HNSA Crest with photos of visitors at the ships.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS FOR THE HISTORIC NAVAL VESSEL

Russell Booth, Manager, USS Pampanito (Deceased)

Disasters, by definition, are sudden misfortunes that potentially endanger life or property. The historic naval vessels located in the United States and Canada all face a variety of potential disasters. Some are unique to their location and weather patterns, while others are common to all vessels.

Historic ships have experienced the sudden misfortunes usually associated with extreme forces of nature, such as hurricane Hugo hitting the ships at Patriot's Point in South Carolina and the Loma Prieta earthquake causing losses to the USS Pampanito (SS-383) in San Francisco. Disasters, however, can also result from less dramatic causes than violent windstorms, such as failing or inadequate moorings, or the lack of preventative maintenance or worker safety programs. The keys to protecting life and property in the event of a disaster are knowledge of what can happen, preparation, and staff training.

This study shall focus on the experiences of USS Pampanito. Pampanito is berthed in a difficult location, both in terms of harsh marine environment and the potentially extreme forces of nature. During the ten years Pampanito has been open to the public she has faced constant winter storm surges, a massive "one hundred year event" wind storm that caused the submarine to smash against the pier damaging both the pier and the submarine, and an earthquake that caused the loss of Pampanito's support facility and gift shop. Hopefully, by discussing in detail the specific problems encountered by Pampanito, this chapter will be of value to other historic naval vessels facing potential disasters.

When Pampanito was opened in 1982, the mooring system was designed around a unique situation. Pampanito is moored along San Francisco's northern waterfront to an aging municipal pier unprotected by a natural estuary or breakwater. The pier is located at the top of the San Francisco peninsula facing northwest into the entrance to the Bay, the Golden Gate. Storms that approach from a northerly direction hit the submarine broadside at full force.

To compound the problem, Pampanito is moored near an existing seaway used by ferry boats. Outboard pilings to hold the boat away from the pier are not possible because they would block the seaway. As a result, a system of off-shore anchors was used instead. Other factors included a strong surge from wind driven waves and passing ships, and a nine foot difference between the tides during the winter. A mooring system had to be designed that would accommodate all of these variables.

The first winter was an eventful one, with one severe storm after another. The mooring system was designed to be permanent, using wire rope and heavy chain to withstand the forces mentioned. It was found that when the submarine started moving with the surge caused by this unusually strong series of storms, the pull on the shoreside moorings required a fiber component to absorb the sudden shock to the lines.

Wire rope was still needed on the shoreside bollards so that the submarine could not be casually cast off by someone passing by. Doubled rope pennants made of seven-inch-circumference synthetic material with steel thimbles at each end were added to the system. These were used for the headline, stern line, and breastlines. The spring lines were made completely of fiber line and are quickly adjustable during maximum tidal variances. Two inch chain was used at the bow and stern to add a catenary weight and to act as preventers in case the regular moorings failed. Finally, rubber or canvas was added to all points of chafe to protect the lines from wear. By the end of the first winter an effective system to deal with the many variables had been developed.

A twenty-four hour watch was set up consisting of three shifts, day, swing and grave, so that Pampanito was under a watchful eye at all times. It was found that when a problem developed it was not always on the day shift and that it was critical to have control of the submarine around the clock. A regular monitoring and maintenance program to keep the lines in proper working order was then implemented. All moorings are inspected carefully at the beginning of each shift and their condition is logged. Line and chaffing gear are replaced as needed and all wire rope is regularly coated with grease to prevent internal corrosion which could cause failure of the lines. Finally, a program of training the crew in how to safely handle and adjust the lines was established.

The reason this system is described in detail is that under "normal" conditions the original system was fine, but during the extraordinary conditions of the first winter it was found to have deficiencies. By adding fiber line to the wire rope and chain system, we added a shock absorbing element to lessen the force to the wire rope and the cleats on the submarine and pier. As a result of constant maintenance, the system is kept in working order.

There was another problem that did not reveal itself until a large storm system hit the Bay Area in 1988. On December 15, a freak wind storm, now being called a "hundred year event," approached Pampanito broadside. Winds were clocked at the San Francisco airport at over one hundred miles an hour, causing huge surges across the Bay. Pampanito was hit hard by surge after surge; some were seen breaking over the top of the main deck.

By four o'clock in the morning, the offshore anchors were beginning to move and the submarine moved closer to the pier. Emergency plans were activated. All hands were called to respond to the crisis and backup mooring lines were laid out and made ready for use. Before dawn the crew had arrived and the gangway had been removed. Tires and large timbers were used as fenders against the pier while we waited for the storm to subside. Instead of tapering off, however, the storm grew in intensity and Pampanito started to hit the pier with increasing force. At that point tugboats were called to pull Pampanito away from the northern waterfront to a more sheltered berth. While the crew waited for the tugs to arrive, the fender piles along the pier broke away as the submarine started to take out the pier itself. Pampanito's superstructure below the conning tower was being crushed as the submarine pushed against the pier.

When the tugs arrived the moorings were let loose and the chains to the offshore anchors were removed with a cutting torch. But the storm had reached such an intensity that the tugs were unable to hold Pampanito away from the pier. The emergency lines sent out to the tugs, made of three inch diameter synthetic fiber, snapped in half. Finally, the crew was able to free the sub and slowly pulled her stern around into the wind and headed for the shelter of the old Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. By the time Pampanito was removed from the pier there was over a quarter of a million dollars in damage to the pier and $180,000 in damages to the submarine.

