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Life on board a British nuclear submarine
August 22, 2012 6:21 AM   Subscribe

"One evening, I wander into the control room at about midnight. The watch officer and sonar operators are discussing an important philosophical question: would it be more painful to be struck by a whole tuna or a tin of tuna? This is never resolved. These epistemological issues can be sustained over weeks." Guardian journalist Stephen Moss spends a week aboard HMS Triumph, a nuclear-powered Royal Navy fast-attack submarine, and picks up some slang while he's there. Photographer Gary Calton was also there to document life aboard the boat.
posted by EndsOfInvention (20 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
But who do they think would win between in a fight between astronauts and cavemen?
posted by kmz at 6:24 AM on August 22, 2012


go wibble go crazy after too long at sea

I think we need to adopt this for the "I know I should go to bed and get some rest, but I am just going to post one more comment in this contentious thread" syndrome. Perhaps it could be a new flag status.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:28 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not all such arguments aboard submersibles must remain so unresolved.

Thankfully, Tony Scott (RIP) gave us some closure as to who the (ahem) sub-mariner's preference for the best Silver Surfer was.
posted by ShutterBun at 6:32 AM on August 22, 2012


The watch officer and sonar operators are discussing an important philosophical question: would it be more painful to be struck by a whole tuna or a tin of tuna? This is never resolved.

Is the whole tuna frozen? Also: HMS Tuna.
posted by zamboni at 6:38 AM on August 22, 2012


Hmm. Does this meaning of "wibble" change the meaning of "wibbley wobbley timey wimey stuff"?
posted by rmd1023 at 6:44 AM on August 22, 2012


scran food (derived from sultanas, currants, raisons, nuts)

Journalist Top Tip: Don't believe everything sailors tell you.
posted by zamboni at 6:53 AM on August 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hmm. Does this meaning of "wibble" change the meaning

More likely to be a Blackadder reference. Wibble.
posted by Leon at 6:58 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I did wonder how much of the slang was along the lines of the badger in the bilge tank...
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:59 AM on August 22, 2012


I love reading about Navy life. If anyone here has Netflix, there's a great series about life aboard an aircraft carrier, appropriately titled Carrier. It doesn't gloss over difficult issues so there are some situations that some might find triggering.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:00 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love these sort of slice of life things where it focuses on the mundanity of it, very fun read.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:04 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


The author never mentions it, but do submariners have access to the internet or email?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:07 AM on August 22, 2012


the lack of proper sleep, the absence of privacy, the endlessly repeated conversations, the cycle of meals (it's Wednesday so it must be curry)

Glad to see the Royal Navy maintains a standard British working environment. Especially Wednesday curry!
posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 7:08 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


do submariners have access to the internet or email?

Intermittently. Depending on how deep they are, and if they have to minimize radio traffic or not.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:16 AM on August 22, 2012


Yeah, zamboni is right: journalists (and other outsiders!) should never believe everything sailors tell them.... because if you think surface sailors tell tall tales aka sea stories, you oughta hear some of the bilge a sub sailor can spout --- there's a reason for that term 'sea stories', and oh hell yes is there ever a reason for the term 'bilge'!

(My own personal favorite was when my sub sailor dad tried to convince us that when sub sailors go on shore leave, their favorite things to do were 1. go have a milkshake, 2. take in a little light reading at the nearest Christian Science Reading Room, 3. write a long letter home to their mom, and then 4. go back to the boat for a nap. Yeah, right.)
posted by easily confused at 7:56 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I weren't opposed to the existence of a military on principled grounds, I would immediately join the Navy to be a submariner. Why the hell haven't we figured out a civilian use for long-duration underwater voyages yet? Haven't you people watched SeaQuest??
posted by cthuljew at 7:57 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


easily confused: "(My own personal favorite was when my sub sailor dad tried to convince us that when sub sailors go on shore leave, their favorite things to do were 1. go have a milkshake, 2. take in a little light reading at the nearest Christian Science Reading Room, 3. write a long letter home to their mom, and then 4. go back to the boat for a nap. Yeah, right."

well, he got #4 partially right.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 8:12 AM on August 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Former Submariner here, FTB2(SS) with 5 Polaris Patrols. Could be a US vs. UK thing but in the US Navy ballistic missile submarines a "Boomers" not "Bombers". He does a pretty good job of catching the submarine experience based on a rather short cruise. I've always described it as long periods of abject boredom interspersed with short periods of terror.
posted by cmdnc0 at 10:48 AM on August 22, 2012


This is never resolved.

I'm not sure why he thinks it should be resolved? The point of arguments while at sea is not to resolve the question but to entertain yourself and others.

When I was on a carrier we would argue constantly and heatedly about almost anything, nobody took offense at even the most egregious insults.

Once we arguing about a 'Very Important Topic' (I forget what it was) when one of the guys said, "Why don't you argue about something interesting, argue about food." 'Very Important Topic' was immediately dropped and we proceeded to argue about food for several hours.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:22 AM on August 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fun fact from someone I worked with a couple of years ago: the French navy has standard issue caviar spoons for its submariners. Keep in mind *anything* onboard a submarine, much like anything onboard a space shuttle, has to have a good reason to be there taking up space. But standard issue caviar spoons are apparently worth it.
posted by olinerd at 2:41 AM on August 23, 2012


Arguments like the tuna one are a classic element of maritime occupational folklore (and that's a great one). Isolation does it - you run out of current events and changing conditions to talk about, so only a debate can really keep a conversation lively. In the records of whaleships and fishing ships we've found examples of very long-running debates about what kind of fruit was in the "fruit filling" of a pie the kitchen served and that sort of thing. In the Cetology chapter of Moby-Dick, Melville satirizes this in the chapter in which he relates the debate over whether a whale is a fish or not - he concludes it's definitely a fish, based on the wise argumentation of his shipmates.
posted by Miko at 5:49 AM on August 23, 2012


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