Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
The day finally arrived, and I was up early with excitement! I dolled myself up, and met a group of wives at the McDonalds on base. We were all going to meet for lunch (although who could eat?!), and then go on down to lower base. (Lower base was a section of the base where the boats were, and it also had a security gate manned by a guard just like the entrance gates to the base itself.)
When we arrived at the parking lot, we decided since the boat still hadn't come up the channel we'd drive down the waterfront a ways and watch for it. It didn't take long at all to see that giant steel fish come inching its way towards us. Again there were men topside, and we waved with excitement at them. From this distance we couldn't see faces, and I didn't know whether Bubblehead was standing topside or not, but it didn't matter anyway. He was almost home.
Normally we couldn't get through the gates to the docks on our own (we would have to be escorted by someone with clearance), but because today was the homecoming, we were allowed through with a check of our military IDs. We went around that big beige building and stood there waiting.
And waiting and waiting. The boat doesn't move fast, and even after it comes to a stop, there is a lot of work to do. They move the brow across. (This is a metal bridge of sorts, that allows people to cross from the dock to the boat easily.) All the while we're just standing there and watching. There are children there yelling to their daddies and waving. The air is electric. They are so close, and yet this big boat still separates us.
Finally they allow the guys to cross. The First Kiss winner comes off first (more on that in my next post), and then the rest of the guys can come off. Finally Bubblehead and I are together again. He holds me and kisses me. He smells like the sub. (Primarily of the amine which they use to make oxygen - I can't describe it, but it has a very distinct smell. Years later when I was walking the halls of the hospital, waiting to give birth to my daughter, we smelled it in their ventilation and immediately were taken back to our Navy days.)
The boat can never be left empty, and so a third of the guys are always on duty, but luckily Bubblehead didn't have duty his first night back, so just a little more waiting, and he was ready to come home with me. It was actually kind of strange having him home after being gone for so long. Little adjustments to my schedule had to be made. And the time I spent with the wives came to an abrupt end. It was always that way, because we were busy spending time with our guys. Once they went back into refit to get ready for another patrol, we would pick back up where we left off.
It didn't take long for him to settle in again, and then life felt normal. I can't imagine what an adjustment it was for him - much bigger than mine I'm sure. (For one, they keep an 18 hour day on board, so even his sleeping schedule gets screwed up.) Now the other crew of the boat would get ready to take her out on patrol, and our crew would be in off-crew. These were the best days - you can't ask for a better schedule. He'd go in at 8:00, and because the boat was out to sea, there wasn't much for them to do. He'd be home before 11:00 each day, with most Fridays off. We'd spend our days in Jacksonville, or Savannah. It helped to make up for all the time he was away.
So that's about how our first patrol went. Each one was memorable in some way. One patrol got cut short by two or three weeks - such a surprise and treat! (And right before Christmas, too!) Because of the 3 on, 3 off schedule the boat kept, he was usually gone in the spring and fall. He missed every Easter we were in Georgia, and every Thanksgiving, but never missed a Christmas.
I will try to coerce Bubblehead into doing a post or two of his own, to tell you about standing topside watches while out to sea, about their half-way celebrations, and firing test missiles. He has some great stories about his time at sea. I will do one more post on this subject, because I want to write about my favorite patrol.