Reagan is still president (until the end of the year when he’ll be replaced with Bush), but other than that my knowledge of the wider world is constrained by Navy life. I do recall playing Pink Floyd’s “A Momentary Lapse of Reason” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Tango in the Night” albums a whole lot though…
While there was opportunity to take pictures during this period and I owned a camera, most of my time was spent on military installations where photography was forbidden. So a lot of this era is memory only.
When I got back from Christmas leave myself and one of the guys from the barracks went out snow-bashing in his bronco over at the mall and got chased around by the mall cops. There was a moment we got stuck on top of a snow pile – so there I am in front of the bronco pushing while he rocks it back and forth – all while the mall cops in the K-car try desperately to get enough traction to get to us before we get free…
With seconds to spare we got unstuck and I dove into the open passenger door as we sped away… Fun times!
A few days later I bought a Panasonic RX-CD70 from the base exchange as a Christmas present for myself.
Then I started collecting CDs and got into Narada stuff. In January I picked up the brand new “Valley in the Clouds” CD from David Arkenstone – which prompted me to also buy a mid-grade Casio synthesizer to try my hand at music making.
In February the MIB guys doing my background investigation schedule another interview with me where they ask more uncomfortable questions. I remember trying to explain “AD&D” to these two absolutely humorless Agents and how it was just a game I played with some friends and I wasn’t in some kind of cult. Yeah, they even found out about my gaming habits…
Eventually Agents D and S were satisfied that I was a true blue patriot and wouldn’t sell out the country for a really cool set of polyhedron dice. And with that my final interview was complete and I had TS clearance.
And, because I had a TS clearance, my parents basically got confidential clearances in case I talked in my sleep or something…
In March I pick up a really ragged-out 1981 Chevy Citation for like $50 from a guy who was shipping out to Bangor. See, while life on the base was fun and it wasn’t exactly hard to score a ride to the mall – I wanted to get back on my own four wheels and was willing to drive anything…
About a month later the transmission grenaded on it and I left it where it died.
Then in May I picked up a 1978 Chevy Chevette from another squid who was shipping out – but paid a hundred bucks this time. Apparently $100 is the least amount one can pay for reliable transportation in 1987…
Reagan tells Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”. For those of us in the military at the time, this is seen as the beginning of the end of the Cold War.
Anyway, in July I got my duty assignment for PCU Pennsylvania (Pre-Commissioning Unit) and moved over to General Dynamics – Electric Boat (E.B.).
On the Groton base the barracks were 2-man rooms with some storage and a wall unit that could convert into a sort-of-desk. At E.B. all I got was a small metal locker and the lower bunk of a bunkbed straight out of bootcamp… So I sold off a lot of stuff, including my Atari 800XL, that Casio synth, and some other detritus – but I kept the important stuff. I used a couple of coat hangers to wire my boombox to the rack above my bunk, and kept my growing CD and comics collection, some art supplies, and the art that I’d done over the last year in a cardboard box under my rack.
Here’s a handy map to help visualize the locations I’ll mention in the next section:
The above image is from 1991 instead of 1987, but it’s still mostly the same… The lower blue square is the barracks I lived in. The middle square is where the barge / offices were, and the upper blue square is where the Christening picture down below was taken.
When I checked in at E.B., I was the second person on “The Barge” – a floating navy barge that had been converted into office spaces and tied up near the south lot. I checked in with the Yeoman, who was the first guy there.
So that makes me literally the second sailor on the ship.
My new barracks was a two-tone brown building right near the south (contractor) entrance to E.B.
It’s new and I’m one of the first sailors to occupy it, but also little more than a 2-story corrugated steel outbuilding converted into a shared berth, communal showers, a laundry room, and a break room.
A couple of other guys showed up that week, and for the first month or so there were only six of us in the barracks. One of those other guys had an Apple Macintosh though, which he set up in the break room. This is my first exposure to a desktop GUI and a modern implementation of the 68000 CPU – the machine was literally magical, even if it was just greyscale, and I now really wanted one… But they were still too expensive for me.
