Welcome Aboard, Sir! The continuing saga of NR-1

NR-1 Docked

After doing its part for the NATO project AFAR – helping to place Acoustic towers beneath the waters surrounding the Azores – NR-1 and her crew headed back to her home port in Groton, Connecticut. In its short time afloat, NR-1 had gone from being “Rickover’s Rubber Duck” to a full-fledged part of the Navy’s submarine service.

NR-1’s first crew had dealt with her trials and tribulations with eagerness, ingenuity, and professionalism. They had shared something few could ever claim, but as the old adage says: all good things must come to an end. In the words of one her crew, “they had been present at the creation, but the NR-1 was not their property…and their role, like it or not, was done.” They departed, one-by-one, heading out down their individual paths.

Dwaine Griffith, the CO of NR-1, was replaced by a young Naval Academy graduate, Toby Warson. Warson was considered to be, by many, an up-and-coming sailor that possessed a golden ticket. He was bound for an outstanding, highlighted career, of that they were sure. He accepted the billet of NR-1’s second command, never having heard of the ship or its missions. Warson underwent training for his command on NR-1 at the Prospective Commanding Officers School, but nothing could truly prepare him for the adventures and trials he was about to undergo aboard the Navy’s smallest and secret submarine.

Unfortunately for Warson, he didn’t have to wait long. Warson’s first mission aboard NR-1 was a standard run up the Narragansett Bay. NR-1’s navigational issues had remained with her from the Azores and her crew used this benign mission to try to sort out the bugs. It was during one of the tests of the transponders attached to the bottom side of the sub that NR-1 and her crew encountered one of the worst things that can happen to a submarine.

At 1,000 feet down, NR-1 was far below the Nor’easter that was bearing down on the Atlantic. While the waves tossed and turned her support ship, the Sunbird, the little orange sub was riding unaffected near the bottom of the ocean. While the ride was smooth, the storm had churned up the bottom and with faulty equipment the crew of the NR-1 was unaware of the danger that lay ahead.

Becuase their navigation equipment working less than perfectly, the crew did not see the line floating in the water, until they ran into it. The line was attached to a large, wire fishing cage that had been sitting on the bottom, haphazardly cut loose by its owner. As NR-1 unknowingly passed by the cage, the line became sucked into the number one thruster and quickly became entangled. NR-1 was caught and tied like a steer in a rodeo. Having signed off communication with the Sunbird, (and eleven hours before the next scheduled communication), NR-1 was tethered to the bottom of the ocean floor with no means of getting help. Their hands were literally and figuratively bound.

NR-1 bow thrusters
An example of NR-1’s bow thrusters.

Warson and his relatively green crew ran through the possible options: they could drop the tons of lead they carried, in an effort to surface – too risky as it was unknown as to what was above them; they could blow the ballast tanks – but that might leave them dangling stern-up, which might cause the reactor to shutdown, leaving them power-less. It was determine that their best and safest option was to try to cut through the snagged line, using the articulated manipulator arm, which only contained a dull claw. Crew member, Jack Maurer “worked for three hours in an effort to gnaw through the one-inch thick, barnacle encrusted propylene line before it finally gave way.” Freed, NR-1 continued its mission.

The navigation computer issues would continue to plague the NR-1, “locking up unexpectedly with the underwater guidance system freezing and all data-gathering functions ceasing.” It would cripple the NR-1 whenever it occurred. The problem was finally diagnosed to be an issue with the Time of Mission counter used by the ship while on the bottom. Due to a coding flaw, that used a single number designation for the year, the computer had no way of determining the date once the calendar turned to 1970 – a haunting antecedent of the ill-perceived Y2K problem that would plague the world 30 years later.

With the computer problem fixed and the crew escaping yet another tribulation essentially unscathed, Warson couldn’t help but wonder what the little submarine had in store for him next.

Note: Information for this article was garnered from Dark Waters by Lee Vyborny and Don Davis. The book is available in our Museum Store which can be found on our website sflma.org.
The image of the depiction of NR-1’s bow thrusters comes from fxmodels.com.