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Close Encounters of the USN Kind

by Victoria Koos

Submarine conducting sea trials out of the naval submarine base in New London, CT
(Photo courtesy of Electric Boat)

Ever heard of anyone having a close encounter with a submarine at the Race off the end of Long Island while piloting a 36 ft sailing yacht?  One nearly surfaced underneath my boat one morning in July.  It came within 6 feet of my keel.  You might think I am joking but they actually hailed me afterwards and I spoke with them. 

We were motoring in heavy fog Monday morning.  We had passed the southwest tip of Fisher Island and the south east tip of Gull Island and were in deep water.  The GPS and the chart indicated over 200 feet, as did the depth sounder (which we have never had any problem with before or since). I was piloting, the captain was on the bow with our fog horn listening for other horns and our navigator was charting our next heading to motor south of Fisher Island to Newport .  Around 10 min earlier I had heard some chatter about a US Navy submarine around the Race.  It was hailing all vessels to keep clear.  They gave the area to keep clear in latitude and longitude but I couldn't quite make it out and thought we were far enough south of the Race that it was not a problem.

A few minutes later I happened to notice the depth sounder was reading around 50 feet, and I knew that was very unlikely.  I mentioned it to the navigator who said emphatically that it was 'impossible', at which point I saw the GPS was literally doing a countdown.  We are in heavy fog, there are no waves, the water is utterly still, we can't see a thing, and the depth sounder is literally dropping... 34... 32... 31....30...27....25...We look at the GPS and see our position: we should be over at least 200 feet of water and shortly we would be over an area that is 300 feet deep... 20...19....17... the navigator plots our position on a paper chart which, of course, shows exactly the same thing....  15..... 14..... 11....

Ok, we are in the Long Island Sound next to an area of 300 foot depth and we are in 11 feet of water?  This is a heavily trafficked area.  If there was an 11 foot shoal in the middle of a heavily trafficked area, I would think it would be charted. Not to mention the water is like glass.  We are in a heavy current but it is indecipherable.  If we were in a 3 knot current that suddenly is going over an 11 foot shoal from 200 feet you would think there would be some kind of serious surface effect. Anyway, we turn 90 degrees to get away from the mystery shoal and the depth within seconds goes to like 16 but then back down to 11!  We turn 90 degrees again and suddenly the shoal drops away but  really, really quickly, much faster than it appeared.  We are in 200 feet of water in avery short period of time.  We are motoring very slowly now, wondering what on earth is going on and wishing we had not decided to go out that morning when we hear someone hailing us, "This is a US Naval submarine off the south west tip of gull island and south east of the race/fisher island hailing a sailing vessel off  our port." He was talking to us. I went down and picked up the radio.  The fellow was very nice, said we were in close proximity, and asked us to please hold our course, he would be passing 100 feet off of our port bow. 

I was in such shock (fog, mystery shoal, submarine... what next?!) that I didn't realize I had just found the answer to what rises under your boat, hovers for a moment, and then sinks rather rapidly away, and then hails you. Not a mystery shoal. A US Naval submarine.

Launch of USS Jimmy Carter in 2004 by General Dynamics Electric Boat Division, Groton, Conn. She is the third and last of the Seawolf Class of nuclear-powered attack submarines. (Photo courtesy of Electric Boat)

Editor's Note:

I was recently telling a friend, whose son is an engineer at the New London sub base, of a similar experience we had a few years ago.  We heard a conversation between a surface naval vessel and a submarine on the VHF radio mid-Sound.  Shortly after, the submarine surfaced not far from where we were.  It wasn't quite as close as described by Victoria but still rather stunning to suddenly see a massive submarine appear out of nowhere!

If you recall, last summer a sub surfaced beneath a Japanese touring vessel and overturned it.  So, it's not so far fetched. 

The submarine base was even used to promote CT tourism.

According to Wikipedia, Naval Submarine Base New London is the United States Navy's first Submarine Base, the "Home of the Submarine Force", and "the Submarine Capital of the World". It was on the list of bases to be closed in 2005 but was removed from the list by the review commission. It is home to 16 attack submarines and a neighbor of General Dynamics who builds them. They must take them out for a spin periodically! Cool pictures of the launch of the USS Virginia here.

On Chesapeake Bay, encounters with subs used to be a rather common occurence near the Patuxent River. What was even more frightening was being anywhere near the off limits region where the air corps practice bombing runs. We were sailing not far from there but definitely outside the forbidden zone when we got buzzed (and I mean right over the top of our mast) by a fighter squadron that released its missiles shortly after. We saw them drop and head off to the target area. THAT WAS SCARY!

Thanks for sharing!

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