Sunday, October 1, 2017

USS Providence SSN-719 Tiger Cruise

22-24 August 2017
Securing the colors for maneuvering watch
What is a Tiger Cruise? Its an opportunity for a member of the US Navy to show family or friends up close what its like in their Navy Job. In my case, it was "take your Dad to work" for three days on the USS Providence SSN 719, Los Angeles class nuclear powered fast attack submarine, and a trip of a lifetime!

Eleven civilians boarded the Providence in Groton CT early 22 August 2017, and we moored at the Canadian Navy Base at Halifax Nova Scotia three days later on 24 August 2017. Here is our story:

22 August 2017

We arrived early (0700) at the Groton CT submarine base and Mark Atkins LTJG, my Tiger Sponsor (and son), escorted me to the boat and we climbed down the ladder into to the mid-level deck and the wardroom and officer staterooms. Mark deftly dropped in while his Tiger struggled with his coffee, duffelbag, backpack and case of diet soda that Mark was bringing aboard. I was assigned the bottom rack in Stateroom 1-B. After quickly unpacking my dufflebag into a drawer, and stowing my backpack at the foot of the rack, we headed to the wardroom to wait for the other ten 'Tigers' to arrive. The boat was buzzing with activity as everyone was scrambling to get ready for the 3-day underway to Halifax and the Tiger Cruise.

The Tigers were all aboard by 0900 and Commander Grizzle, Commanding Officer, welcomed us aboard and provided us a welcome package that included information about the boat, lanyards/name tags, and our Honorary Submariner Qualification Card. Mark provided me a small red button flashlight that I attached to the lanyard that came in handy several times during the cruise. The card included 8 tasks that if completed successfully by the end of the cruise, and signed off by an authorized crew member, we would be awarded a Submarine Qualification Certificate and designated as an Honorary Submariner!

Next up was the Tiger In-brief from various members of the crew:
  • Supply Officer (Chop) - reviewed logistics and our berthing and Group assignments
  • Chief of the Boat (COB) - outlined safety items including our first introduction to the EAB 
  • Medical Corpsman (Doc) - showed us the location of the sick bay and highly recommended Dramamine tablets for the Tigers (I raised my hand, not wanting to risk it)
After the Tiger brief the COB addressed the watch organization and provided a review of Contact management rules and review of the recent surface collisions the Navy had experienced, while the Tigers were allowed to sit in.

Lunch was served early and by noon the boat was ready get underway. Time to check off the first requirement of the Qualification card: My sponsor showed me how to flush a Submarine head (toilet)!

CDR Grizzle as colors are secured
COB and his Tiger ready for maneuvering watch
Cast off
Mark was standing watch behind the sail and a number of the Tigers were invited to join the maneuvering watch as we sailed down the Thames river to the open sea. We put on flotation devices and joined the watch on the deck as we shoved off! We were escorted out by two tug boats, a river pilot, and three small Navy gun boats as we made out way under the bridge and out to deep water. It was a beautiful day, and quite an honor to 'stand watch' with Mark. No 9mm side arms for the Tigers though!
After clearing the bridge and the harbor area, one of the tugs picked up the river pilot and the maneuvering watch left the deck went below. All the deck hatches were secured and Mark took the first watch on the Bridge. We would be sailing the next 12 hours to reach the deep water before we could dive. The Tigers were allowed to cycle up to the Bridge and join the officer of the deck (Mark at this time) and the lookout for some sailing time.
LTJG Atkins and his Tiger on the Bridge
Dinner was served early, about 1600, and we had additional opportunities to cycle up to the bridge for more time to observe our progress on the surface. Even after sailing for hours, well out of sight of land, the bridge watch called for several course modifications to avoid debris and crab pot floats!

At 2030 we assembled in the torpedo room for a demonstration of Waterslugs and an introduction to Torpedo Room operations. We each were able to pose by (and were offered the opportunity to climb into) one of the torpedo tubes.
Tiger Atkins
 After a short introduction we lined up and each had the opportunity to launch a Waterslug!
Not much headroom, several sailors were sleeping in racks nearby!
Tiger Atkins preparing to launch a Waterslug
High pressure gas ejects the torpedo from the boat where is activates and is on its way. For the Waterslug demonstration, the tube is filled with water, then the tube is fired manually. We all donned ear protection as it was quite loud as the compressed air was released fired the Waterslug into the deep!

The dive was planned for 0300, so most of us retired early. After maneuvering into my rack, I donned earplugs and eye covers and went out like a light!

