The "Sinking of U.S.S. Spruance"

May 31st, 2004  
Mark Conley

Topic: The "Sinking of U.S.S. Spruance"

Some things are stranger than true....

One of the stories I remember most from Ingalls Shipbuilding occurred when I was working out there as an chipper's apprentice helper (I know you guys are saying “an apprentices helper?” this title has a fascinating story all its own. It was derived for summer help working their way through college because Ingalls was a Union workplace.

Ingalls had received the navy contract to build the Spruance Class (DD 963) destroyers. They finally, after much struggle, heartache, and toil had the namesake ship off the ways, and into the water. This was a very big event for the Mississippi people.

Pascagoula Mississippi does not have an extremely deep nor wide harbor that permits the normal launching by sliding the ship down the ways stern first, as most traditional shipyards do. Instead, a novel L shaped floating dry-docks takes ships off the construction ways. The dock is constructed of multiple sections that permit it to handle ships of different sizes. Once the dock is assembled for the ship it will handle, it is entirely pumped free of water, and the floor without the L side is made level with the skid rails that hold the ship in its construction cradle. The ship is wheeled, as one unit, into the dock, which is then towed to the deepest part of the harbor, flooded, and the ship floats off. It is a cautious launching however: the dry-dock remains under the ship until it is proven the hull remains water free for at least 24 hours, and then the ship is released to the completion docks.

The dock is also used to lift the ship out of the water for last minute adjustments to its propellers, sonar dome and the outer hull accruements. It was during one of these events that the following story is related.

Spruance had passed all its sea trials and was within 30 days of being accepted by its US Navy dock crew, in preparation for its commissioning into the fleet. A few last minute repairs were need in the ships rear engine room. Well everything needed a little tweaking you see.

One of the welders assigned to the engine room needed to have some form of gas piped into the engine room to complete a rather large welding repair. Rather than snake a gas line all the way through the superstructure to the bottom on the ship…he decided to cut two holes, one through the inner and outer hulls to get his line through. And that’s what he did. Being a welder, he thought that all he had to do was to re-weld the holes shut after he was finished doing his work.

Well 3:30 Friday came. He secured his tools and left, prepared to close and finish the job on Monday. Well, the dock had other plans. Seems like they were scheduled to lower the ship back in the water on Friday night. And no one knew about the two holes that penetrated the bottom…

Well from 11 PM Friday to 7 AM Saturday…that water filled up the engine room. Fortunately, the room was secured for sea, as they say. The watertight doors leading to this particular room was closed, and dogged (Navy term for the additional hand moved lever fasteners being in place, that drives the door harder against the seal.). The first man who attempted to open the room had the foresight to see something was wrong. When he undogged the door, and was about to turn the central hand wheel to release the door, he noticed seepage starting from around the seal. He had the presence of mind to re-dog the door, and notify the on board safety staff. They then looked at the situation by coming in from above the engine room, and just about sh*t when they saw the room half flooded.

The launching pontoon was raised immediately. When the ship broke the surface , it wasn’t hard to see the stream of water shoot from the hull where the hose went in.

There were only two blessings associated with this problem: 1. The water was only brackish, being a river estuary where the river flows out to sea, and not fully salty as it could have been. 2. The immersion time was less than 2 days. Immersion in high content salt waters for greater than 2 days will just tear hell out of the engine and associated electrical components due to the potential corrosion that develops.

The first thing they had to do was rinse the room down with unsalted water. This they did, with fire hoses and such, and were able to get rid of the majority of the corrosion inducing salt. Then it was a check by check of all the associated wiring and system. Most of the wiring was encased in cable races that were protected from immersion, so the electrical wasn’t effected as it could. But the engine…sheesh. These were gas turbine engines. Kind of similar to the Navy J-79 jet aircraft engine, except they were adapted for slower speed operations. Water had got in the engine big time.

The other thing that couldn’t be over looked was all the wall insulation. This room had wall to wall fiberglass insulation that had all become saturated, and it all had to be replaced. This meant that thousands of little, round stainless steel knobs had to be unscrewed, the outer fabric removed, the inner insulation removed, replaced, and then it all had to be re-screwed back together.

Well the Mississippian’s weren’t one to back away from a fight. They had three weeks to get everything dried out, replaced or repaired. Then it all had to re-pass the quality control checks (QC) and the Navy QC checks, before the boat could be accepted for commissioning.

They put every person that installed insulation in the yard on that job. They totally replaced all the insulation, normally a 4-week job, in three days. The engines, electrical, and everything else were dried, repaired or re-conditioned in a week. In just under three weeks, everything was back to normal in that engine room. Even the two holes cut in the ship were welded, X-rayed, and finished to the original specifications. The QC checks on all the subsystems were completed in the final week. Finally, the last test, a restart of the engines, was accomplished, and everthing was back to normal.

The ship was delivered to the Navy, as promised, and she commissioned on schedule. Now, the story went to the men who sailed her that their ship would be forever blessed: having sunk once, she’d never sink again. So far, I haven’t heard of the U.S.S. Spruance ever having a real major malfunction from that point on.

Oh yes. What happened to the Welder you ask? Well, he wasn’t fired…but once he got the calls from all the guys that had to clean up his mess…he wisely decided it was time to go to work at another shipyard.
May 31st, 2004  
Well he sounded like a very innovative problem solver to me, I don't know what the problem was.

June 6th, 2004  
Poor felow didnt meant anything bad...........but almost sank the ship
February 10th, 2007  
Road to hell is paved with good intentions.
February 10th, 2007  
Team Infidel
Good intentions, but still the road to hell ....
February 14th, 2007  

Originally Posted by bulldogg
Road to hell is paved with good intentions.
or the trip to the bottom.
February 14th, 2007  
Lmao ^^^