With Michigan settled on the keel blocks – but even before the dry dock was empty of water – the area came alive with machinery and personnel as life lines and “kickboards” were made secure to ensure the safety of personnel working on top of the ship. Crane operators and riggers worked steadily through the day to deliver various “job boxes” to Michigan’s deck in preparation for her upcoming refit.
During 20 years of dry-docking submarines at Bangor, IMF has had a perfect safety record, which can be attributed to the training, careful planning, and cumulative experience of the team of Docking Officers, Dock Masters, shop foremen, tug masters, and Sailors responsible for bringing the boats in safely.
“We’ve had 200 safe dockings due to strict adherence to policy and the extensive training each worker receives. The docking evolution is very dynamic, and although docking instructions provide standard procedural steps, it can’t be a paint-by-numbers,” said LTJG Steve Terreault, the Docking Officer.
“Tide, current, and wind determine the parameters for a safe docking,” said Tom Germaine, the waterfront services general foreman. “We need winds less than 35 knots sustained to operate the cranes safely, a tidal height of plus five feet or greater, and a flood tide of a half knot or less, but no ebb tide. The stronger the current, the harder it is to manage the boat,” Germaine continued. “Generally, we have two opportunities to dock a boat per day. If we miss the first, we’ll only have one other chance that day usually, and it can occur at any time of the day or night,” he concluded.
Tide tables are based largely on the phases of the moon, but timely calls must be made on what the tides, winds, and currents are actually doing on the day of the docking. The Hood Canal has a huge tidal swing, making docking and undocking evolutions unique and tricky for IMF’s Docking Officer and Dock Master. Once these men have predicted the best time to perform an evolution, Submarine Squadron 17 (CSS-17) finally determines when the boat will be moved.
To prepare the dock for Michigan, however, the shipwrights of Shop 64 had only about 30 hours available after undocking USS Pennsylvania (SSBN-735) shortly before. Between dockings, the blocks may need to be moved for maintenance, and in any event must be reconfigured for the next boat, since each sub has its own “signature” and keel-block plan due to undulations in the hull and the maintenance planned for her. The keel blocks are centered to support the weight of the submarine, while additional side blocks are positioned to steady it laterally against wind and ground forces, including even earthquake motion.
The dry-dock was built to withstand an earthquake rated at 8.0 on the Richter scale, and its design and structural engineering won the American Consulting Engineers Council Outstanding Achieve-ment Award in 1980. “The earthquake Kitsap County sustained two years ago caused no damage to the dry dock or to the submarine sitting in it at that time,” explained Germaine. “The blocking system in place here worked just as it was designed to.”
The Delta Pier complex is built on pilings and includes two refit piers and the dry dock itself. The dry dock is one of the largest ever built by the Navy and is the deepest cellular cofferdam dry dock in the world, constructed by driving interlocking steel cells into the bed of the Hood Canal and filling them with gravel as a solid buffer. It is also the only dry-dock constructed offshore, due to the need not to interfere with yearly salmon runs.
There are about 40 people involved on the day of the docking to ensure that the submarine gets on the blocks safely. Terreault, a Phoenix, Arizona, native, is one of three qualified IMF Docking Officers who are responsible for the safe movement of the vessel into the facility. The Docking Officer is also the individual who determines officially when responsibility for the safe conduct of the boat transfers from the submarine commanding officer to the IMF Docking Officer. This occurs when the extremity of the boat first crosses the dock sill, and the ship is lined up for entering the basin. The Docking Officer then contacts the submarine’s commanding officer through the pilot: “Captain, this is the Docking Officer. The ship’s bow has crossed the sill. The ship is now under my control.” From then on, it’s the Docking Officer’s show. Only after the dock is dewatered and the submarine is settled safely on the blocks does the commanding officer of the boat again assume responsibility for his ship.