23 August 2017

0245 A messenger from the Control room came into the stateroom, "Mr. Atkins, we will be diving soon if you would like to join us in the control room." After excising myself from the rack, and climbing the stairs to the upper deck, I entered the Control room. All the lights were dimmed and it felt like walking into a movie! The Control room was packed with crew and Tigers as the boat was being secured to dive. Both periscopes were manned and large monitors in the room displayed what the sailors were seeing.

After many checks, tests, and double checks, the Commander issued the order to dive and slowly the surface of the water rose toward the periscopes until they were awash. They were secured and the boat leveled off and all hatches were inspected for leaks. Once satisfied, we went deeper and leveled off. Then CDR Grizzle suggested we retire until breakfast and the Tigers returned to their racks.

Crawling back into my rack the rolling motion was gone, and the ride was as smooth as glass. I quickly dozed off, but awoke to the sound of the hull creaking, apparently as the Commander took the boat deeper.

0700-0800 Breakfast was served, so making my way to the Wardroom, Mark and several other officers were having breakfast. Mark had his phone plugged into the sound system and the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy was blasting away. A sailor took my order and returned with an omelette, bacon, toast and coffee.

0900 Commanding officer brief - CDR Grizzle discussed operations of the boat and some of its history. It is one of two (USS Louisville the other) boats that have launched cruise missiles in combat operations supporting Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and Odyssey Dawn. He assured us that no action was expected during our cruise to Canada!

1400 Angles and Dangles & High Speed Large Rudder Turns - We assembled in the control room for this demonstration of high angle up and down and large rudder turn demonstrations. Mark was Officer of the Deck and relayed the Commander's orders to the crew to dive and climb at 25-30 degree angles and hard starboard and port turns. Most of us found something to hang onto and we cycled through several series of maneuvers.

1700 Damage Control equipment demonstration. The crews mess was the sight of a damage control drill. Before it started, the Tigers learned to use the NFTI (Nifty) device. A thermal detector to find hot spots in reduced visibility. Also we learned to don the EAB, a breathing and fire protection hood. Visualize a scuba mask with a breathing tube that is plugged into manifolds found everywhere on the boat. The manifolds provide an air source during an emergency. They have quick release couplers that allow the user to take a breath, unplug, move and plug in to another manifold again during an emergency.

Preparing to put on an EAB

After we donned the EABs and played with the NFTY, the crew executed a drill that simulated a fire in the crew's mess area.
Damage Control Demonstration
Even harder to pass with Damage Control equipment
The Chief in charge of the drill was not happy with the performance, but after the drill, the equipment was stowed and the mess prepared for Movie and Pizza Night (a tradition on the boat the night before entering port). The pizza was fantastic and the movie in the crews mess was...wait for it... The Hunt for Red October!

In case that wasn't your taste in movies, Anchorman II was showing in the Wardroom!

Midrats were offered at 2300 but I hit the rack well before that and slept soundly in my rack.

24 August 2017

0600 Breakfast was served again in the wardroom. The Ships store opened shortly after that and we were able to buy Providence logo items and challenge coins.

One of the last items on my qualification card was a sonar demonstration. One of the sonar operators pointed out a large school of fish and turned on the speakers so we could hear them. It sounded like muffled clapping, and he said it was the sound was the fins of the fish slapping each other. Mark was again the OOD in the control room as the boat surfaced for our approach to Halifax. Once on the surface, we were again able to cycle up to the Bridge.

Back on the surface, and entering the shipping lane on the approach to Halifax, the periscopes were monitored continuously looking for surface contacts. The Chop (Supply Officer) was the Contact Manager at that time and showed me how to use the periscope. I was able to check off the final activity on my card, looking out of the Scope. No contacts sir!

Later, joining Mark on the bridge, he pointed out a school of dolphins that were playing on the bow wave as we made our way to Canada.

Another lunch, and it was time to station the maneuvering watch. The Tigers that did not get to go above in Groton, went topside. The rest of us stayed below in the crews mess and watched it on the periscope monitor on the big screen.
The Providence in Canada!
The boat was moored at 1500 and we were able to go topside and fire up our phones on the pier. We returned to the crews mess for our Outbrief and presentation of Honorary Submariner Cards.

This was an experience of a lifetime, thanks to the US Navy for providing such a great opportunity for its sailors to show, and their families to experience, a small slice of Navy life, and to Mark of course for sponsoring me as his Tiger!

Steve Atkins


Anonymous said...

Wow is all I can say, Steve! It sounds like such an awesome, once in a lifetime, opportunity. And exciting to see Mark doing what he does. It takes a special person to do this for our country - I'm sure you're so proud of him!!!

Jackie said...

I didn't mean for the above comment to be anonymous ...

David Lambard said...


Thanks for sharing experiences with Mark and the crew. Doing my Tiger Cruise from HI to San Diego onboard USS Nimitz with my son next month. Go Navy!