Friday, August 23, 2013

The family visit - USS Silversides

On the third day of their visit, I took my family to a submarine museum, host of the USS Silversides, which is a WWII era submarine and you can actually tour it. My family and I certainly had an interesting time getting there in the first place. I have a phone app that gives me GPS directions and every once and a while it decides to go a little bonkers and mess with me (I swear this must be how SkyNet got started...). The museum is roughly an hour away from our house and right near Lake Michigan. The first part of the journey was fine, until my phone wanted me to make a u-turn through the middle of a highway, as in over the grass. What? So I kept driving because: 1) no way could a I pull a stunt like that in a minivan, and 2) it's illegal! I drove until the highway ended in some podunk and -then- I made a u-turn and got back to the highway but that wasn't good enough for the phone, oh no... The GPS had me take the nearest exit which was a circle up onto another highway, then it had me take the next loop of that clover, -and- the next one... My family is alternately laughing at the situation and suggesting I pull over for directions but I'm determined to stay the course. The GPS indicated that I drive on rather than take the fourth loop of the clover, good thing too or we might have been circling all day รก la National Lampoon's. So we finally make it to the town by the lakeshore that this museum is in, and the GPS says keep left and then gets mad at me when I do and says I should have gone right and now it has to find a new route. What? Winding, winding around... Cute houses... There's the lake, isn't it nice? Oh! A sign for the museum complete with arrow! And there it was, finally. Everyone, baby included, was glad to get out of the van.

The museum itself was very interesting. A lot of information about the submarine and its sister, the Silversides II. A lot of information about WWII in general. I was pleased to see that there were some interactive pieces inside the museum, not just a bunch of "look but don't touch". Nothing is worse for a child than a museum like that.
There were helmsmen seats from the Silversides II and a periscope that went up through the roof of the museum and looked at the cars in the parking lot.
There was also a giant pair of binoculars, a steering wheel, and a compass that looked like they'd been part of a Coast Guard vessel. The museum is also home to the USCG Cutter McClane, which is also a WWII era vessel. In my opinion, a great name for a boat with a giant gun - I'm a big fan of the Die Hard franchise.
The compass is hard to see, it's that thing behind my older son in the bottom right picture that has the red and green balls. One color was for the port side, and the other for the starboard. I forget which one is which even though my dad knew and he told me. If any of you dear readers know, by all means comment away. Overall, it was a very well organized museum, and if you ever come to West Michigan, I highly recommend a visit with a caveat or two which I'll get into soon enough. But I want to include one more thing from the inside of the museum before I move on to the outside. At the left below, is a picture I took and I'm sure most of you out there will recognize the iconic image of Rosie the Riveter. No WWII era museum would be complete without her. She embodied "girl power" long before that British girl band.

We ate some lunch at a picnic table and afterward ventured outside to see the USS Silversides. The museum offers tours of the submarine guided by volunteer staff but they also allow you to explore on your own. In the pamphlet, they printed the following warning: "Many systems onboard the Silversides are operational. Please do not move any knobs, switches, dials, buttons, levers, or wheels." Operational you say? Hrmm, joyride around Lake Michigan anyone? Nah. 1) I don't know how to work a sub, 2) it takes more than one family to work a sub, and 3) it's illegal! We had to settle for walking around inside it. Which actually is more difficult than it sounds. Once again, I had the big double stroller. Kay, if you're reading this, that stroller has had a lot of adventures with me and my family. That morning, as I was driving to the museum, I wished I had traded it out for my tiny umbrella stroller. Turns out, it wouldn't have mattered anyway. No stroller of -any- size would fit down inside that sub.
I rolled our youngest son in the stroller across the gangplank and onto the deck of the Silversides and there was a little man-sized hole in the deck with a ladder going down. Okay, definitely no stroller. So we ladies grabbed our bags and left the stroller up on deck next to what's called the conning tower (that's the top piece of the sub) and headed on down. This was a fairly complex process with small children. My dad went down first, followed by my half-sister and stepmom. They then helped our oldest son down the ladder. I handed down bags, then our youngest son. Bending over a porthole with a 27 lb child is not really that easy. My dad had to climb two thirds of the way back up to grab him. Once inside, things really were tight. You hear about subs being small inside, but that really sinks in once you get down there. The ladder we climbed down took us into the front torpedo room which actually had a couple of torpedoes in it (for display only? who knows?) and a whole lot of little cots hanging from every useable surface with the thinnest mattresses you've ever seen; some were stacked in threes. I don't know about you, but I don't think I'd feel comfortable sleeping over top of a torpedo. From there we walked through a "doorway" and I use that term somewhat loosely. The bottom of the door was nearly two feet off the floor of the sub and the top of the door was only about four feet above that. A very small opening that could be described as a doorway, though I think the proper term is hatch. So my family went first and I followed carrying the baby. Our youngest is not a good enough walker to be able to navigate any of this on his own so I held him the entire time. Getting through the doors involved me getting up on one foot so I could get one leg through and then shifting all the weight, me plus baby, through - while ducking under. Then I could pull the other leg through. The Zumba Mommy was putting her Zumba Mami knees (dame le clave...) to practical use; no clapping though, that would have been weird... Not to mention difficult with a baby in my arms... Oh, and I'm 5'3" and I felt real sorry for my 6'1" dad. We made it through an area dubbed "officer's country" and apparently officers rated actual "rooms" and their own "bathroom/shower"; rooms are tiny and facilities are primitive. The biggest open space on the entire submarine was the kitchen/mess. According to the history of the Silversides, the crew's medic performed an appendectomy on one of those tables while the sub was underwater. The event was later used as a plot point in a movie starring Cary Grant. Apparently submariners ate really well, we're talking steak and lobster. The navy had to have some incentive to get these guys to stay. The kitchen even had an ice cream maker. And here's where I'd like to point out that nothing I read or heard indicated any kind of laundry on board. Ice cream, yes. Clean clothes, no.
Past the kitchen, through the control room, through more crew quarters (translation: more awful cots) and into the engine room. The tour guide told us that for each submarine, Disney designed a custom logo for free. So, back a long time ago, Disney designed what you see at the right. A cartoon sub smoking a cigar and holding a torpedo. Oh, and speaking of smoking, back then the crew as allowed to smoke aboard this vessel. I can't imagine the air quality... We moved through the rest of the sub and there was another ladder going up. I sent my family up ahead and waited until I was the last person to exit and then I very slowly climbed up one step at a a time carrying the baby.

The bridge
What about the USCGC McClane? We wandered through it. No guided tours. It was easier since it was considerably more spacious. Moving through it, my family and I just handed the baby off so we could take turns exploring below deck. The accommodations below deck were a lot nicer too. Well, for the officers and engineers.
The regular old crew slept on...? That's right! Awful cots.
The only difference between the ones on the sub and the ones on the cutter was the color of the mattresses. Navy blue and Coast Guard orange.
The captain and his grandpa

It's hard to see in the picture on the upper left, but that black thing on the deck of the ship is the big gun I mentioned earlier. The gun was big enough that it actually had two seats, so it required two crewmen to operate it.

Was the museum worthwhile? Absolutely. I'm glad we went and it was worth the drive. Even with the wacky GPS! Something brand new that none of us had ever seen. Will I take my family again? Absolutely, but it will definitely be in a few years from now.

Best advice: When visiting a submarine, or really any kind of military vessel, no strollers! And wait until your youngest child is a good walker and climber.

No comments:

Post a Comment