his first two
days at 18 years old than he had ever gone before. It was a bit of
a culture shock; in addition, the Navy had only been integrated for a
short time. 

When you entered, it was 1965 -- how had your background prepared you
to deal with your new reality?
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #13 of 85: Scott Underwood (esau) Tue 29 Sep 15 11:44
    
Slip!
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #14 of 85: Waiting for Baudot (chuck) Tue 29 Sep 15 15:55
    
Alan, yes, it was on to Submarine School. They do teach courses that
are not taught or imagined elsewhere.

     When you are learning to escape from a submarine that is
stranded on the bottom of the ocean, the first class sessions are
taught ashore in a tower full of water.  You enter from the bottom,
through a double door air/water lock arrangement.  You step into
the tower proper, and pull the lanyard that punctures a CO2
cartridge, which inflates your lifejacket.  You then go up, without
even trying.

     The danger is that your lungs might explode.  You have to
exhale for the entire time.  If you try to breathe normally, it
gets away from you.  The process is known as "Blow and go."  The
first time that you do it, a trainer in scuba gear goes with you
to make sure that you don't forget to exhale constantly, non-stop,
for the entire trip.  He takes his job seriously, and he approaches
it like a Drill Instructor at Boot Camp.  This is not a discussion
and analysis course.

     It feels weird to exhale several lungsful of air without
pausing to inhale.

     There were other interesting courses, such as fighting a fire
in a submarine with no lights on.

     Another fun class was the damage control class where we tried
to repair leaks that suddenly sprung in the piping and in the
pressure hull.  The water came in under high pressure, from a
storage tank high on the hill.  As the water was rising up our
thighs, we developed entirely new concepts of teamwork.  I almost
lost my thumb in the class, and I didn't notice it at the time.

     The practical sessions were the best.  The training equipment
was a lot like the Link trainers that airplane pilots use.  Very
realistic.  Running periscope approaches on surface ships in the
fog was a lot of fun.  Ditto sonar approaches on other submarines. 
When we got aboard real ships, we felt quite comfortable shooting
our first torpedoes.  Even the drills were we would simply dive,
surface, go deep, and execute basic evasive techniques were a lot
of fun.

     The two-thirds of Submarine School that was spent with
textbooks and classroom instruction could have been omitted, and
we would have been just as skilled upon arriving at our ships as
we actually were.
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #15 of 85: Waiting for Baudot (chuck) Tue 29 Sep 15 16:06
    
Scott, I had lived in a number of small towns from Louisiana to
South Carolina, but they had not prepared me for the military.
However, I lived in New Orleans when I was sixteen, so I was not the
naïf that I might otherwise have been.  
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #16 of 85: Alan Turner (arturner) Tue 29 Sep 15 18:33
    
Those training exercises sound both exciting and scary.  I'm sure
that apart from the training, they were also designed to drive home
the fact that doing something wrong could get you or even everybody
on the ship killed.

During this period did you ever have any second thoughts either
about your own or your cohort's capabilities or your decision to
become a submariner?
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #17 of 85: Waiting for Baudot (chuck) Tue 29 Sep 15 19:01
    
I was confident that I could master the hands-on stuff. I was
over-confident about the more nuanced challenges. You know, the ones
involving people instead of, or in addition to, involving just
things.

Let's get specific. When firing a torpedo at a target based only on
audio clues from passive sonar, a lot of discussion and sanity
checking goes on. It takes a lot of eyes to evaluate the data from
the analysis of the sonar reports. I was proud when my torpedoes hit
the target. I was surprised when I missed. 

Some people dropped out of school with no reason given. Some were
like, you know those guys who can do the math and science perfectly,
but who don't know what to do next? They're still like
fourteen-year-olds when they're not doing math?  Some of those
worried me. And some dropped out. 

Later, I found out that some guys had to fail under real pressure
before they could be ousted. 

But I had no second thoughts. The casual confidence of real
submariners was always reassuring. 
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #18 of 85: Julie Sherman (julieswn) Tue 29 Sep 15 19:58
    
If anyone wants to invite folks not on the WELL to read this topic
externally, please send them this link:

<http://tinyurl.com/adrift-with-chuck> 
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #19 of 85: Alan Turner (arturner) Tue 29 Sep 15 20:29
    
Why didn't I think of doing that?
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #20 of 85: Waiting for Baudot (chuck) Tue 29 Sep 15 22:26
    
Okay, I'll connect Alan's previous question to one of my stories.
"What Are the Odds?" is an example of a time that I had the math
perfect, but I failed to solve the problem because I failed to grasp
the nuance of human and institutional factors. 

"What Are the Odds?" is also an example of a shipboard story that
would be highly unlikely to take place on a surface ship. We thought
nothing of submerging and descending well below periscope depth,
just to enable us to run a crap game on a stable surface. 
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #21 of 85: Alan Turner (arturner) Wed 30 Sep 15 07:20
    
Without giving away the ending, that's a great example of how "human
and institutional factors" can make a technically correct answer be
absolutely wrong.  You learned that at a much earlier age than I
did.

You mention some other, er, irregular practices on the Odax, like
the story about avocados in "A Crew Sails on its Stomach."  Do you
think that such workarounds were more common on submarines because
of the extreme constraints, or that they're fairly universal in the
Navy or in the military in general?  Maybe that "casual confidence
of real submariners" you mentioned encouraged unorthodox
interpretations of the rules.
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #22 of 85: Waiting for Baudot (chuck) Wed 30 Sep 15 08:30
    <hidden>
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #23 of 85: Eric Rawlins (woodman) Wed 30 Sep 15 08:38
    
Zoomies are, I assume, naval aviators?
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #24 of 85: Waiting for Baudot (chuck) Wed 30 Sep 15 08:39
    
First, let's not paint with too broad a brush. I'm describing only
the actions and behaviors of us who were on diesel-powered
submarines. The nuclear navy had enough money, and discipline, and
rigid rules, to do things by the book. 

You're probably correct that submariners were less patient than
skimmers when the support system did not perform as expected, and
more ready to deal with consequences. 

(From a submariner's perspective there are three kinds of sailors:
skimmers, zoomies, and submariners. I'm sure I'll hear from others
shortly about different nomenclature.)

Another odd factor was the barter system that was used in
negotiating with support staff ashore. Submarines got twice as much
money, per stomach per day, as the rest of the Navy got to buy food.
It was common for a submarine sailor to go to, say, a repair
facility, with a broken motor on one shoulder and a 20-pound can of
coffee under the other arm. "Could you fix this? I need it right
away. Oh, and could you use some coffee? We don't have room to store
it all."
  
inkwell.vue.484 : Forces Adrift, Life on a Submarine, with Chuck Charlton
permalink #25 of 85: Waiting for Baudot (chuck) Wed 30 Sep 15 08:45
    
I hid response 22 because it was incomplete. While I was finishing
#24, Eric slipped in with a correct interpretation of zoomie. I'm
posting from an iPad today, and I somehow posted prematurely. 
  

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