Thursday, March 23, 2006

Flood of memories about Go-Boat sub


The Daily News
By Jennifer Taplin
March 20, 2006

DARTMOUTH - She's the Go-Boat O-Boat, and will be lovingly remembered by the submariners who served on her.

HMCS Onondaga will be towed out of Halifax Harbour this summer on her way to be installed at the Musee de la Mer de Pointe-au-Pere in Rimouski, Que.

Two of the captains -Capt. (Navy) Larry Hickey, and retired Cmdr. Peter Kavanagh - who commanded Onondaga during her 39-year run, reminisced about chasing Russian submarines and emergency surfacings.

Onondaga was one of three Oberon-class (O-Boat) submarines built for the Canadian navy in the 1960s.

There was always a running joke among submariners about the subs now tied up in Dartmouth: Ojibwa (the oldest), Onondaga (the middle), Okanagan (the youngest), said Hickey. The Olympus was added to the fleet in 1989 as a training vessel.

"So we used to talk about the No-Boat, the Show-Boat, and the Go-Boat. Onondaga was always the Go-Boat, the Okanagan was the Show-Boat and the Ojibwa was the No-Boat." Ojibwa had morale problems, said Hickey.

Torpedo practice

Asked what he remembers about his time aboard the Onondaga between 1986 and 1987, Hickey recalls torpedo practice in the Caribbean and chasing Russian subs in the midst of the Cold War.

"In those days, the Russians used to put a lot of their ballistic missile submarines to sea and it was our job ... to try and detect and keep an eye on where these submarines were," said Hickey. "We didn't want them to be hidden from us."

In November 1986, the Onondaga was sent hunting north of Newfoundland, and Hickey found out the Russians weren't the only threat.

"Once we got into the open water in the Atlantic in November, it was scary. It was rough, we're talking 30- to 40-foot waves," he said. "What I remember of that was just holding on for dear life at periscope depth trying to battle more the elements than trying to get in contact with the submarine."

Did they catch the Russians? Well, after a few beers and chatting with friends, Hickey will say he did.

"We'll always say we did, and whether we did or not doesn't matter."

Kavanagh captained the Go-Boat from 1994 to 1996, when they were testing experimental sonars. Kavanagh remembers pitting his little diesel/electric sub against an American nuclear-powered sub in a training exercise.

"In 1996, the sub was 30 years old and they sent us against a brand new American nuclear submarine and we beat the pants off them. So we knew what we were doing," said Kavanagh.

"We had to be smarter, because we didn't have the endurance and the speed of the nuclear submarine and our sonar wasn't as good as the nuclear submarine.

Well-trained crew

"The crew was so well- trained at that point, because we had been together two years. It just goes to show you just what you can do if you're trained well."

Kavanagh worked his way through several floods on the Onondaga. He said for some reason, she always rolled to port when they did an emergency surfacing.

Museum home fitting – captains

Two former sub captains are pleased that HMCS Onondaga is going to be preserved in a museum.

"All through my naval career, I would hear stories about people becoming attached to their ships or their submarines they served on, and I always thought that was a bit silly," said retired Cmdr. Peter Kavanagh, who lives near Ottawa.

"But it's true that any one of us that served in those O-boats, we crossed that bridge, and see all four of them resting there, (and) it is a kind of a sad thing to see."

The Oberon-class submarines have been resting dockside, gutted and rusting, ever since they were decommissioned in 2000.

"So, this is good news for sentimental sailors like me."

Around the world, nations have set aside submarines in museums and Canada hasn't - until now, said Capt. (Navy) Larry Hickey.

"We're the only nation that hasn't seemed to treasure the history of our submarine service," said Hickey.

Both said they would like to see their old sub when it's open to the public next year at the Musee de la Mer de Pointe-au-Pere in Rimouski, Que.



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