In the spring of 1972, journalist Patrick J. Sloyan of the San Antonio Light rode along with USS SAM RAYBURN (SSBN-635) for part of one of her deployments, then penned a series of pieces about life aboard the ballistic-missile submarine. What follows are excerpts from several of the articles.

From “How the Crew of a Nuclear Sub Battles Boredom in the Deep”:

“The water is blue and clear. We had a swim call. Some were fishing off the planes on the sail. One guy caught a dolphin [fish, also known as mahi mahi]. It flipped away from him, fell through the hatch and was quivering on the floor of the lower deck. Someone put up a sign below: ‘Beware of falling dolphins.’ ”

“As a rule, a submarine’s crew is healthy on patrol and the young physician aboard has little to do. One of them, an abrasive psychiatrist, decided to do research on the crew, replete with probing, embarrassing questions. One sailor confided plans for growing strawberries on the sunless patrol. He showed the psychiatrist a tray of dirt in a sea chest. For weeks the sailor reported fictitious progress of the strawberries to the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist was passing the sailor’s bunk one day on an inspection with the captain. ‘Say, show the captain your strawberry patch,’ the young doctor said. With the captain looking on, the sailor fixed a cold stare on the psychiatrist. ‘What strawberries?’ said the sailor, deadpan.”

“There are movies every day, twice on Sunday. Veterans aboard the Rayburn swear that they have seen at least twice every bad and good movie ever made—some of them run backwards as well as forward.”

“On some patrols, underground newspapers crop up to the delight of everyone. Fair game for parody is the Navy turmoil over approval of long [hair] styles. There is a published order, in perfect Pentagonese, noting that ‘powdered wigs’ will be permitted for a forthcoming ‘Spirit of ’76’ celebration.”

From “Boredom and Terror Run Deep with the ‘Sam Rayburn’ ”:

“While the Rayburn cannot send messages on patrol, it does receive them. Each member of the 124-man crew is entitled to four ‘family-grams’ per patrol—20 words to a message. Double meanings that slip by Navy censors in such messages are choice gossip on patrol.”

From “Drills for Emergencies Serious Business Aboard Nuclear Sub”:

“Midway in a patrol of more than two months on a missile-carrying submarine, the crew stages ‘Halfway Night Follies.’ Usually there is singing, solos on musical instruments and telling impersonations of the cast of characters aboard. Always a showstopper is the sailor who does comedian Bob Newhart’s routine about the submarine captain: ‘Men, when we surface tomorrow, we’ll be at either New York or San Francisco. I know it’s been a long cruise, but would you please return the executive officer.’”

From “Eerie Sounds Heard on Atomic Sub 400 Feet Down”:

“There are stories of eerie creaking noises when the Rayburn is deep, groaning like a haunted house under the tremendous pressures of the ocean deep. The boat is flexible, designed to give with the underwater pressures. Connect a string from one side of the hull to the other with a key in the middle, when the boat is on the surface. ‘When you get down deep, the key will sag as the metal [of the hull] gives,’ [Captain Jack] Orzalli says.”

“The visual sonar display on the con beeps as it detects a distant surface ship—diesel, single screw; probably a freighter. Then the audio sonar delivers a burst of squeals, grunts and squeaks. ‘Dolphin,’ Orzalli said. ‘They ride the bow wave. They’ll stay with us for miles. You should’ve heard the humpback whale that followed us for weeks. Thought we were the best-looking thing he had seen for months.’ Swarms of shrimp crackle like bacon in a frying pan. A carpenter fish clack-clack-clack-clacks the sonar men crazy. The beluga—the big white sea mammal—makes noises very close to the sound of an Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) ship pinging to locate the Rayburn.”