Unknown Waters: A Firsthand Account of the Historic Under-Ice Survey of the Siberian Continental Shelf by USS Queenfish (SSN-651)

By Alfred S. McLaren | Go to book overview

1
Man Overboard!

Let him, who would see the genius of humanity in its most noble struggle
against superstition and darkness, peruse the history of Arctic travels. There, in
the north, are all secrets laid bare.

—Fridtjof Nansen, 1878

Only intermittent “cats paws” or slight breezes disturbed the vast, calm sea that lay ahead. USS Queenfish slowly approached, on the surface, the western end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, due north of Cape Flattery, Washington State, shortly after midnight on a cool, clear, almost moonless night on 22 July 1970. The first truly polar regions-capable U.S. nuclear attack submarine, she was en route to the Arctic Ocean and the North Pole via the Bering Strait, heading toward her ultimate destination, the Siberian continental shelf. A final bow-to-stern inspection of our boat's topside superstructure, line lockers, and deck hatches had been in progress for almost an hour. The weapons and sonar officer, Lieutenant Robert Baumhardt, and James Petersen, chief sonar technician, were abaft the sail, carefully securing anything that might come loose or rattle or emit even the tiniest sound during the many weeks that we expected to remain submerged.

I had joined the watch on the bridge earlier in the evening for a last hour or so of fresh air before Queenfish proceeded beneath the surface, following our passage through the strait and into the northern Pacific Ocean. Preparations were in progress for sending Baumhardt and Petersen on deck for a final sound-quieting check.

Both men had already donned standard navy safety harnesses that, once they were on deck, would secure them with long straps and “U” rings to a recessed track, with several breaks or connection points that ran from bow to stern down the center of Queenfish's deck. Standard safety equipment on the bridge generally consisted of a life ring, a coil of heaving line, a bullhorn, and a searchlight that could

-1-

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