I arrived late Friday night; we got underway the following Tuesday morning. And it was a long underway - about six weeks. While at sea, we follow an eighteen-hour rotation - six hours on watch, six hours off, six hours sleep, lather, rinse, repeat. My life then (as now) is consumed with qualifications. My whole purpose is to get signatures in my notebook, so I can qualify my watch stations. I've qualified four so far, and have another five quals left for my division, in addition to my submarine quals (the "dolphins" that symbolize the sub force). Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's tough, but all in all it's not that bad. It does suck when qualifying is pushed aside in favor of drills, field day (mass cleaning), training, or some other lovely evolution. Fatigue tended to set in quite a bit at various points during this time; I actually had to turn to coffee for the first time in my life to overcome it (we don't carry Coca-Cola with us underway). The food, on the whole, is mediocre. Some things, like the hamburgers and the breakfast offerings, are really good; others, like the pizza and ravioli, are horrible. I dropped ten pounds between meeting the boat and our return to Groton.
We crossed under the Arctic ice cap to return to the Atlantic Ocean. To commemorate this, those personnel who had not crossed under the Arctic underwent an initiation called Blue Nose. I was incredibly nervous prior to this, but it went more easily than I expected, much to my surprise.
We pulled into Plymouth, England on October 19; I had a lot to do while we were there, and only got to get out one night. But I made it a memorable night, pulling nearly an exact repeat of an incident eighteen months prior in Charleston. I had been bar-hopping, and had one (maybe two) too many drinks. After climbing into the duty van which took us back to the boat, I passed out, though I do remember having to switch to another van because the first one had some kind of trouble. The next thing I remember is stopping at a hotel to drop off some people...and tossing the contents of my stomach all over the van. Not pleasant. My friends got me back to the boat, got me showered and into bed, though I was hysterical, completely angry at myself that I could keep control. The bars in England were pretty cool; I can only imagine how nice they must be now that they can serve past 2300 (due to a change in British law effected about a month ago).
After we left England, I was put on a special cleaning detail - I cleaned for six hours, then was a monitor for drill sets, and then I slept. We were preparing for the Operational Reactor Safeguards Examination, or ORSE, which tests the crew's ability to safely operate the nuclear reactor and propulsion and electric plants. The exam was conducted over the last two days of the deployment, the beginning of November. Whatever we did, it was something right, because we were rated as "excellent" by the examining board. That made the return to Groton, on 3 November, all the more sweet. Standing on the topside of the boat as we passed under the I-95 bridge, past the Nautilus memorial, and pulled into the base was awesome. Here's a picture of us pulling in; I'm somewhere in the cluster of the people aft of the sail, not cool enough yet to be one of the ten up on the fairwater planes.
In-port life is a little different; it's more like a normal workweek, except I have duty every few days (i.e. I have to spend the day on the boat). We do a lot of maintenance, but I still have some time to work on quals. Right now we're on our holiday standdown, so life is particularly quiet. And as mentioned previously, I go on leave tomorrow, and will have a week on Long Island, including New Year's Eve. It should be a good time.