Although Pampanito suffered substantial damage during this storm, its effects were greatly diminished due to the lessons learned in dealing with previous storms. The twenty-four hour watch detected the problems as they developed and took the steps necessary to get an emergency crew together at four o'clock in the morning. Tugboats to move the submarine and a crane to remove the gangway at any time were located in advance. Emergency back-up mooring lines were spliced up and made ready at the beginning of the winter so that they were readily available when they were needed. Emergency equipment such as fenders, a burning torch, and the tools we needed to remove the moorings, were also immediately available. Safety equipment such as life jackets and safety belts were also on hand. Training the crew in potential emergencies paid off and no one was hurt during what turned out to be a very dangerous situation. We had planned for what we thought could be the worst danger to the submarine, and it had happened.

The original mooring system was designed to withstand sixty-knot winds; this was, by most calculations, more than enough to hold up to the sometimes harsh weather on the Bay. Pampanito had been through several substantial storms, but a storm of this magnitude is extremely rare in San Francisco, and was not anticipated. A new offshore mooring system was needed to accommodate "hundred year events," if that was possible.

While the submarine was in the shipyard for repairs, a new mooring system was developed and installed. The original offshore mooring system consisted of two long lengths of two-inch chain running out ninety feet, one on the bow and one on the stern, to five-ton anchors set deep into the Bay floor. The new system consists of two chains, bow and stern, running out from the sub passing through a five-ton reinforced concrete surge block. The chains then branch out to two five-ton anchors on each chain. The theory is that when the boat surges against the chains the shock is absorbed as the surge block is lifted. This system has so far been very effective in preventing the anchors from moving.

Insurance coverage was also reevaluated at this time. Insurance on the hull of the submarine was suggested by our contract with Naval Sea Systems Command. The amount was based on the fair market value of the submarine if she were scrapped, about $150,000. This was felt to be too low once it was seen how fast extensive damage could occur. The amount of insurance on the hull was increased to five million dollars following the big storm.

The Loma Prieta earthquake was a very sudden disaster, fifteen seconds, that affected the entire Bay Area, but the loss it caused Pampanito was not felt until a few days later. Although steps had been taken against possible earthquake damage, such as anchoring the base of our gangway and pierside exhibits, there was no way to prepare for the loss we were to suffer.

During the earthquake, no damage was done to the submarine or the visitors, although they all had trouble standing up on the pier during the shake. The building adjacent to the submarine housed the workshop, office, and storage space. The building itself, which is supported on piles driven into the bedrock, survived intact. The floor of the building, however, is partially situated on landfill that liquefied during the earthquake causing portions of the floor to collapse and split open.

Several days after the earthquake we were informed that the building was unsafe and the support facility must be relocated until repairs could be made. We were forced to close the submarine to the public and we remained closed for two months, during which time surveys were done to evaluate the future of the building. When Pampanito reopened, we were not allowed to use the interior of the building and had to shift maintenance operations to the exterior of the pier. The gift shop had to be closed so that the space could be used as a workshop. The extensive library of submarine books was moved to the main business office, and spare parts and artifact storage was moved to a nearby pier. Plans that were being developed for a museum next to the submarine had to be put on the back burner.

Because Pampanito's library, business records, and artifacts were stored ashore in separate locations we did not have to provide for their protection as part of plans for the vessel. There are many ships, however, that keep these items on board. Potential damage from fire, smoke, oil fumes and water should be factored in to where these items are stored and emergency plans that are developed. The loss of business records, for example, could have a disastrous effect on the operation of a historic vessel. Damage to artifacts and documents would also be a great loss.

Although the earthquake was a disaster of great magnitude, the effects it had on the operation of the submarine were indirect and there was no real way to prepare for them. Two months of operation were lost because access to pier was damaged, and that was something out of our control. During the period the submarine was closed we looked at several alternate sites to locate the submarine and found none suitable. Since then we have gone back into operation and continue to examine possible alternate berthing sites in case we are ever forced to relocate.

Another potential problem, loss of Pampanito's watertight integrity, is a less sudden type of disaster than an earthquake, but potentially devastating nevertheless. When Pampanito was opened to the public in 1982, over thirty years had elapsed since her last haul out. A series of surveys of the vessel was undertaken to establish the condition of the submarine so that a plan of action could be implemented. It was decided to put the vessel in dry dock for new coatings on the underwater hull and to survey Pampanito in greater detail. Following the shipyard haul out a preventative maintenance program was established which included regular five-year haul outs, regular monitoring of through hull fittings, and regular maintenance of several problem areas on the hull, machinery and onboard systems.

Problems affecting the integrity of the hull and the machinery develop slowly and are often difficult to detect. Drydocking and repairing a large vessel is very expensive. Financial planning for shipyard repairs as problems develop, rather than waiting for a crisis situation to develop, is the best approach to solving these problems. No vessel should remain in the water year after year without a regular haul out schedule and a preventative maintenance program.

The plans developed to prepare Pampanito for potential disasters are simply stated, although they are not usually simple to execute. Expect and, more importantly, plan for the worst that can happen. Emergency equipment must be readily available. Emergency and safety procedures must be instilled in all crew members. Insurance coverage should be examined carefully to make sure that the coverage is adequate and specific to the potential dangers in a given location. The condition of the vessel must be accurately surveyed and constantly monitored. And, finally, long range financial planning for maintenance and repairs is essential.

Return to HNSA Operations Handbook Home Page

 

Copyright © 1997-2007, Historic Naval Ships Association.
All Rights Reserved.
Legal Notices and Privacy Policy
Version 3.00