Judy Spooner Viewpoint: Sub tour an underwater trip back in timeIt wasn’t the harbor seals or fresh crab cakes that was the highlight of my recent day trip to San Francisco. It was the San Francisco Maritime National Park on Pier 47.
By: Judy Spooner, South Washington County Bulletin
It wasn’t the harbor seals or fresh crab cakes that was the highlight of my recent day trip to San Francisco with my brother, George. It was the San Francisco Maritime National Park on Pier 47.
George, site security director for eBay and PayPal, lives in San Jose where I was visiting for a week.
He treated me to a trip to San Francisco to see the ships in the museum and the USS Pampanito, a World War II Balao class submarine, restored by the Maritime National Park Association on the next pier.
The weather on the waterfront is “fresh,” according to George. In reality, the wind off one of the three best deep-water ports in the world along with Sydney, Australia, and Rio di Janeiro, Brazil, is cold.
I wondered if I would be claustrophobic inside the boat. Maybe it’s just like being inside a windowless building, I told myself. But after going down the steep ladder, I felt the boat rocking in the water. I got my sea legs, so to speak, as George told me about the boat.
We started in the forward torpedo room where men slept in bunks under the bombs. It was much easier to live in the space after the torpedoes were shot, he said, because there was more room.
It had a crew of about 40 sailors and officers. Enlisted men “hot bunked” while the boat was under way. As soon as a man finished his watch, he took the bunk of someone getting up.
Trips lasted about 70 days and food was stacked everywhere, according to my brother, when the boat left port.
Every man in the submarine service is a volunteer. During World War II, many of the men formerly served in the Navy. The Marines, the first to land on islands in the war in the Pacific, had a much higher casualty rate but 23 percent of submariners didn’t come home.
Restored to the year 1945, I noticed that there’s no plastic on the boat.
One of the main tasks of getting the boat ready for public tours was removing asbestos from pipes and wires. I wonder how many men died later in life from effects of inhaling it. Our father, also named George, served in the Merchant Marine Service in the war and died of leukemia at 88. His doctor said it came from exposure to “some substance” in his youth. I wonder if it was from asbestos.
I climbed through hatches, past the very small office, barely big enough for a typewriter, for the bookkeeper. The radio room wasn’t much larger.
Then we stepped into the main area of the boat lit by red lights that would have been on while they were running from an enemy ship after shooting the boat’s torpedoes. I imagined seeing men bending over the chart table as I felt the boat moving from side to side.
We later watched the movie “Down Periscope,” partly filmed on the Pampanito in 1996, and I recognized parts of the boat and the pier.
It was a great day for a trip back in time.
For a virtual boat tour, go to usspampanito.com.