General foreman Tom Germaine is responsible for day-to-day operations on the waterfront, with the Dock Master, Brian Farr, coordinating boat movements. Germaine, an IMF Plank Owner, arrived at IMF in October 1980, two years before the arrival at Bangor of the first TRIDENT submarine, USS Ohio (SSBN-726). He was at IMF for the very first dry-docking, and over the last 20 years, he’s been involved in nearly every docking and undocking evolution. His team of riggers (Shop 72A) handle the lines and bring the boats in; the Crane Operators (Shop 02A) lift and move loads in and out of the dry-dock; and the shipwrights (Shop 64A) build up and arrange the keel blocks. Meanwhile, the Pump Room employees (Shop 25D), four stories below, are operating all the pumps and the actual dry-dock system under direction of a supervisor alongside the dock during the procedure.
Working topside on the submarine are some of the ship’s crew and the IMF ship superintendent assigned to the incoming boat. Often, several chief petty officers will also be working on their qualifications as mooring officers. In addition to the crew of the incoming submarine, CSS-17 sends an additional 20 to 25 Sailors to assist with line handling. On the water, guiding the vessel safely, you’ll also find tugboat operators and IMF personnel assisting with small boats known as Log Broncs.
The entire operation takes about seven hours, and once safely on her blocks, the submarine will undergo an 18 to 22-day availability for repairs, refurbishment, and replenishment. A TRIDENT submarine refit requires complex, intensive, and coordinated maintenance actions on nearly every system. Every code and shop in the IMF contributes, either directly or indirectly, to accomplishing the 40,000 man-hours of maintenance and preservation required for each refit of one of the eight TRIDENT submarines based at Bangor. These refits are designed to be incremental overhauls, conducted approximately three times a year for each TRIDENT boat. This innovative maintenance approach was developed originally for the TRIDENT fleet at Bangor, and was later used for the TRIDENTs based at Kings Bay, Georgia. This has paid significant dividends in enabling the Navy to keep the submarines at a high readiness level while minimizing extensive overhaul and shipyard time.
On 1 October 2002, IMF celebrated its 20th anniversary of performing TRIDENT refits. The Trident Refit Facility (TRF) – as the IMF was known prior to its consolidation with the Shore Intermediate Maintenance Activity, Everett – performed its first refit on Ohio in July 1982, prior to her first strategic deterrent patrol and only 15 months after TRF was established. Since that time, the facility has racked up more than 19.5 million man-hours of TRIDENT repair work. “As the primary customer of IMF, our TRIDENT submarines have greatly benefited from the broad spectrum of talented employees located there,” said the Commander of Submarine Group 9, RADM Bruce Engelhardt. “They have done a superb job for us since the arrival of USS Ohio. IMF personnel continue to meet the challenge of maintaining our submarines so that they can remain deployed at sea 70 percent of the time.”
“A TRIDENT submarine dry-docking is a sight to behold!” said CAPT Peter Ozimek, IMF’s Commanding Officer. “Our docking availabilities are the most intensive of all our normally high tempo availabilities. It is inspiring to see the IMF team come together and orchestrate a multitude of complex jobs to completion in such a short time window. This is only possible because of the quality, experience, professionalism, and tenacity of the workforce. I am very proud of them,” he concluded.
“I continue to be impressed with the ability of the IMF to successfully operate the Bangor Delta Dry Dock at the high pace necessary to execute the Trident Maintenance Plan, said CAPT Timothy Giardina, Commander, Submarine Squadron 17. “Executing this plan implements an incremental overhaul approach, which requires frequent dry-docking of our TRIDENT Submarines to do major maintenance. As a result, the TRIDENT force maintains the highest platform operating tempo (OPTEMPO) of any ships in the U.S. Navy. This is also reflected in the fact that the Bangor dry dock is one of the most heavily loaded docking facilities in the world. This superb capability is one of several major assets that enable us to perform our strategic deterrent mission with fewer submarines than would be needed if we operated under typical Navy deployment schemes. The incredible safety and efficiency record – in spite of the high pace of operations – is a great testament to the dedication and professionalism of the entire IMF team.”
Katie Eberling is the Command Information Officer for Naval Intermediate Maintenance Facility, Pacific Northwest.