Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Submarines Interacting With Idiot Civilians

Here's an interesting story from the St. Petersburg Times about a fishing boat that saw USS Georgia (SSGN 728 729) surface south of Key West. Excerpts:
The sub, wrote Navy Commander Patrick W. McNally in an e-mail, was being used for routine dive training to prepare "operators for possible missions overseas." McNally wouldn't share specifics "due to the sensitive nature of special operations."
Schermerhorn and Marlowe learned that when five boats stocked with machine guns approached. Men in sunglasses and black fatigues told them to move 2,000 yards away. Marlowe grabbed the boat's wheel. Schermerhorn held his camera.
"Due to my extensive knowledge of the sea and out of concern for our national security, I took many photographs," said Schermerhorn, 48. "It's my obligation and duty to investigate."...
...It was all a little too Tom Clancy for Marlowe, a self-proclaimed Georgia boy who wanted only to fish. But Schermerhorn, who called the sub's activity "suspicious," has kept digging. He contacted the U.S. Coast Guard, the FBI and the Monroe County Sheriff's Office with his story. He may write a book.
Well, it's clear that this guy is a serious goob. He reminds me of the idiot civilians who try to get really close to submarines when we're entering and leaving port (especially in San Diego). "We don't care about the Rules of the Road, we just have to get this picture", they'll say. "Why are you sounding your horn 5 times when we just want to get close and take a fun picture?" When I was on Topeka, one of those idiots actually hit us; luckily, the Coast Guard was right there to cite them (and hopefully take away their keys.)

Nowadays, we have people with guns on the sail (which we didn't back in the early 90s), and I think the idiots recognize that we will shoot them if they get too close. Have you ever been hit by an idiot civilian while on a sub, or come close to having to fire warning shots at them because they have to get close to get that picture?

Edited 1730 19 Jun to correct a typo in the hull number.


Blogger John Byron said...

Could always tell when a boat unfamiliar with San Diego was coming into port by her constant use of the ship's whistle. Those of us more familiar with local boating habits (including the Wednesday Beer Can Race, a zoo afloat) just went slow, no horn, and assumed that all small craft skippers we encountered were drunk.

6/19/2009 9:55 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Never had one run into us in San Diego but quite a few close calls.

A lot of MAD navy wives one time after Desert Storm. While we were pulling in we were met by a yacht filled with dancers from Pure Platinum. They were very willing to show their appreciation for our service. The wives were not too happy. It's good to be the topside supervisor!!!!!

6/19/2009 10:49 AM

Anonymous STSC said...

Have you ever been hit by an idiot civilian while on a sub, or come close to having to fire warning shots at them because they have to get close to get that picture?
Back on the 638 we had to turn the hoses on a Greenpeace smallcraft that refused to keep her distance. We were tied up to the San Jac at the time, and their hoses are alot bigger & have more pressure than ours. We completely swamped that little boat before they gave up. (No one was hurt)

If these guys were 30NM from land fishing & got to see a boat, bully for them as long as they stayed a safe distance away. Completely different story than a boat xiting to/from port on the surface dealing with coastal traffic.

6/19/2009 10:50 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

on the 22 we had a civilian Polar bear eat our rudder. No warning shot was fired. We just let Fred do his thing and then he left.

6/19/2009 11:09 AM

Blogger tennvol said...

@stsc: Sounds like we were shipmates.

6/19/2009 11:19 AM

Blogger phw said...

So they are going to write a book on this… Let’s see how this goes…

Little known to America are the brave men and women of the Key West Civilian Sea Patrol (KWCSEAP) who patrol Florida waters monitoring for suspicious infiltration. This is their story…

Cut to small fishing boat, half way to Cuba. Two fishermen sitting on the fantail, lines in the water sipping Miller light looking extremely glum.

“Hey Barney, we ain’t caught nothing today..”

“Shut up Gomer! My name is Dave, not Barney. And you’re name is Bryan. We’re undercover, remember!”, says Barney.

“Gol-ly, Barney -er- Dave we still ain’t caught… wait a minute, what’s that?”

Looking out over the sea, Barney and Gomer catch sight of an enormous submarine surfacing out of nowhere.

“I knew it!”, says Barney. “Those tricky Cubans are coming. Well they should know better than to mess with Deputy Fife!”

“I thought your name was Dave.” Said Gomer.

“Shutup Gomer!”, Barney breathed heavily. “They’re coming. I can see them in their little boats. Quick, get my bullet. It’s in my shirt over there. Get it quick!”


