USS Nautilus at Submarine Force Library and Museum

Submarine History

Visit the USS Nautilus Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, Connecticut and pretend you are on a Sturgeon Class submarine manning the Attack Center console. You (or your kids) can touch all the buttons and turn all the dials!  Go to the next room and use three operational periscopes to view the harbor, USS Nautilus, and surrounding areas just like a submariner. The museum thoughtfully staged the periscopes at varying heights so young kids (and my mother) can have a real periscope experience.  Explore the small but impressive museum to learn how some brave people crammed their bodies into tiny metal cans and dropped themselves into deep water.  The challenges of exploring or living under water is displayed here.

And the pinnacle experience is the (free!) self-guided audio tour of the historic USS Nautilus Submarine.  The Nautilus is the world’s first nuclear powered submarine, and broke several records. While on-board the submarine, you will experience recreated scenarios showing how naval personnel lived and worked inside this tin can.  Also? I believe I learned the Navy\’s secret on what you should do during a life threatening crisis.

Ahoy, my friends!

As you know, I spent the weekend in New Bedford visiting the Whaling Museum.  There was so much to do in the region that we felt compelled to get up ridiculously early and start our return trip home – knowing we would be stopping several times along the way.  One of our planned stops was at the Force Submarine museum next to the Naval Base in Groton, Connecticut.

I didn\’t know what to expect when going to this museum.  My sister is the military aficionado, so I didn\’t have a goal or mission on the pit-stop. Nor did I have any idea what to expect.  But you know me. I\’m all about new experiences and I\’ll never turn down a museum crawl.  My friends, I really wish you could have been here to see this visit.

First, understand that we had already been on the road five hours, and it was only 10:30 in the morning. We looked like we survived a very wet catastrophe.  Plus we were all clutching our third cup of coffee and moaning audibly when existing the vehicle.  So when we arrived at the Submarine Force museum, we rolled up like damp, homeless, hurricane survivors with really bad hair.  The perfect opportunity for awesome selfies.  Can you picture this hot mess? Good. That was me.

Museum Greeting

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I wandered into the main doors of the museum and caught myself staring up at Nemo\’s Nautilus submarine.  Suddenly I was shocked by a man who was shouting ~ very loudly ~ at someone.

IS THIS YOUR FIRST TIME VISITING?\” the unseen man bellowed.

My back straightened and for reasons I can\’t explain, I was immediately fearful I had done something wrong. There was obviously a drill sergeant running loose in this naval museum.

\”YOU! IS THIS YOUR FIRST VISIT?\” The voice seemed to be coming from everywhere. It was echoing off of the walls and floors.  My eyes rolled wildly. Who was this man talking to?? Please don’t be me. Please don’t be me!

The crowd thinned and I could see the reception desk.  There he was; standing up and staring directly at me, his extended arm pointing at me.  I oddly noted that his finger did not waiver or tremble. It was solidly and steadfastly pointing directly at my face.

It was me.  He was barking at me.  I stared in mute confusion. Did I do something wrong?  I was self aware of my bedraggled appearance and immediately feared I was dragging the good standing of this naval museum down into the gutter by my dress and storm-survivor appearance. I gripped my coffee tighter.  I haven’t event fully entered the building yet!  What could I have possibly done wrong??

Apparently I hesitated too long in my confusion and self-reflection, so the man barked again.

YES, YOU!  THIS IS YOUR FIRST TIME VISITING, RIGHT?

“Yes?” I squeaked, taking a step back and wondering if I could hide in my car.

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WELCOME. THERE IS A MOVIE PLAYING TO THE RIGHT (he points to my left). IT STARTS AT THE TOP OF THE HOUR AND LASTS ABOUT 45 MINUTES. THE ROOM BEHIND ME HAS THINGS YOU CAN TOUCH. (he thumbs at the door over his shoulder). THE PERISCOPES ARE TO THE LEFT (he points right). SO IS THE SUBMARINE, WHICH YOU CAN TOUR BY EXISTING THOSE DOORS. (he points to the glass doors at the end of the hallway)  ENJOY YOUR VISIT!

And then he sat down behind the receptionist desk, mission satisfactorily accomplished.

I blinked. I felt like I just joined the army – or maybe the marines – at a naval base. I was so confused. And more than a bit scared. Not knowing what else to do, Melissa and I immediately scurried to the ladies room.  After taking a moment to gather ourselves, we started to giggle.  While we were in the restroom recovering from our greeting, we could hear him \’greeting\’ the next round of visitors.  With a mixed sense of comical relief, I was glad to know I wasn\’t the only victim of his very loud welcome, and also amused that this was the friendly greeter who role was to welcome guests.

