In the summer of 1969, I was the new captain of the Polaris submarine ANDREW JACKSON on her shakedown cruise following a refueling overhaul in Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. One of the events on our schedule was an Operational Reactor Safeguards Examination, to be conducted in the Charleston operating area. JACKSON was to meet a Navy tug in the outer Charleston harbor, embark the examining board, proceed to sea, and conduct the ORSE.
My navigator and submarine school classmate, Dick Cordova, and I checked the tide tables, and looked at the Charleston harbor chart. With a flood tide, I decided that our best bet was to meet the tug in a designated anchorage area off the Battery and landward from Fort Sumter. Upon approaching the outer harbor, there was no pilot, and I don’t remember that one was expected.
We found two merchantmen anchored in the area where I had expected to meet our tug, leaving little room for JACKSON to maneuver and get turned around and headed to seaward. We met the tug, took the riders aboard, cast off the tug, lowered the Secondary Propulsion Motor, and proceeded to twist JACKSON’s bow into the flood tide. However maximum turns on the SPM had no effect, and JACKSON was caught in the flood tide, headed for shallow water. Backing and filling did not help. I was about to drop the anchor, when the tug master recognized our predicament, came alongside and pushed our bow around.
I learned two valuable lessons that day. The first was never cast off a tug until you are sure it is not needed, and second, the currents in Charleston harbor are horrendous! JACKSON was to return to Charleston several more times during my four year command tour, and I always tried to come and go at high slack tide when possible.
Based on this experience, there is no doubt in my mind that the CSS HUNLEY in 1864, had their own version of being caught in the Charleston harbor currents and tides, and wound up hard aground. If the 7000 ton JACKSON with her 80 Megawatt nuclear propulsion plant had difficulty maneuvering, the seven ton HUNLEY with her seven-man hand-operated propeller, must have been like a chip of wood against the flood or ebb currents.
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