USS Portsmouth


















USS Portsmouth (SSN 707)

On September 18, 1982, the USS Portsmouth was launched at the Electric Boat Shipyard in Groton, Connecticut. A Los Angeles-class submarine, it had a length of 360 feet, measured 33 feet across the beam and weighed 6,000 tons. Impressive numbers, but on the inside it was an absolute mess. It was launched during its new construction phase, before it even had a full crew. The spaces down below were crammed with equipment to support the hundreds of welders, grinders, laggers and pipefitters who were building the boat. The crew at the time consisted mostly of nukes working out of a nearby barge. It was a war-vintage pile of junk that was nevertheless preferable to the noisy, grimy atmosphere that permeated the Portsmouth. Construction was finished during the next 9 months and in July 1983 the boat was put to sea for the first time with a lot of Navy top brass on board. The first dive was interrupted by a flooding emergency, which turned out to be the relief valve on Aux Tank 3. The packing on a freshwater pump later burned up, giving 15 or so officers the occasion to stand around and talk about it for a while. Other than that, things went smoothly.

The boat was commissioned on October 1, 1983, in its namesake city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Technically Portsmouth, Virginia, was also a namesake city and the boat did pay a port-call there, but the southern namesake never displayed the same enthusiasm as the northern namesake did. Three weeks later, the 707 happened to be on hand to support American military intervention in Grenada. The crew was awarded a medal for this service and a port-call in sunny St. Croix. Our luck ran out the next year when a scheduled port-call in Curacoa was canceled due to some fat cruise liner stealing our place at the pier. We sailed through Panama, raced down to the equator for a shellback initiation and arrived in our new homeport of San Diego in October 1984. Nine months later the Portsmouth set sail for its first full deployment in the Pacific. First stop was Hawaii, followed by a steamy week in Japan, another in the Philippines (really steamy) and last calls in Guam and Diego Garcia before a two-month patrol began in the Indian Ocean. The deployment was pretty routine. There were a lot of drills; some were fun ("Torpedo in the water!"), others not ("Fire, fire in the engine room!"). We played a lot of cards, critiqued a lot of films and ate a lot of powdered food. The underwater newspaper, the Blast, was in full circulation, much to the displeasure of the fat boys' club. After 58 days, we returned to Diego Garcia to make some phone calls, receive mail and eat real potatoes. We spent Christmas in Perth, Australia, where the temperature was in the 80s and the dinner was fried shrimp. New Year's found us steaming in the harbor of Suva, Fiji, and two weeks later we arrived in San Diego.

Thus began a long and distinguished cycle of patrols that lasted until the summer of 2004. The reactor core by then was spent but the money needed to refuel it was also spent, presumably on other military ventures abroad. And so the Portsmouth set off on its final voyage, sailing back through the Panama Canal nearly 20 years to the date after first steaming through, and docking in Norfolk for an inactivation ceremony lorded over by a former captain since promoted to admiral. From there she sailed to the shipyard in nearby Portsmouth and memory. Contact harmfm@gmail.com.