USS HENRY CLAY SSBN-625
ANNUAL DRYDOCKING

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For those viewers with no experience in ship maintenance, a review of
some of the details involved in drydocking a ship might be of interest.
A great deal of preparation work must be completed before taking a
ship into the drydock.  Many of the ship's systems can not function with
the ship out of the water and work-arounds must be implemented to keep
the ship habitable by the crew, who live aboard the ship through the
drydock period.

Since the Henry Clay was a nuclear powered ship, the nuclear reactor
had to be shut down prior to entering the drydock. During the transit to
the drydock, the ship was powered by its sole diesel engine. You will notice
diesel exhust coming from the large pipe (snorkel mast) at the rear of the
sail while the ship was moving into the drydock. Once the ship was in the drydock,
power cables were strung from the drydock to the ship to provide power and
the diesel engine was shut down.

The Henry Clay carried 16 Polaris missiles and more than a dozen torpedoes, all
of which needed to be offloaded prior to entering the drydock. This created a
good deal of work for the weapons department crew members and the submarine
tender crew. Naturally, when the ship left the drydock after maintenance, all
weapons had to be reloaded onto the ship. In the photos, you can see the torpedo
loading "skid" angling up and aft, just forward of the sail. Torpedoes were lowered
onto the skid by one of the submarine tender's cranes. The torpedo was then slid
down the skid, through the torpedo loading hatch and into the torpedo room, in
the bow. The torpedoes were then shifted into storage racks or loaded into the
torpedo tubes. Lots of manual labor was required to move these beasts around
and they weighed about as much as small cars!

Another big consideration was safety of the crew. A drydock is an industrial
work environment with huge cranes moving large, heavy objects around.
If a crew member were to fall overboard, he would fall about five stories
down to the floor of the drydock, so nets and safety lines abound.

To go ashore, a crew member had to climb an internal ladder to get up to the main
deck of the ship, then cross a catwalk, called a "brow," to get to the wall of
the drydock. He then descended a long stairway on the outside of the
drydock to get to the level of the pier that the drydock was tied up at.
Naturally, any supplies that were required aboard the ship during the drydock
period followed a similar path to come onboard. This made even simple tasks
rather tedious. Also, since the drydock was located across the harbor from the
submarine tender, the ship's "department store," it was cumbersome to move
supplies back and forth. By the end of a drydock period, the crew was usually
very happy to have the ship parked back alongside the tender!

The photographs shown below are a composite of at least two different
drydockings of the Henry Clay during the mid 1970's, so some lack of
continuity may be apparent. Now for some photos...

Here the ship was just leaving the tenders USS Hunley (AS-31) and USS Proteus
(AS-19). Having two tenders in port, together, was extremely rare in Guam,
Marianas Islands, where these photos were taken. As it turns out, the Hunley
had recently arrived to relieve the Proteus. Shortly after this picture was taken,
the Proteus returned to Mare Island, California, for a major overhaul. After the
overhaul, the Proteus returned to Guam and resumed its duties tending the
submarines of Submarine Squadron Fifteen.
Click on the photo for a larger version (230 KB).

Guam's Apra Harbor is actually composed of an inner and outer harbor, with a
channel between them. After leaving the tenders in the inner harbor, the tugs
moved the ship through the channel to the floating drydock in the outer harbor.
Here the Henry Clay is seen crossing the outer harbor to the drydock. Note that
the ship's rudder was clearly turned to starboard (the ship's right) assisting in
steering the combined mass of the ship and tugs.
Click on the photo for a larger version (117 KB).

Navy tugs, the workhorses of the fleet in port, are shown guiding the ship as it
approached the floating drydock. The tugs were actually moored to the submarine
by steel cables (mooring lines) and were not simply "pushing" it. Getting the tugs
properly moored to the ship was a careful operation. If a mooring line were to be
overstressed and it parted (snapped), it could severely injure or kill crew members
on the tugs or submarine.
Click on the photo for a larger version (98 KB).

In this view from the bridge of the Henry Clay, you can see the flooded down
drydock ready to receive the ship. During this particular drydocking, a second
floating drydock, fully afloat, can be seen just behind the drydock that the ship
was about to enter. A small "Mike" boat was being used to steer the bow of the ship.
Click on the photo for a larger version (211 KB).

As the ship entered the drydock, many mooring lines were passed from the
drydock to the ship. The tugs were then cast off and all further movement
of the ship was done using the mooring lines and winches. The crew members
visible onboard the submarine made up the "Maneuvering Watch." The
Maneuvering Watch was "stationed" whenever the ship was to be moored or
cast off from a tender or pier. The Maneuvering Watch was overseen by the
ship's Captain, with the assistance of several officers and chief petty officers.
The majority of men were line handlers, with several "phone talkers," men wearing
sound powered phone sets, who relayed the Captain's orders to the line handlers.
Click on the photo for a larger version (125 KB).

Here is a closeup of the ship's sail and maneuvering watch crew members.
Click on the photo for a larger version (165 KB).

At this point, the ship was completely in the drydock and was being positioned over
the "keel blocks."  Keel blocks are blocks of concrete, topped by wooden structures
that conform to the shape of the keel, the bottom surface of the ship's hull. The
keel blocks ensured that the weight of the hull was evenly supported without putting
undue stress on any part of the hull. Navy divers were sent down into the drydock
to observe and report on the position of the ship over the keel blocks. Once the
ship was properly placed, the drydock commenced pumping out water ballast so
that the keel blocks rose up and met the hull.
Click on the photo for a larger version (346 KB).

