Nuclear sub glides into South Florida

USS Annapolis in Fort Lauderdale for Fleet Week

A member of America's silent service slipped into the waters of south Florida Monday and according to design and plan, not too many people noticed.

The USS Annapolis is a Los Angeles class fast attack submarine that patrols the waters of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and even cracked the ice at the North Pole. On Easter Sunday, the submarine appeared at a dock in Port Canaveral under a noon-time sun. A far cry from its Groton, Connecticut, home base.

The crew multi-tasked its way through docking and mooring to unloading garbage and loading supplies including a pack of journalists, who were anxious to begin a 24-hour tour.

In less than an hour, a 7,000-ton ship was underway, dodging sailboats, fishermen and cruise ships as it glided and bobbed its way into open ocean. More than 360-feet long and 33-feet wide, but only partly visible since 70-percent of the submarine remains below the water line. Its black paint job makes it hard to spot on a bright day in open sea and virtually invisible at night.

Few Americans ever see a submarine and most don't know what they do, at least that's what the crewmen onboard say. The world of warfare under the ocean is not anything close to the Hollywood movies. The work on a submarine is intense. After all, you are powered by a nuclear reactor.

The last time the Annapolis stopped for fuel was 1992 when it was built. The nuclear core has a life of 33 years - just about the same time the hull will need to be retired.

The ship and the 135 officers and crew inside spend weeks at a time at the bottom of the ocean. They have no contact with the outside world. No phones, no Facebook, no wireless Internet. Just try getting a connection at 650 feet down.

The work on a navy nuclear submarine is not 24/7 but six hours at a time. Each man works a six-hour shift called a watch and then spends the next six hours training or maintaining the ship. Then a relaxing six-hours in the rack (Navy talk for a bed which looks a lot like a shelf) for sleep and then the cycle starts over.

With no windows or distractions, the work of warfare even in peacetime is focused and structured and amazingly quiet. There are small signs on every door reminding crewmen of their mission - "Silent Service." All of the work is a coordinated dance of politeness -- even the cooks don't clink the glasses or tableware.

The captain of the Annapolis, 20-year Navy veteran CMDR John Gearhart, says that at any given time there are at least ten US Navy attack subs somewhere in the world, deep in the ocean just watching and listening and practicing in peacetime just in case they are ever needed.

"It's a great feeling. I am certainly humbled by the opportunity and certainly take the responsibility very seriously to take charge of this group of men, this warship and take her to sea," Gearhart said.

Most people have no idea that the sub is there. And it appears that is just the way the captain likes it.

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