USS LEXINGTON (CVT-16)
This is a personal account by then FN Nelson J. Coleman.
Grounding incident on 31 March 1973 while steaming out of Boston Harbor.
On the morning of 31 March 1973 we were getting ready to get underway, as I recall it was extremely foggy.
Over the 1MC (ships general announcing system) the word was passed, “Now set the special sea and anchor detail”.
A crew members Special Sea and Anchor detail is determined by the position you held onboard ship. I was the R-Division Yeoman and was assigned the 1JV sound powered phone station in “Main Control” or the “Forward Engine Room”.
There are two engine rooms, the forward and aft. The forward contains engines 1 and 4, and the aft engine room contains engines 2 and 3. Of course there is much other equipment in each space.
That particular morning each crew member made his way to their respective sea and anchor detail station. Mine was sitting a wooden bench in front of the engine order telegraph; this is used to communicate between the bridge and main control. Combined with the 1JV sound powered phone system.
Of course I was not the only person sitting on that bench, there were other people who sat with me. Communications to the aft engine room and the boiler rooms, there were 4 fire rooms, each with 2 boilers, eight total boilers. Each boiler produced 600-psi steam pressure. This steam would supply steam generators, evaporators for fresh water and much more steam-powered equipment throughout the ship.
This steam also supplied the four main engines each a General Electric 3 stage steam turbine, all four produced a combined 150,000 HP.
Each engine was connected to reduction gears much like a transmission on a car. To go forward the steam was routed one way and to go astern it was routed in the opposite direction.
The engines are connected to 18 inch in diameter shafts, which ran from each engine to the 14’ in diameter bronze propellers, which are also called screws.
There were as I recall three levels in main control, we sat on level 3 and on level two there were circulating pumps and other equipment. The lower level was the bilge area. We were on deck grating and could see to the lower levels.
On the morning of our departure with all stations manned, when the last line was released from the pier the word was passed over the 1MC that the ship was underway. We were given the engine order telegraph (EOT) command of all ahead 1/3 which each command is relayed also by the 1JV bridge phone talker to me in main control.
It was an order given by the officer of the deck on the bridge relayed via EOT and 1JV phone talkers. My job was to yell each command aloud so the chief engineer, electrical officer and other officers standing immediately behind me could hear. (Note: you are in the engine room, which is extremely noisy).
Shortly after the all-ahead 1/3 the command came, all ahead standard, which I recall to this very day was 108 rpm, which equated to a speed of 20 knots. You have 1/3, standard, full, and flank speeds. The engineman at each engine control valve opened their valve to the appropriate rpm. There were two valves, the ahead valve and the astern valve. Of course, only one valve could be opened at a time.
There were usually only seconds between ahead 1/3 and ahead standard commands from the bridge. You can feel the power of the engines through the deck plating. The whole space starts to shake as we pickup speed. To that point all was well, the vibration had leveled out and all was smooth.
Keep in mind that when I first went to main control to me it was so foggy you could hardly see the pier.
A few minutes had passed; shortly we all heard a sound through the hull. The chief engineer CDR Leech told me to tell the bridge we were running aground. I immediately said, “Bridge-Main Control the chief engineer said to tell the captain we were running aground”.
Seconds passed, the response came back, “Main Control-Bridge, the captain said were not running aground.” All this time the sound is getting louder and louder, the engine water recalculating pump (used to cool engine) immediately below us starting banging, you the hear the sand and rocks being bounced off the impellers inside the pump. The chief engineer said, “Tell the captain we are running aground” (not his exact words so to speak). The chief engineer ordered the pump secured to prevent any further damage that may have occurred. We were literally sucking up the bottom of Boston Harbor thru the intakes on the bottom of the hull. What seemed like forever finally the order came from the bridge all stop.
The next command was all back emergency full, the engineman spun the ahead valves closed and spun the astern valve open as fast as he could. The engine I sat in front of screamed as the steam pressure brought the engine to a stop and then slowly picked up rpm’s in the astern mode.
The boilers started loosing pressure and we were losing steam pressure in main control, the chief engineer ordered the auxuillary steam opened. Immediately over our heads was this perhaps 6’ in diameter valve, which a machinist mate spun, open as fast as he could. Before anyone could say anything the officer of the watch said, “Slowly”, it was too late, the 600-psi steam pressure hit that cold pipe and created a very loud hammering noise and the pipe jumped up and down. It was too late, all the lights went out, we lost ventilation and the steam just rose from the bottom of the engine room with such speed we could hardly breath, we had to cover our faces and mouths with our shirts to breathe.
There are two emergency diesel engines, one forward and one aft, the chief engineer ordered that they be started, they were only to find out that their sea intakes were over the sand and rocks of Boston Harbor. By all accounts were dead in the water. We sat in Boston Harbor for 3 or 4 days before we could get one of the engine sea intakes cleared, this was done by the machinist mates and other personnel carrying garbage cans full of sand and rocks up from the engine room and dumping them over the side. I know at one time we had 7-10 tugboats trying to pull us off the rocks. But with only one engine to help we backed off the rocks and returned to the dry dock only to discover that the rocks had damaged all four propellers. We were there for 3 more weeks awaiting new propellers to be brought to the shipyard for repair.
The Commanding and Executive Officers were relieved of duty and Captain Jack E. Davis we had before departing for Boston was returned to the Lex to return to Pensacola, Florida.