“GOMER! You lost my bullet! Now what are we going to do?”

The boats approached our heroes with machine guns. But brave Barney would not give ground to those aggressive intruders.

“You Cubans! I warn you—I am a dangerous weapon. I can kill you with my hands of steel. Go back to Cuba before I get mad. I am armed, you know!” hollered Barney.

“No you ain’t armed”, said Gomer.

“Shutup Gomer!”

Should be a best-seller.

6/19/2009 11:19 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Entering Sasebo (aboard the Last Real Cruiser) in '87 we had a crazy protester in a boat festooned with signs. He would holler through a bullhorn something incomprehensible ("Gaaaaaa!"; go? get out of here?), interspersed with a move to cut us off. Whether his intention was to make us dodge him or get hit by us, the escorting police boat would blam shove him off his intended heading.

Later, while anchored out, there was a similar-looking boat that circled us constantly. I could read through the Big Eyes that it was a harbor radcon testing boat, taking water samples.


6/19/2009 11:27 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Had a problem similar to Georgia's off Key West in '92ish. Same type ops, nice sunny days and clear water. The support boat had to chase the gawkers away before somebody got hurt.

6/19/2009 1:09 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

San Diego, early 90's-one Weds afternoon (Beer Can Races) had a wind-surfer planning to transit port to starboard between the topside waterline and the rudder. After a bullhorn yell he changed his mind!

6/19/2009 1:10 PM

Blogger montigrande said...

We spent a lot of time in that area on my last boat, it was one of those with that extra tube thingy on the back (DDS). The bottom and currents are interesting and its fun to watch the OOD exercise ship control at low speed and backwards. I’m surprised they didn’t see the guys in the black fatigues sooner, as we normally had escorts during our training missions. Brings back fond memories of making water and charging air banks, too bad they didn’t send the nukes some miller lite…

6/19/2009 1:13 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Submerged mine plant off Lahina Maui in late 74. Notice to Mariners out for two weeks to stay clear of the area due to Naval Exercise. Mk 57 mines configured to go to the bottom with couple minute delay of explosive separation device. Mine case then goes directly to the surface. Making turn #2 to start third row of mines. Mine cases coming up all over the place. Sport fishing boat spots our scopes and wants to get a close-up look-see. Nothing we could do. fortunately he sheers off in time and was not mined. He was very, very, lucky.

Keep a zero bubble.......


6/19/2009 2:17 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

After the Cole incident, anyone who approaches a warship without permission had best be prepared for an armed response. Ye gods.

6/19/2009 3:04 PM

Blogger Daniel Golding said...

Its Florida. Did anyone miss that?

6/19/2009 3:32 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

"After the Cole incident, anyone who approaches a warship without permission had best be prepared for an armed response. Ye gods."

And the first CO who shots up a pleasure craft in US inland waters may face manslaughter charges, with serious damage to the submarine force's reputation and future. This Rambo crap is no substitute for brains.

6/19/2009 3:33 PM

Blogger Jarrod said...

It sounds like Georgia surfaced in sight of the fishing boat and the guys took some pictures. Seems reasonable. Also, I don't know if they actually ordered them to move 2000 yards away, but if so someone needs an upgrade. The most we have a right to demand is 500.

Of course, these particular civs do sound like real idiots from their speech alone. Yikes.

6/19/2009 4:00 PM

Blogger Srvd_SSN_CO said...

CSL was specifically quoted as saying he would prefer one odd pleasure boater getting shot to taking any chances with something like the COLE. Uh huh. The ones that get in your way are stupid, not malicious. Go ahead, shoot one. Let's see how that plays. The whole thing is a no-win scenario.

6/19/2009 4:27 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is certainly a no-win scenario, but I would argue the case that the submarine force is best perceived and actually willing to shoot if circumstances so-warrant.

This is not a security issue where we'd want to be seen as weak. An actual 'Cole' scenario with a nuclear submarine would be something not soon forgotten.

We have smart guys and reasonably good security going for us, so this all is just common sense, not Rambo talking...but this is also not something to be complacent about, or overly wringing our hands over.

I do sense that there's a hole in security, if drunk small crafters are getting still too close in these times. Frankly sounds like we need better/tighter police/CG patrols during ingress & egress. We live in times too interesting to do otherwise.

6/19/2009 5:09 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree about idiot civillians. But lets not forget that they also have ownership of these vessels. We submariners are just the drivers.

