20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Part I)

In 1870, French writer Jules Verne penned a story of undersea adventure aboard a highly advanced submarine, the Nautilus. In the novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, this imaginary vessel is capable of undersea attacks against other ships, dives to great depths, and even travels to the Antarctic ice shelves. In 1954, the United States Navy commissioned the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, a vessel far more advanced than any other. In a career that would span several decades and reach achievements that no other submarine was capable, this ship seemed more like science fiction than mid-20th century technology. The Navy gave it a fitting name: the USS Nautilus.

Laid down in 1951 and commissioned in 1954, the Nautilus was powered by a pressurized water nuclear reactor. In 1955, the Nautilus became the first vessel to be underway solely driven by nuclear power. Unlike diesel engines of earlier subs, nuclear engines require no oxygen, so all air onboard a ship can be used solely for the crew. As such, the submarine would be capable of extended periods of time beneath the waves. In her career, Nautilus became the first vessel to reach the North Pole, the first to sale beneath the ice of the Arctic Circle, and set the record (at the time) for the longest duration of undersea travel at the fastest sustained speed by any vessel. Her career also saw her participate in the quarantine of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and operated extensively in the Atlantic Ocean. Decommissioned in 1980, Nautilus began her second career in 1986 as a museum ship at the Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut, the major submarine base on the east coast of the United States (via Wikipedia).

On a previous trip home, I had spotted signs for the USS Nautilus and the Submarine Force Museum along I-95 in Connecticut. After a week of miserable weather, I set off for Connecticut on a sunny, warm Sunday morning to visit this remarkable submarine and a very interesting museum. Upon arrival, however, my plans encountered a snag: while the museum was open, the submarine itself was closed for maintenance in preparation for the summer tourist season. The docent who informed me of this sad news encouraged me to explore the museum, and come back another time to tour the sub. I was glad I took his suggestion, as the museum was terrific. I will return to Groton later this Spring and bring you Part II of the tour of the Nautilus itself. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this tour of the museum.

Groton, CT
Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut, approximately 1.5 hours southwest of Boston.
Saturday’s weather: Rain, Snow, and Sleet… not ideal for a road trip.
Less than 24 hours later, blue skies, dry roads, and DH flying along the highway.
And what better way to enjoy a drive on a beautiful day than with the 80’s Hits playlist on my iPod. Nothing like “a-ha” to get the trip going.
Located near Mystic, Connecticut, Groton is home to a major US Navy submarine base, and a very cool museum!
Arrived at the Submarine Force Library & Museum.
In front of the museum are three miniature submarines.
A Japanese Type A mini-sub. Other Type A subs were used by the Japanese in the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Operated by two crew members, the sub was carried by a much larger ship until close to its destination and then was deployed. The expectation was that the crew would not return home. Long considered ineffective, more recent research indicates that a sub like this one was responsible for sinking the USS Oklahoma.
The USS X-1, the first American mini submarine, commissioned 1955.
In the museum is this model of Jules Verne’s Nautilus, as it appeared in the 1954 Disney movie. The museum also houses a copy of the first edition of the book.
A map showing the range of American sub-launched nuclear missiles. While I enjoy touring military history museums, it’s always sobering to think about the sheer number of ways humanity has found to kill one another.
A replica of a submarine’s control center. Unlike exhibits at many museums, you are encouraged to play with the controls here.
The periscope room, with actual periscopes from retired US Navy subs…
…and all three periscopes work. You can rotate them to give you a view of the surrounding area. I have the periscope facing south, toward the Atlantic Ocean.
A replica of the Turtle, the world’s first submersible vehicle that was actually used in combat… in 1776 during the American Revolution. Yes, you read that correctly. This little sphere was made from wood, covered in tar and steel bands, and would be used to attach mines to vessels. David Trumble dreamt up this monstrosity while as a freshman at Yale University.
An actual Polaris nuclear missile, which would be fired from a submarine. One of the earliest such designs, its successors are far more lethal.
The USS Nautilus. While it does not look significantly different from other submarines I have toured, there is one major thing that makes it unique: in the middle of the ship sits a nuclear reactor.
DH, meet the Nautilus. Nautilus, this is DH. You guys get familiar.
Panorama of the Nautilus at dock.
Looking south, down the Thames River, toward the Atlantic Ocean. I keep this blog politics-free, but about a month ago, there was news of a Russian intelligence ship sitting near one of our submarine bases. From this point, if you were to travel 30 miles south into the Atlantic Ocean, you would have found that Russian ship. This is the base it was surveilling.
The sail of the submarine USS George Washington, the first American nuclear missile submarine.
After being coated with salt yesterday, I stopped by “Submarine Car Wash” in Groton on the way home. I loved the service levels: Lieutenant, Commander, Captain, and Admiral. I chose the Commander.
I usually hand-wash and wax my cars, as mechanical car washes aren’t ideal, but DH was covered in so much road salt and dirt, I wanted to get him clean ASAP. “The Commander” was a fine choice.
Clean and shiny, and ready for more adventure! Or a trip to get some pizza for lunch…
On the road home, I spotted this very orange Volkswagen Jetta. Its license plate? GR8PMPKN. And it has a jack-o-lantern permanently installed in its trunk. Talk about embracing your car’s color choice.
Home! The 80,000 mile mark is fast approaching.

The Submarine Force Library and Museum is open Wednesday through Monday (closed Tuesdays) from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm. Parking, museum entry, and tours of the submarine are free. If you are driving through Connecticut and have two or three hours free, the museum is definitely worth your time. Later this spring I will take a trip to Mystic, Connecticut, and will return to the Nautilus for a proper tour. Stay tuned, and thanks for coming along on another voyage of DH!

As an aside, I also wanted to thank you, my readers. This is my 50th post of this blog! Fifty times now, you have shared my travels with me, journeying to locations near and far. I have appreciated the feedback and support you have given, either by posting in the comments, your responses via email and text message, and in-person conversations. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and share in this adventure with me. While I have always enjoyed road trips, writing this blog has helped me focus my journeys, has made me more willing to see where unknown roads lead, what interesting destinations await, and what new stories can be told. Sincerely, thank you.

‘Til next time.

6 thoughts on “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Part I)

  1. Wow, 50 posts already. Congratulations and here’s to many more. Loved the “Commander” car wash, and I’m glad Nautilus & DH became well acquainted. So how many years has Nautilus just been parked / stationary?

    Liked by 1 person

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