we were not told anything about the situation in the beginning but it was painfully obvious we were hard aground.
My General Quarters billet that night was the job of phone talker, which in most cases is a pretty easy one. You simply report everyone present to the bridge and repeat what you are told to do to the Officer in charge. I put the phones on as everyone began to show up. Once again I realized immediately as I began to hear reports that things were different than they ever had been. My job had put me in a different position than I had anticipated it was for real this time. I was immediately barraged with questions about our situation by the shipmates at my station around me who were dependant on me for news. The reports I heard on the phones when the other stations began to give status reports to the bridge still stand out in my mind all these years later. I was ordered by someone not to repeat what I heard on the phones. The information was classified and I could repeat only what I was told to. The thing I heard was at least two of the three engine rooms were taking on water and were steamed up. I remember thinking we are in deep do-do here. My mind was racing and I was thinking we have major hull damage here. I and many others that night thought the ship was in bad trouble and maybe the worst was yet to come. I guess the look on my face must have betrayed me and those around me figured by looking at me things did not look good. Things seemed pretty bleak to me for sometime. I remember thinking about my lifeboat station but mostly I remember that feeling of not knowing for a while and it was not warm and fuzzy by any means. I was somewhat relieved when I heard the explanation that the flooding in the engine rooms was a result of valves on the void tanks being open at the time and the tanks were flooded by the grounding. This allowed the sea water that rushed into the void tanks to spew out into the engine rooms until the valves were located and closed. I recently confirmed this at our Charleston reunion by speaking with our Engineering Officer then, Lt. Saunders. He told me the valves were open into the tank voids between the double hulls to allow for ventilation and no one put it together at first until they were found and closed. When the outer hull was ruptured the connected tank voids flooded with sea water. The guys in the engine rooms were not sure what was up at first but figured it out pretty quick. Later the damage control teams found the bow thruster compartment was flooded and the compartments abutting them had to be secured. Soon the flooding was under control. No life boat needed for now.
My memory says that next we got rid of all weight we could forward by pumping off water and I think we put the two VPs (landing craft) and the Captains launch in the water in anticipation of backing off the rocks. I believe we waited for the tide and then the Captain had us all go stand on the fantail in a calculated area to shift the crew‘s weight aft. The next reality check came right after we backed off the rocks. The kind of noises we heard as we backed off is not what you wanted to hear from your ship in Antarctica. I ran through my life boat drill in my mind again but we were okay and once off the rocks we headed back to Palmer.
The decision was made to put the divers over to evaluate the hull damage. I had at that time an interest in becoming a diver. I had expressed my interest to some of the divers and volunteered to help them suit up since I was interested. This gave me access to what I wanted: first hand information. I remember after they came up from the brief cold water dive that I realized from their grim looks the news was not good. There was also a close call when the diving officer became so cold he almost drowned. The report was the hole was large enough to drive a truck through. Another thing about your ship in Antarctica you were not up for hearing. In dry dock later, the report was confirmed: a semi- truck maybe?
The decision was made to take our chances and head for warmer water. I have since learned that cold water is the enemy of a cracked up hull. The metal becomes brittle and the likelihood of disaster increases in the temperatures we were in. Another factor was the stretch of water we faced is the