Most of my time at E.B. has been spent doing my submarine qualifications, taking rate tests, working on the new Integrated Radio Room (IRR) system that 735 is pioneering, standing watches on 735, and countless other odd jobs as required.
One interesting element of running a Navy radio-room off-base was that I had to transport “traffic” (teletype messages that were basically primitive email and other assorted documents) from EB to the base and then back to EB – in my personal car – at about 05:00 on a daily basis. And this traffic almost always included classified material. So while every sailor at E.B. had an ID badge on a lanyard, my lanyard was a collection of about a half-dozen IDs; for EB, for the base, for the pickup counter on the base. Then there were the IDs for various security clearances ranging to Top Secret, and one badge that basically allowed me to assume control of any police officer for an immediate no-questions-asked lights-on escort to the nearest military installation
R&R time in the barracks is usually taken up with catching “The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers” on the break-room TV – the first TV I’ve had available for about a year. “The Real Ghostbusters” was another popular show in the barracks, but I didn’t hang around for too many episodes and instead was out and about with friends whenever possible.
Work-wise though, standing watch on a submarine is a trip. And standing watch on one that is still being built is essentially science fiction you can wander around.
When I stood watch on the 735 at E.B. there were still access holes in the sides of the boat, large sections of the hull rings were still being assembled, and the inside was a mess of wire, pipe, and temporary lighting. On watch my Navy issue “dog bowl” was replaced with a hardhat that I’d artistically embellished a bit and wasn’t regulation in the slightest. We got away with a lot at E.B. because our command was still being put together and there wasn’t a lot of supervision.
Oh! And my name and a little unicorn are actually painted on the inside of an aft ballast tank!
In October I met up with Doug Aubenque, one of the nuclear engineering folks on the 735, who had recently moved into the barracks at E.B.
It turned out Doug was into roleplaying games and through him I was introduced to Bill Whitehouse, Brian Dorricott, and John Flaherty – and we collectively adventured our way across whatever fantastic setting caught our attention for a year or so.
Bill, Brian, and John were stationed at the sub-base, and no one could get into E.B. without clearance – so our gaming nights for the first few months of our endeavors were at the sub base in the Nautilus Hall barracks (Building 455).
And this was how the rest of 1987 passed.
A couple of times in 1988 I rode with Bill Whitehouse in his powder blue Ford Escort up to his parent’s place in Islesboro Maine. The first time was kind of by accident; we left the base to get donuts and ended up in Maine… That’s just how things happened back then.
In early March Doug and I got a bump in pay-grade and decided to get a place in-town.
By the end of March we were living at 177 Jefferson Ave in New London.
It’s a 1-bedroom place where Doug got the bedroom in the back and I got the living-room in the front and slept on the couch… Navy guys are accustomed to small shared spaces, so this living arrangement wasn’t odd in the slightest. And once Doug and I had the apartment some of our gaming nights moved there.
Eventually the 735 was Launched on April 23rd, 1988…
Launching is where they move the boat from where it was built and into the water. Christening is where someone whacks the boat with a bottle of champagne and gives it its name.
Both of these happen at about the same time, though the latter tends to have more pomp and circumstance.
Here’s one of the commemorative envelopes from the event:
The Christening event was kind of a big deal, and there were a lot of big name people attending – so I had to spend the proceeding week spit shining and starching everything in preparation for the most detailed inspection I have ever received.
My view of the Christening ceremony was slightly different though:
Now that the 735 has gotten smacked with a champaign bottle and been rudely moved from the pier and into a flooded dry-dock to make room for 736, we had a small change of command; up to this point Captain Oltraver has been in charge of us, but he’s retiring and we’re getting a new captain.
Here’s a photo Doug took of my ’88 halloween costume that I wore to answer the door and give kids candy…
November – December 1988
By the end of 1988 I’ve decided that, being as my time at E.B. is counting as ‘sea time’, I’ll rotate back to shore duty at the sub base in July next year, as that will be my two years, and I’ll take a bunch of computer and electronics classes.
Doug has only been with the 735 for about a year, so he pretty much has to move with the 735 to King’s Bay Georgia after commissioning.
We agree that I’ll take over the apartment when he ships out.