Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Docent Duty

  • A lecturer or tour guide in a museum.
Back last spring I posted an entry called Volunteer for the Soviet Submarine Service!!! where I solicited help in restoring an old cold war adversary the K-77 in Providence, RI. I haven't blogged any about my experience at the Juliett, affectionately known as the "Rusty Rusky", but I thought it was about time I added some thoughts and observations.

Juliett 484 (K-77) Museum dock Providence, RI

What I'm interested in describing is my impromptu enlistment as docent and submarine artifact, the people I've meet and the friends I've made while volunteering during the spring and summer.

First is the Rhode Island Base of the USSVI Submarine veterans organization. After visiting the Juliett museum last year I found this group of brothers of the phin and joined their organization. I feel like a n.u.b. being the only T-hull sailor amongst men with experience going back to WWII but I'm also honored to be a part of such fine group of people. Our January meeting is coming up tomorrow and it's on the Juliett. Should be like being in the shipyard again, meeting in a construction trailer while it's cold as a witch's tit outside. All before going down to the boat to talk about repairs and maintenance.

During the spring and summer I put in a small part of my weekends volunteering on the Juliett. That's when I met Ric Hedman, the manager of the Juliett museum during the summer season. Ric is a submariner, past USSVI base Commander of Seattle base and author of the best collection of 1900 to 1940 submarine photos on the web Through The Looking Glass. Ric also helped restore the Foxtrot Class Russian boat now a museum in San Diego. He taught me a lot about the way the Russians designed and built their boats.

I volunteered to get my hands dirty and learn what I could about the Russian sub. It's been a kick to have free run on something that was so mysterious when I was on active duty twenty five years ago. Even though Ric wanted to get things cleaned and fixed on the "Rusty Rusky" he always emphasized that it was a museum and most customers were looking to tour a submarine despite the lineage, hence my enlistment as occasional docent.

Most of the time I would be working on board when someone on a tour, guided or self guided, would stop by and start asking me questions. The usual tourist questions about the sub, how big, how deep, how fast, at sea how long, crew complement, weapons, etc. But occasionally the first question would be "What boats were you on?" - Alert One, Alert One another bubblehead or submarine enthusiast is on board - this pushbutton's bilge therapy session is done for at lease an hour! Don't get me wrong I found these to be the most enjoyable conversations.

There's a rundown of the people that fit the submarine enthusiast category:

Former enlisted sailors from a variety of 41 for freedom Boomers, 637 and 688 Fast Attacks. A-Gangers, NavETs and Sonar Techs always looking at the little details and shaking their heads in disbeilef at the way the Russians did things.

A former Officer who was an XO on a T-AG ship and worked on the SOSUS system back in the 70's. For some reason he was interested in the sonar shack and the sub's propulsion system.

Yardbird on loan to EB from NNS looking for the reduction gears (his bailiwick). Sad to say the Juliett has a direct drive system, although he wasn't disappointed and was bringing back a co-worker the next day.

A former mustang Navigator who served on two Boomers and started as a NavET.

A military family of a former Sub driver dad, F-14 Tomcat driver son and two DOD employed daughters.

A family of boat sailors, father was a retired A-Ganger, son number 2 was attending sub school and son number one was a Sonar Tech (SS) who had recently returned from the Russian AS-28 mini-sub rescue on the Kamchatka peninsula. Would have been interesting to have had a longer conversation with him about his Kamchatka adventure. All I remember him relating to me was he got some souvenirs and saw an Akula putting to sea.

Now for a couple of non-military tourist observations:

One interesting group was three of the crew from the schooner Amistad, sailing ship of the movie fame. They were interested in the historical aspects of the Juliett, where it had served, how it was acquired, etc. All but one old salt, he was busy reading all the Russian equipment labels. Turns out he was Bulgarian and I think the Engineer of the Amistad. I now know where the Kingston valve actuators are in the engine room.

I saw a number of young American men bringing Russian girls on dates to the "Rusty Rusky", what is up with that? Most of those Russian girls look fairly disinterested in the sub. I'm thinking if the tables were turned these guys would be thinking WTF if she dragged him off to a Russian beauty parlor filled with 1960's vintage American manufactured hair dryers.

I agree with what Ric the museum manager said to me once or twice, that having someone who had been there adds color and depth to the visitors experience. Since early November I've taken a break from being a Soviet Navy weekend warrior but plan on going back soon.

The Docent thing will be happening soon down the coast at the U.S. Navy Submarine Museum at the New London Sub Base as well. Currently all parts the Navy's Submarine Museum are self guided.

USS Nautilus (SSN 571) Museum dock Submarine Base New London, CT

People who have been to the U.S. Navy Submarine Museum before coming to the Russian Juliett have commented that the quality of the Museum was excellent but it lacked the personal touch the docents gave the Juliett. This from last weeks New London Day article "U.S. Navy Submarine Museum To Do The Docent Thing"(registration now required view):

One of the most noticeable things about walking through the
U.S. Navy Submarine Force Museum is a layout designed to invite a
self-navigated tour of submarine history.

Which is fine — until visitors have a question.

And then the realization sets in that, outside of the employees in the
museum store, there really isn't anybody around to supply any answers.
It's a concern that retired Capt. Mike Reigal, the museum's executive
director, hopes to remedy with the implementation of a volunteer docent

“It puts a real human face on the museum,” Reigal said. “There are times
one can walk into the museum and not see anybody, except for other
visitors. It kind of depersonalizes the whole thing.”

The Groton base of the U.S. Submarine Veterans has about 20 members volunteering for this new docent program. Looks like an opportunity to defect or maybe become a double agent?
нет, камрад!


CobraCOB said...

As one unfortunately quite familiar with these pigboats.....I spent 3 years overseeing a Foxtrot restoration, inventing and building parts to replace missing, translating, repainting valve handles to correct system color (550 of them, and wasn't done yet).

Dealing with leaks, making and installing blank-off plates, organizing work parties.
And the tours.

Activate the Diving Alarm while rigging Control for red and shouting "Dive! Dive!" and watching kids clear the deck....
"Lighting off the diesels"......fingers in ears.....finding a dozen LOADED countermeasures containers, working for a year to get rid of them......

Been to the Juliett twice, figuring out systems, getting needed ones back on-line.

Got a work list for her.

Ah, nothing like the Enemy's Boats.....

7/8" hull, 975 foot test depth, frames outside the hull.......

It's a hoot.
Do it.

Formerly known as....CobraCOB

Lubber's Line said...

CobraCOB, Thanks for stopping by the blog.

Yep, remember tracing out some of the Juliett's potty water and service air systems with you just before you went back to the Seattle. You and Ric definitely got some Qual time in on the Foxtrot.

Hopefully you can make you way back to Providence when Ric is out here, you know, just to keep him honest.