National Geographic : 1959 Jul
Crewmen Off Duty Enjoy a Songfest in the Forward Torpedo Room Though confining, life aboard an atomic sub marine can hardly be classed as Spartan. Skate carries refrigerators, electric ranges, radio, and record players. Movies in the messroom drew packed houses during Arctic cruises. Nineteen crew members, most of them tor pedomen, bunk in these quarters, side by side with the big steel projectiles. Engineman Theodore Archambault, leading the harmony, has a film badge on his belt. The match book-sized device measures exposure to radio activity; every man wears one at all times. different-Skate's to learn surfacing in the ice, Nautilus's to pass from Pacific to Atlantic beneath it. But there was no escaping the fact: Nautilus had beaten us to the Pole.* I could never describe that day and shall not try. The pride a Navy crew feels in its ship, the good-natured but intense competi tion, the sensitive feeling a submarine captain has for his crew's pride and their competitive spirit-all these things were tied up in our emotions of August 9. We felt as the ill-fated Robert Falcon Scott must have felt when he found to his crushing disappointment that Amundsen in 1911 had preceded him to the South Pole by a month. "The Norwegians have forestalled us and are first at the Pole," he wrote in the diary later found by his body. "It is a terrible disappointment and I am very sorry for my loyal companions ... All the daydreams must go; it will be a wearisome return." t At four in the morning of Sunday, August 10, we took a quick radar bearing from Spits bergen and fixed our position. Seeing the white line of the Arctic pack ahead, we went deep and were soon under the ice. There were several alternatives. We could spend a few days going in and out of the ice, getting used to the idea. We could practice surfacing in the edge of the pack. Or we could head for the North Pole, 600 sea miles away. The mood of my crew was much on my mind. It was time for the Skate to do something, not pussyfoot about. We set course for the Pole at 16 knots. Life in a Steel Bubble Under the Ice What is it like, these first hours under the ice? I shall attempt to describe it. There is no sense of motion; the ship is still, with only slight machinery vibration. Lighted in struments show angle, course, and speed no, we are missing that one on this trip. 10 We are in uncharted waters, and the depth is of great interest. Our bathymetry expert, Art Molloy, from the Navy's Hydrographic Office, is bending over his precision depth recorder and watching the trace. Its an guished whine rings through the control room, and back comes the faint echo from the ocean floor 5,000 feet below. "Beautiful trace, beautiful trace," Art says lovingly, as he watches the machine record its profile of the bottom. "And to think that Nansen's party got only 62 soundings in three years," he mutters to no one in particular. Art is clearly pleased. But we are sending sound impulses out in more directions than one. In the after end of our control room, ice expert Walt Wittmann watches his upward-beam ice detector with deep interest. His machine makes a rapid * See "Submarine Through the North Pole," by Lt. William G. Lalor, Jr., USN; and "The Arctic as a Sea Route of the Future," by Comdr. William R. Ander son, USN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, January, 1959. t Reprinted by permission of the publishers: John Murray Ltd., London, and Dodd, Mead & Company, New York. Copyright © 1913.