Touring the Nautilus Submarine

After we recovered from the drill sergeant greeting, we did what he suggested and toured the Attack Center (we pushed all the buttons and turned all the knobs!), Periscopes (we took a cell phone picture and museum.  The highlight of our experience was the tour of the Nautilus submarine, which was wonderfully staged for entertaining and informing guests.  The submarine is stationed and stable in the water, and as you enter you descend a large flight of stairs into the belly of the sub.  Which was odd finding a flight of stairs like you would in an office building right in the heart of the submarine.The museum provides an audio device so you can listen to information as you pass through different sections of the sub.

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Despite the impressive history, the record-setting feats, and the challenge of living and operating a sub – the thing that fascinated me most was the alienness of living underwater.  Everything is different. Some of the differences are minor, some are major. But everything has a skin of different.  Just navigating the sub was a challenge, even weird. You must navigate narrow, tight corridors and occasionally climb up or down a tunnel, jump through small holes along the route, etc.  Imagine doing this with dozens of other people trying to navigate the same tight corridors?!

The hatchways were narrow and tight. I was imagining spry, ferret-like people moving through the submarine\’s tiny tubes with any speed.  If I was to live on a sub, I would cause a traffic-jam at every hatch.  The awkwardness of trying to lift your legs up while squishing your body down, and somehow angling your neck so you can pass through the tiny hatchway is pronounced.

Then I see the sleeping quarters and I cringe imagining sleeping in those conditions. It is coffin like and claustrophobic on a good day.  Now try to imagine the experience after being at sea for weeks – or months!  No. No thank you. Nope. No way.

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I Learned a Naval Secret or Two

Secret to Surviving a Catastrophe

But I learned two things while on this sub. The navy apparently staged the galley to demonstrate how submariners would done gas masks and life vests should an emergency arrive. So there are dummies positioned and staged behind a clear plastic wall – showing what it is like to don your emergency gear. On the table next to the dummies is a bunch of medical equipment, to demonstrate how they prepared for medical emergencies.

But the dummies are also doing something else.  And I appreciate learning the secret.  The naval men are playing cards, while wearing their gas masks and life vests.  So the navy shared their secret of handling a crisis.  Step 1) don your gear.  Step 2) display your wares, and lastly, Step 3) play cards.

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But, wait! There\’s more!  Not only do you play cards – but you should cheat at cards as well!

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Alternative Plans

The galley had more insights into naval survival practices.  Two tables down from the card-playing studs was another man who took an entirely different approach to handling the end of the world…

He opted to eat all the desserts.  At once! Ice cream, Pie, and something else I couldn\’t make out. This man clearly decided that if the he was going to die, he was going out in style – and with a full belly.  Also, I don\’t know about you… but does he have a weird, satisfying grin on his face?

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Secret to Surviving Everyday

The other naval secret I learned while on the Nautilus submarine was that coffee apparently is the fuel that makes everything run.  And I can respect that. (As I sip my hot coffee while writing this letter to you). Nearly every station had a coffee cup or mug.  And at one of the control stations, you can see the critical nature that coffee provides our naval forces.  Coffee Beans. The American Way!

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Note the secret to our military\’s success!  It\’s even labeled so there\’s no confusion.

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Complicated is an Understatement

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The sub is a complex machine. And a machine that is due respect, a pinch of fear, and for me personally? – a bucket of \”hell no.\” But as I toured the sub, I kept finding sections that were simply intimidating to ponder.  Sections so dense and compact that it seems impossible to move, rooms so intricate with gears and controls that I wouldn\’t know where to begin.

Take this room as an example: dials, knobs, gears, and pressured pipes all packed into a small area.  Maybe you set these controls once and never touch them again. But what is the odds of that being true? If something goes wrong, or if you go from tropical waters to arctic waters – surely adjustments must be made.  And the finesse required to operate such a machine is intimidating to me.  This room just presents hundreds of opportunities for me to make a mistake and sink the whole boat.

Somewhere in the belly of the submarine, there was a section where the navy cut a hole in the floor and exposed a bank of batteries. These batteries weight 1,000 lbs each, and there are 126 batteries in the sub.  But look at how tightly packed and secured everything is.  Which made me think, do the subs take a test run before officially leaving, and then nose dive and zoom up just to make sure nothing rattles loose?  Is there a few loose coins rolling around in every sub that you can hear skittering around? Or does the navy seek out those loose bits?  Hm.  Maybe I\’ll do some submarine reading in the future.

 

Photos

Friends, here are my photos of the museum and submarine.  Enjoy! I hope you get a chance to visit this museum and submarine.