6/19/2009 7:34 PM

Blogger John Byron said...

srvd-ssn-co: "CSL was specifically quoted as saying he would prefer one odd pleasure boater getting shot..."

And CSL is an idiot. But I repeat myself (Mark Twain).

CSL's is the sort of dumb comment proper to a thread about how the Navy picks flags — not always well, it seems. Somehow I suspect that a really sharp legal mind might find a modest flaw in preventive homicide.

6/20/2009 4:45 AM

Anonymous CAPT Deepdiver said...

Served CO,

Where/when did CSL make this comment? I can't see Jay Donnelly making it...he is too smart and too laid back. He may have been taken out of context in that losses are relative, but I seriously doubt he would ever condone taking out approching CIVCRAFT.

Ducky - don't just a man by one comment. There are other Flags whose daily action make you question the system.

6/20/2009 5:21 AM

Blogger John Byron said...

capt deepdiver:

My comment was on the comment and in general have always been well impressed by the guys we bring forward as TYCOMs.

Interesting defense, though: 'this ain't the only dumb thing these guys do.' Luvit.

6/20/2009 6:06 AM

Blogger Mike Mulligan said...

One of the most delightful thing I ever did in the Navy was having swim call off the coast of Florida with my submarine. We’d just stopped the ship right out in the middle of the ocean and they would call swim call. Have you ever had the pleasure of jumping or diving off the sails in blue warm waters? You guys got tiny sails now adays what a shame. It was a blast running off the round hull and jumping into the ocean. Couldn’t see land anywhere...was this sub doing that?

Nooo, they didn’t shoot me out the tubes or try to throw me off the boat at sea cause they couldn’t stand my big mouth...

6/20/2009 9:02 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anchored off Lahaina in 1990, we had a parasail boat come awfully close, but since the gal under sail was sans clothing and flashing us (no pun intended) "shaka," no one really complained.

6/20/2009 1:49 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always enjoyed coming back into San Diego. As the topside diver I had countless encounters with topless women on sailboats more than willing to wave hello.

6/20/2009 1:51 PM

Blogger Atomic Dad said...

Not going to argue Mulligan up there, just sounds made up to me. (this based on previous disbelief in anything he says)

Also, I doubt they were doing swim call.

On topic:

I believe the boat was just out training, as I have done similar on one of my previous boats.

As far as running the fishermen off. I'm not sure what the allowable requested buffer is (one person earlier quoted 500), but if the navy was trying to enforce more, that seems a little unreasonable. After all, these guys were just out fishing.

That being said, the navy has definite right to demand a buffer from other craft to the submarine. As far as shooting them, well... that would require a skipper to have a real fear of the craft being a threat.

I know coming in and out of SD a few years back, we had to get some help to keep boaters away. As it was July 4th holiday time period, I think the boaters had good intentions and were generally patriotic towards us.

Interesting story Joel. Thanks for providing it.


6/20/2009 1:55 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anchored off Avalon, Catalina in the 80's. First day there, we bombed Qadaffi...couldn't buy a drink in town that night...all were free! Next day the "fleet" of expensive boats arrived from LA, Long Beach, etc. Crew had a great time that night also! Next afternoon I had my "6 hours" of OOD at anchor watch. I was topside watching the rich boats start to leave Catalina. Most of them were coming VERY close to use and the women kept pulling up their tops. Couldn't figure out why until the Duty Chief told me to check out the DSRV. Some of the more "brilliant" enlisted had painted and attached a sheet sign saying "SHOW US YOUR TITS"! Boy did I get that down fast and thanked my lucky stars that a news helo or something didn't fly over! Was a great show though! :)

6/20/2009 3:35 PM

Anonymous SJV said...

If the guys were there first, no notice had been issued, and they didn't violate ROR or approach the sub, I don't see how they could be run off. OTOH, if a boat full of Seals with machine guns told me to leave, I'm pretty sure I would. There's a good chance that whatever notice is required was posted, also. Just from an international law standpoint, though, do we have the right to do that outside the 12 mile limit?

6/20/2009 3:37 PM

Blogger Jarrod said...


The 500 yards is what's called a Naval Vessel Protection Zone. It was established by US Code so it only applies in US waters. Typically it's enforced as part of a VHF hail to a contact, something like "Be advised we have a 500-yard NVPZ in effect, request you maintain outside 500 yards of me."
You can always call up guys and request they maneuver for a higher CPA, but out on the high seas you're just another ship. ROE almost always allows for self defense, but it's a really hard call to make. I'd hate to be the CO to have to pull the trigger.