Once the ship was firmly sitting on the keel blocks, all lines were tightened and
special wedges were moved into place, underwater, to ensure that the ship could
not slip off the blocks. The drydock then pumped out all of its ballast and rose
out of the water lifting the ship.
Click on the photo for a larger version (291 KB).

In this photo, the drydock was showing some "freeboard ," exposed hull above the
waterline, as it rose out of the water. In the background, you can see Orote Point
and, to its right, the mouth of the harbor.
Click on the photo for a larger version (289 KB).

Here, the ship was high and dry... and a bit green at the waterline. The dying
marine life, now exposed to the air, made for a "wonderful" smell. Something
like a huge, dead fish!
Click on the photo for a larger version (140 KB).

Now the hull could be inspected. In this photo, paint damage, rust and marine life
can be clearly seen. Note the multitude of keel blocks supporting the hull.
Click on the photo for a larger version (135 KB).

A rare sight is that of a submarine's anchor. Surface ships display their anchors
routinely, but the submarine force is stealthy even to the point of hiding their
anchors! Here the anchor is shown in its stowed position.
Click on the photo for a larger version (170 KB).

Drop anchor. Oh, and watch your feet... CLANG!
Click on the photo for a larger version (188 KB).

Here is the ship's "outboard motor." It was called the Secondary Propulsion Motor
or "SPM." Its main use was for moving the ship in harbors when tugs were not
available. It was lowered from its stowage area, about two thirds of the way back
from the bow, and could be turned 360 degrees so that it could move the ship in
any direction. The SPM was normally retracted into its stowage area and rarely
used.
Click on the photo for a larger version (77 KB).

To maintain the hull, it had to be cleaned and repainted. The first order of business was
to clean off all marine life and old paint. This was done with huge sand blasting hoses.
In this photo, you can see that sand blasting had commenced. The slate gray areas
of the hull were bare metal. As you can see, there was a lot of surface area to clean.
Click on the photo for a larger version (250 KB).

The huge drydock cranes were used to swing scaffolds, holding the sand blasters, around
the hull. Here, you can see a scaffold hanging in the foreground over the stern section
of the ship.
Click on the photo for a larger version (247 KB).

Given the fact that Guam has a hot, humid climate and the sand blasters had to wear
full body protection and ventilated helmets, this was extremely hard work. Every
sand blaster seen in the drydock was skinny as a rail. They must have sweat gallons of
water every day! Here four of them were standing on a scaffold, raking their hoses
over the ship's hull.
Click on the photo for a larger version (231 KB).

During the sand blasting, sand was always in the air and landing everywhere. In an
effort to keep it out of the operating machinery, tape and tarps were used to form a
barrier.
Click on the photo for a larger version (340 KB).

A "topside" security watch was required at all times. Here you can see the watchstander,
"rigged" for sand blasting. Not a fun way to spend hours at a time.
Click on the photo for a larger version (217 KB).

After the sand blasting was done, a primer coat of paint was sprayed onto the hull.
Here is a shot of the freshly primed bow with the torpedo tube doors open.
In case you're wondering why the primer stops at the waterline, the drydock
workers were only responsible for areas below the waterline. The ship's crew
was responsible for maintaining the hull above the waterline, which could be
done without a drydock.
Click on the photo for a larger version (277 KB).

Here's a nice side view of the freshly primed hull. The side views were taken
with a very wide-angle lens. The effect of the wide-angle lens was to make
the ship look a lot more streamlined than it actually was. While it looks almost
like a "rocket ship" in this photo, the ship's hull was fatter than might be expected.
It looked more like one of the Navy's old, giant airships!
Click on the photo for a larger version (270 KB).

Here the scaffold gang can be seen shooting primer on the stern area. If you look
at where the primer ends on the ship's deck and upper rudder, at the waterline, it's
a reminder of just how much of the ship was underwater when the ship was on the
surface.
Click on the photo for a larger version (277 KB).

This is a night view of the hull and sail from down in the dock. It really did
tower over you when you were down in the drydock.
Click on the photo for a larger version (167 KB).

The final paint job! Looked as good as new. With a freshly painted hull, the ship
could go faster and make less noise as it maneuvered under the sea.
Click on the photo for a larger version (252 KB).

A closeup view of the bow from down in the drydock. The rippled area, just below
the torpedo tube doors, contained the main hydrophone array for the ship's sonar. A
submarine's sonar systems are it "eyes" under water.
Click on the photo for a larger version (186 KB).

A final view of the ship from down in the drydock. At this point, the ship was
ready to go back into the water for another year of service. Putting it back in the
water was pretty much a direct reversal of getting it into the drydock. The
drydock flooded down until the ship floated up off the keel blocks. The mooring
lines were used to winch the ship far enough out of the drydock for the tugs
to moor to it. The tugs then moved the ship back across the harbor to the
tender where it again moored. Life for the crew returned to "normal," or at
least as normal as living inside a nuclear powered whale could ever be!
Click on the photo for a larger version (203 KB).
 

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© 2007 Gerald A. Pollack