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USS Albacore Reporter Journal

USS Albacore Haul-out/ May 15, 1985 / SeacoastNH.comMAY 15, 1985 
Portsmouth, NH

The day the USS Albacore moved from the sea to dry land attracted thousands of viewers and the US Secretary of the Navy. There was a lot of waiting, a little bit of action. At the end of the day there was a large submarine stuck in the mud. Here is our minute-by-minute account.

 

 

 

USS ALBACORE BEHIND THE SCENES 
May 15, 1985

SEE PHOTOS of the Albacore Halt-Out

7:15 am—Mark Kelliher and Gail have set up a media command post at the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce. Both are wearing Albacore sweatshirts that say simply, "The Move." There must be 500 donuts in the racks by the door. There are stacks of Albacore T-shirts, tote bags, hats, buttons, balloons, and booklets. We can only hope the submarine is as ready to move as the souvenir stands. Mark has a donut in one hand and a walkie -talkie in the other. He’s talking into the thing now:

"Control to Area A. Control to Area A. got enough posters out there? …No the bumper stickers didn’t come in on time." General Patton should have so much control. People are boarding the Viking Sun for the escort cruise.

7:35 am—It’s one heckuva long way from one side of Market Street to the other when the street is sliced in half. To get to the press tent on the far end of "the cut" means hopping a ride in the Albacore Supply truck. A hundred volunteers have gathered on the hill where the hotel is supposed to go. Some people have been working since 5 am. Others are still up from the VIP party the night before. We bomb down Maplewood Avenue, cut over to Woodbury Ave., and buzz up Market Street. Former real live Albacore crew members are gathered near the press tent swapping stories. Their submarine is about to be hauled from the sea to open land.

8:15 am—The Cineworks film crew needs power to shoot their documentary. "We killed it yesterday," says someone in a hard hat. "No one told us."

"Get the transformer going," says another person with an "Official" Albacore pass. Five minutes later the electricity flows.

8:39 am—"The sub is moving!" someone shouts. "The sub is moving!"

USS Albacore Souvenir Haul-Out booklet by J. Dennis Robinson/ Ideaworks, May 15, 1985

8:45 am—Helicopters buzzing over the press tent. It’s cloudy and brisk. Men in a barge are taking depth readings in the channel that has been cut through the road so the submarine can slide through. Someone announces that he needs 19.5 feet and they don’t have enough draught. It’s going to be tight. Coffee is on everyone’s mind.

Life imitates art. As people line up on the Interstate the scene begins to look exactly like the Eric Soller’s illustration on the souvenir T-shirts. Gives me a weird feeling of deja-vu. Have I moved a sub before?

8:25 am—The Albacore has been towed from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and is waiting patiently outside the railroad trestle bridge. The "569" on the sail is easily readable. People with special passes are crossing the yellow barrier ribbons and standing on spongy mud plateaus.

9:00 am—A voice on the walkie-talkie estimates the crowd count at 2,000. A guy in a military uniform and a beret tries to push everybody back, but we want to stay where the view is best.

"I saw one of these guide wires snap once," one shipyard worker is loudly telling another. "It lashed out and cut a dockworker clean in half!" On hearing this the crowd migrates back behind the yellow line.

Men attempt to pull the USS Al;bacore through the mud in May 1985 / www.USSalbacore.org

9:15 am—The sub has been turned around in the little river basin and its tail points toward the channel opening. The 27 foot wide sub has to fit through a 30 foot wide notch in the broken road. This engineering feat suddenly seems impossible. "I’ve bitten off all my fingernails," says a key member of the planning team. Since I’ve got fingernails left, I start chewing.

9:20 am—Eight-year old Robbie is up to his ankles in smelly mud. His mother Terri Beyer, who masterminded much of this historic affair, tells him to get out of the muck. She looks calm.

9:22 am—Dick Gallant, the chief Albacore fundraiser is explaining the upcoming maneuver. Once through the railway bridge, the sub will cut 30 degrees, he says. I bite another fingernail. The first pre-summer bugs begin flickering over the mudflats. They know something big is going on.

9:35 am—"She’s comin!" somebody finally shouts, "Mommy, I wanna ride on da Al-ba-cwor," says a kid with a blue balloon. But this is the Albacore’s last ride.

9:39 am—The bloated back is halfway through the bridge. The Undersecretary of the Navy is due in five minutes according to a police radio. The sun dips in.

"They just hit the trestle bridge," one volunteer says into the walkie-talkie.

9:45 am—Strong scent of sugar mixed with diesel fuel. A big cake with a submarine on top is sitting alone in the VIP tent. It’s a black sub on green wavy frosting with red, white, and blue flowers. The hot dog stand opens and I get the first one off the grill.

10:00 am—Waiting. The whole world is waiting. Not much talking. "It’s just like pulling a big tuna," some guy whispers. Perhaps, if the tuna weighs tons and tons, is made of metal and is stuck in the mud.

10:30 am— I hop a ride back over to Interstate side. A dozen pleasure craft waiting. 400 people on the Viking Sun are waiting. 5,000 onlookers are waiting. Sub is almost through the railroad bridge. A man on the peak of the highway shouts like a Lamaze father: "Push, baby! Push harder. You can do it!"

11:25 am—The sub is through, but stuck again. "The stem fin is definitely stuck on something," says Marsha from the chamber over the walkie-talkie. People with radios are getting blow-by-blow details from three radio stations all parked next to them on the bridge.

11:30 am—I hitch a ride on the back of a Griffin Construction truck that sloshes through a foot of mud. Now I’m back on the river by the press tent. "Dick, go get that D65 dozer," a construction worker says. Workers try hauling on a huge yellow rope. Yes, mere men are trying to pull a beached submarine. One falls hip deep in the muck. The crowd moans.

11:45 am—Still stuck in the muck. "Can the chief help you with the small boat?" an engineer shouts from shore.

"Not unless he’s real strong and 30 feet tall," comes the frustrated reply.

12:10 pm—Cold and windy. The Coast Guard leaves. The sub is still not positioned in its cradle. Estimates suggest it will be three hours more. The Undersecretary is stuck on the wrong side of the cut. "Someone go get him," an official shouts.

12:30 pm—I take a break at home. Fall asleep and miss the balloons, the cake, and the party at the Warehouse Restaurant.

3:30 pm—The sub is resting too. It looks huge in the teeny man-made channel. People are watching silently. Something big has almost happened.

4:10 pm—Exhausted volunteers are gathering back at Command Central. The sub needs to be refloated, later. It’s going to be difficult, but eventually the thing will move the last few yards to its final resting place. There are two cases of beer, but few takers. People are happy, but pooped.

4:20 pm—Heading home. A lady pulls up in her car. "Have you heard anything about a big submarine being moved?" I point down the road. Albacore’s first tourist has arrived. 

Copyright © by J. Dennis Robinson, All rights reserved.

OUTSIDE LINK: Official USS Albacore web site

READER RESPONSE

I read the Albacore story with interest. I wasn't there that day, but I was there for several hours the night before as the crews struggled mightily to move the sub with huge earthmoving vehicles and pumps struggling to raise the water level in the trench. I stayed until they gave up for the night. It was getting cold outside. I think that it might have been close to midnight when they gave up. I didn't have a jacket with me but always keep an old army blanket in my truck which I wrapped around my shoulders to keep warm. It was quite a spectacle with huge flood lights on the scene. As in the version you printed, there was spoken fear of the cables snapping as they drew tighter and tighter. The diesel engines roared but still couldn't budge the sub from the muck.
Ryan Thomson
 

 

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