6/20/2009 5:28 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

We had a nice little swim call off Waikiki a few years back, when this fancy yacht came by with some very pretty and very drunk girls. Of course they decided to jump in a swim with the sailors, but after awhile the alcohol took effect and they started drifting astern of the sail...hint..hint. As any good topside swimmer I assisted the damsels in distress and brought them aboard topside so they could catch their breath. Not to mention, the crew got some really good pictures. After a couple minutes the CO realized this wasn't a really good idea and we had to say farewell as we swam them back to their boat. What a great day.

6/20/2009 5:30 PM

Anonymous ssnret said...

693 had an experienced sail boater in the form of our ETCM. When we would leave a few guys in Rosie Roads for a day of ops, he would rent a boat and sail out to the surfacing area to look for the scope and head straight for it with all the wind he could catch.

This is the same ETCM who as the topside aft supervisor during RTP NOB, was asked “Masterchief, is that your wife?” and turned to see amongst the other sails his own boat with his wife at the wheel in company with several other boat wives chasing us past the carrier piers.

6/20/2009 8:41 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was pulling outa PCAN on PENNSYLVANIA in '99 and I'm on the bridge as OOD. Pretty day, bright with about a 25 knot breeze kickin' up a little white cap on the Florida coast. We're still between the breakwaters when the lookout and I spot a really fancy power cruiser headed north. From the geometry, looks like we're gonna meet at the end of the breakwater. As the situation progresses and the power cruiser's bearing moves right to our starboard beam, it's obvious that the pilot can't see the southern breakwater and he's headed directly for it full bore. As we clear the end of the breakwaters, the power cruiser slams into the south breakwater. You could hear the crunch, then a clank and a bang followed by a black cloud of smoke issuing from the stern of the cruiser.
We tried to warn the guy on bridge-to-bridge with no joy. I have no idea if the fella was lookin' to get "photo-op" close to a boomer but he certainly lost sight of where he was at. Really pretty boat. Must've been a 40 to 50 foot yacht.


6/22/2009 10:44 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

Scenario: 9/12/2001
OOD on 741 Blue heading out on scheduled patrol, but this time escorted to the dive point by a CG47. Pleasure craft was sitting right on our track. The cruiser hailed them on BTB and demanded to know what they were doing there.
Bubba on the small craft replied, "I'm just fishing..."
He was politely asked to fish somewhere else.
This was before the NVPZ rules had been formalized, of course.

6/22/2009 11:01 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not a sub but in in San Diego in the mid-80s we had a guy on a little hobiecat cut right under the stern of our LST. Guess he didn't know we had a stern anchor that projected a fair ways out from the transom. His rigging got tangled in the stern anchor and we dragged him until we were able to stop. Fortunately we were only doing about 5 knots at the time.

6/22/2009 2:57 PM

Blogger Atomic Dad said...


Thanks for the clarification. I now have a much greater understanding of where I've heard that 500 yards come from. It's nice to learn something new.


6/22/2009 8:48 PM

Anonymous Gunner said...

As midshipman (and USNR PO1) aboard a state merchant academy training ship in the summer of 1996 (well before any of this fancy ATFP stuff), we almost ended up "in extremis" with a boomer coming out of PCAN.

We were inbound. They were outbound. BTB call requested we (by name) alter course and reduce speed for an outbound US Navy submarine. Mate on watch ignored him. I (as senior Midshipman on watch) "suggested" he comply. His response to me was, in effect, "F-You and your F-ing Navy".

Couple of minutes go by. BTB call repeated. I make eye contact with one of my freshmen mids and he quietly slips off the bridge.

Couple more minutes go by. BTB call repeated again, now requesting a larger course change.

Master quietly slips onto the bridge. About this time, the BTB comes alive with a DEMAND that we radically alter course and come to a complete stop. Master looks a me. I "suggest" to the mate that we comply. He (not having seen the Master yet) starts to reply, "F-You and your..." when he sees the Master standing there...

We very quickly turned as requested and came to a stop. We stayed at "all stop" as the sub went by...

AFAIK, that Mate never stood watch without the Master on the bridge the entire rest of the cruise (a couple of months). He always seemed afraid of me after that, for some reason...

I'm sure the guys on the sub were starting to get concerned, but in the end, no harm, no foul...

Good times...

6/23/2009 6:24 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Schmermerhorn German for "tool"?


6/25/2009 4:06 PM


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