Andrew Karam’s RIG SHIP FOR ULTRA QUIET
Book Review by Dennis D. McDonald
What I don’t understand after reading Andrew Karam’s RIG SHIP FOR ULTRA QUIET is how a nuclear sub manned by habitually sleepless crewmembers could ever have been considered combat ready. People make mistakes when they’re fatigued and making mistakes while tracking an enemy sub could be lethal.
Karam tells about the last voyage of the 28-year-old Thresher class PLUNGER submarine assigned to spy on a Northern Pacific Soviet naval base in the closing days of the Cold War. The boat is tired and lacks many of the refinements of more modern vessels but the crew is dedicated, disciplined, and well drilled. But then there’s that habitual sleeplessness and fatigue that doesn’t make sense if the difference between life and death is split-second timing.
In the book we get details of food, living quarters, stealthy photography, endless drills and training exercises, and occasional levity. The main impression is one of isolation where, once you’re submerged, you’re on your own.
We also get a lot of mechanical details, like a blow-by-blow account of starting up the nuclear reactor and gradually heating water to generate turbine-spinning steam to create electricity. It’s a highly manual operation with many critical steps each of which must be performed precisely so — or else.
We also hear about a fire incident which is truly scary as we can sense not only the direct danger of the fire itself but also the impact on O2 and CO2 balance. Not fun when the CO2 scrubbing system is underperforming as was the case with the Plunger!
One also begins to understand the sense of patriotism and duty that drive someone to choose a career like this. Karam describes tedium, occasional terror and adventure, but no romanticism or sugarcoating. It’s a good read.
It makes one wonder about all the money, technology, and resources we continue to devote to these types of war-making resources.
Copyright © 2014 by Dennis D. McDonald