We All Live In a Research Submarine: the USS Albacore

Thursday, August 03, 2017

I'll admit it...I may have a thing for submarines.

After I watched Das Boot a few months ago, I had a thought: it would be fun to actually visit a submarine on display. I didn't even bother to look up if there were any near me, but it turns out I didn't have to. A couple of weeks later, on the day before Father's Day, my friend Patti and I were driving to Portsmouth, NH when she makes one wrong turn, then another. Then as she's turning around I tell her about the dream I had about my late father a few nights earlier: my dad was alive, and in the dream I kept telling myself I had to tell him I watched Das Boot again. Only I never did, and woke up a little bummed out.

No less than a minute after telling her this story, she points to her left and says, "Oh. My. God. Look!"

And there on our left is a huge honking submarine, the USS Albacore. And you can visit it! (Thanks, daddy!)

Last weekend we finally went back and toured the sub. The USS Albacore didn't see any warfare (although it was named for an earlier American WWII sub that sadly, sunk off the coast of Japan during the war) but that doesn't make it any less cool. This vessel was a Navy research sub, mainly used to test emerging submarine technology. (One of these was as improved ballast tank blow system, used during emergencies to help subs resurface.) Her official motto was"Praenuntius Futuri" or "Forerunner of the Future." She was commissioned in 1953 and known for her speed (27 knots for short distances) and agility. Decommissioned in 1972 (the year I was born), she sat at the Inactive Ship Facility at Philadelphia until 1984, when she was towed to Portsmouth. A year later, Albacore Park started to take shape and eventually opened to the public in 1989.

Tickets are only $7 for adult admission (not bad to enter a piece of naval history) and the tour itself is self guided; audio recordings along stops outside and inside the sub give an idea of its features and what daily life was like for the crew. At any given time there were about 45-50 men that served on the sub. The one bit of information I couldn't find on the site (or missed during the tour) was how long a mission typically lasted.

Here's a few photos from the tour; the one thing that struck me was just how tight and claustrophobic the interior actually was compared to photos I'd seen beforehand. It takes a certain type of man to serve on a submarine. It was too close for comfort enough moving from one section to another with a handful of other tourists, but I cannot even imagine living in such an environment with dozens of other people. The watertight doors used to separate each section of the sub seemed to only be four feet tall and maybe no more than three feet wide. I instantly thought of the emergency dive scenes in Das Boot where the men had to scoot through such doors in a matter of seconds.

Dreaming of Jürgen Prochnow.
The bunk areas were insane. Two men would often sleep in each bunk. 
The anecdote drawer in case of poisoning. Yep.

Emergency hatch.

"Hi, Dominos? I'd like to order 20 pizzas, please. Where am I located? About 150 miles off the coast of France. How long do you think delivery will take?"

One of the two galleys. Believe it or not, they baked bread, cakes, and made lobster newburgh on this sub -- using a bit of sherry the executive officer kept discretely tucked away in his safe.

The captain's dining quarters. Luxury living at its finest.
Captain's private bunk area.

Old school typewriter.
Morse code room.
Luxury bathroom compared to what WWII submariners had. There was also a sink, and a separate shower. Each men would get a gallon of water to wash with daily and if they were lucky, got to take a hot shower once a week.

Just a snippet of the gauges in the navigation room.
The periscope still worked. No enemy battle ships on the horizon; just a couple of Portsmouth houses with families who have no idea the sub is spying on them.

The crew's mess hall back in its heyday. Note the mini jukebox!
Part of the sonar room.
The other galley.
The crew's mess hall area.

Part of the massive engine room.

There's additional sub memorabilia inside the visitor's center, including a bit about the German WWII U-boats, and behind the building is a nice little memorial park area dedicated to American sailors that lost their lives aboard submarines, accompanied by a dolphin statue (the Navy's warfare insignia for submariners.)

Also, what did my friend see for sale in the gift shop? The complete UNCUT miniseries version of Das Boot on DVD. Of course, I had to have it, and will save it for viewing at a later date. :)

P.S. The museum is a family friendly attraction and since you're allowed to touch pretty much everything in the sub, it's a fun place to take kids that are old enough to get a kick out of it.


  1. Very cool!
    I am extremely jealous.
    My brother would go crazy about it too. Thanks for sharing!


    1. It was indeed soooooo cool! We asked the guys in the gift shop if we could climb on top of the sub. Needless to say, they said no. ;)

      But I must admit, the one on my bucket list is U-505, the German U-boat that was captured by the U.S. during WWII and which is now on display at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.

      And the Navy's current Ohio-class subs are so beautiful, big, and amazing.

      Yep, I'm a total submarine nerd!

    2. Thanks for sharing Pam. I toured the Seawolf in Galveston when I was a kid (there's a torpedo mounted 10 feet in front of it), and thought like you that it was no fun being a submariner in WWII. There were even bunks in the torpedo room. While in the Navy, I was given the opportunity for a short tour onboard a commissioned sub. It was gigantic in comparison to the subs of the '40's and 50's, but much smaller than the monsters built today. Only the cream of the fleet can apply for submarine duty, though I never had the urge to live under the sea for months at a time. Interestingly, the galleys are open. You can go in and make a sandwich whenever you get hungry.

  2. My brother-in-law, when we were aboard the Lexington in Corpus, was saying how he'd love to go in a submarine and here you post about doing just that! I loved these photos and, though I'm not claustrophobic, I'm certain that it would probably be tested by the dimensions of this submarine! I'll definitely be checking out Das Boot too (I don't think I've seen it! I know, I'm terrible!)

    1. Thanks Dominic! There's about 25 subs on display throughout the U.S., so chances are there's one near you...and yeah, Das Boot is required viewing for anyone that likes subs or war films, even though technically it's about the Allies' enemies.

  3. Oh my gosh! You have been my favorite blogger since the first day I read "Go Retro".
    I didn't realize you are in New England too! I'm in Plymouth , MA! :)

    1. Wicked pissah from one yank to another!

  4. Great post Pam! I love subs, too. The big thing about the Albacore is that it proved out the idea of a streamlined, "teardrop" shape for the submarine hull. Up until the advent of nuclear-powered subs, subs spent most of their time on the surface, powered by diesels, and had to have a hull shape that was sea-worthy from a surface-travel standpoint. The idea with nuclear subs is that, having virtually "unlimited" fuel (well, enough for traveling months at a time without refueling) they could cruise beneath the surface, and therefore be much more silent, invisible, and effective. So the Navy needed to prove out a shape suitable for a vessel that spent most of its time submerged, and the Albacore was it. The Navy's effort to build hulls capable of optimum operation while submerged was wedded to its nuclear propulsion program in the submarine Skipjack which was laid down in the spring of 1956, and these two concepts have complemented each other in the design of all of the Navy's subsequent submarines.


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