The Sonar Dome

Sir, the Sonar Dome is Flooded! 
By Terry Miller, STG3 (Sonar Technician Third Class)


Sailors are famous, or perhaps infamous, for playing tricks on “boots,” or new shipmates. Whether it’s sending them after some fictitious item such as “six fathoms of water line,” or “relative bearing grease” or “a bucket of steam,” the poor, unsuspecting newcomer just has to endure the initiation because he can never get even with those who outrank him. He can only take it out on those who follow. Maybe that’s the reason the tradition persists.

These tricks run the gamut from simple one-on-one pranks to mass conspiracies involving several members of a ship’s crew. As an example, on the George K. Mac Kenzie DD-836, nearly everyone was in on the “Movie Watch” joke. The scenario involved the junior-most engineering person in the duty section being assigned to the “movie watch” which meant that he had to put on gloves and sit next to the movie projector with a fire extinguisher between his legs for the entire movie, you know, just in case the projector might catch fire.

In 1969 when the ship was about to come out of dry dock in Yokosuka, we picked up a few crew replacements including E-3 Sonar Striker, Steve Cole. I was a Third Class Sonar Technician and Steve was assigned to me. The day a ship comes out of dry dock is a very busy one, with many duties that are only necessary at that time. One of the things that happens when the water is pumped out of the dry dock is that all the water in the Sonar Dome, the bulbous housing of the Sonar Transducer at the bottom of the keel, drains out through an opening in the bottom. Before the system can be reactivated, it must be refilled with seawater. Every bubble of air has to be bled off because the first pulse of electric power to all those ceramic piezoelectric elements in that transducer would cause them to shatter if they transmitted into air instead of water. To prevent this, there is a bleeding valve inside the ship along the keel at the top of the Dome that is opened to allow the air to escape and the Dome to fill with seawater. Not everyone knew this. In fact, very few sailors knew it. In absolute fact, one fewer than I expected knew it that day.

As the dry dock filled with water and the ship began to float again, ST1 Andy Anderson told me to go flood the Sonar Dome in preparation for getting underway. I told Cole to grab a bucket and a Crescent wrench and come with me. He hadn’t heard the assignment so when he asked what we were doing, I told him we were going to see if the Dome was flooded.

“What if it is,” he asked?

“Oh, I’m pretty sure it isn’t flooded,” I told him truthfully. He didn’t ask anything more until we made our war to the very bowels of the ship where at last we reached the lowest level where there was an oval plate secured to a bulkhead with 24 bolts. I had Steve remove the bolts, holding the hatch up as he removed the last one. Moving the heavy steel plate aside, I reached in and turned on the light, a bare bulb hanging from its own cord in the middle of a tiny compartment just large enough for one person to crouch inside. Coming up from the deck was a pipe, which led up to a faucet with a built in hook for holding a bucket. I hung the bucket from the hook and turned to Steve.

“You better hope we don’t hear air rushing out when I open this,” I told him with my best poker face displayed.

“Will that mean it’s flooded,” he asked in a hushed voice?

“It will mean there’s water in the Dome.” Now, physics dictates that there is a lot of water putting pressure on the air trapped in that Dome. I cracked the valve slightly. A rush of air caused the bucket to sway.

“Oh, man! It’s flooded! What do we do now,” he asked?

“Let’s see if it’s just air or if there is water in there, too,” I told him. I let the rest of the air out until water came bubbling into the bucket. I said nothing but slowly shook my head, grim-faced A half- bucket later, the air bubbles had stopped and there was nothing but water coming out of the spigot.

“Now, what,” Steve asked. I should have been sorry for what I did next. I really should have. I wasn’t.

“Take this bucket topside and pour it over the side then bring it back down here and do it over until you get the thing drained. I’ll go report that it’s flooded.”

I never found out how long Steve worked at carrying buckets of ocean up four decks and pouring it over the side before he caught on or someone told him. He was mad at me for days. And as it turned out, I wasn’t quite finished with this prank.

I went back to Andy and reported the assignment accomplished and he told me to report it to our Division Officer, Mr. Teach, who was right outside Sonar Control in CIC. Andy Anderson had one of the wiliest personalities in the Navy. He didn’t have to say a word because I saw the unmistakable gleam in his eye. Fooling one person with a practical joke can be humorous. Getting to another with the same prank makes it hard to keep a straight face. I opened the door and Mr. Teach was standing next to the plotting table a few feet away.

“Mr. Teach, Andy wanted me to report that the Sonar Dome is flooded.” I delivered this with no expression. I bit the inside of my lip as I saw the color drain from his face.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, sir. I verified it myself.” The effort to control the desire to laugh was nearly painful.

“Come with me.” He led the way down to the bridge where Lt. Breuer was Officer of the Deck. Mr. Breuer was the Weapons Department head and a very savvy sailor. He had the admiration and respect of the ship. He sensed the nearly palpable anxiety in his junior officer. He gave me a quizzical look but waited for Mr. Teach to report. Instead, Mr. Teach turned to me and said, “Tell Mr. Breuer what you told me.”

         “Sir, I have to report that the Sonar Dome is flooded.”

“Did you verify it personally?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very well.” He started to turn away as he must have many times upon receiving a satisfactory report. Mr. Teach started to say something, stopped, started again, and stopped again. He looked at Lt. Breuer, then at me, then back at the Lieutenant.

“I’ve been had, haven’t I?”

Mr. Breuer just smiled and turned to me and winked. I hurried away to keep from laughing and to get back to tell Andy. I quit playing shipboard pranks after that because there was just no way I’d ever be able to top it.


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