Sirago's Grounding

by Capt. Harry M. Yockey, (USN Ret.)

After the '65-'66 ROH when CDR Frank Talbot had command, fresh from PCO school where a brand new CINCPACFLT had laid the law down about what to call things. Running aground was grounding (not touching bottom), a collision was not "bumping" another vessel, missing quarters was AWOL, etc.

During shakedown in the Caribbean we were assigned to operate between Puerto Rico and St. Thomas in about 120 feet of water opposing a sortie of the carrier task group from Roosevelt Rhodes. We had to choose a nice depth to avoid the keel of the carrier (40 feet) and the bottom. With our 50 feet from sail to keel, we opted for 105 feet to give us 15 feet above bottom and 15 feet below the carrier's keel.

We were proceeding at about 8 knots when suddenly there was a bang on the hull and a big up angle. The skipper concluded that we'd hit the bottom since there were no ships in sight! I was ENG/NAVIGATOR and wanted to send a diver over to see if there was any damage before we sent any report.

But, of course, the CO was greatly influenced by the PCO school warning from CINCLANTFLT, so he sent off an "immediate" incident report to COMSUBLANT that SIRAGO had grounded at LAT/LONG, DATE, NO CASUALTIES. About 20 minutes later they were reading the message boards in the WR and realized we'd failed to put the time of grounding in the report. So another "immediate" message was sent, "SIRAGO grounding occurred at 1930Z."

As luck would have it, SUBLANT received the time message before the grounding message, so for about 45 minutes they thought we were hard aground! Some of us feared our careers were over due to the grounding even though divers could find no evidence of hitting the bottom.

Of course there was a detailed investigation. As part of the investigation VADM Shade (COMSUBLANT) was riding SEA LION in the same area and they went to the LAT/LONG of our "grounding" and put the UDT/SEAL divers over the side. Fortunately for us, they found a large uncharted coral sea mount that had been knocked over and photographed the whole area. They showed the photos to VADM Shade and he exonerated all concerned.

Needless to say, I have since admired the UDT/SEAL people a great deal!