by Dave Nesbitt - December 5, 2005
Some time after King's Post shakedown Availability in 1961, we, the King's Sonar gang, found out that the Captain had made a bet with another CO that his Sonarmen could navigate King into San Diego Harbor and bring the ship right up to the pier, without the aid of visual or Radar aids. We were told that we had a month to make sure that Captain Bustard won that bet. It was judged to be a near impossible tasking but we decided to give it a try.
The first problem to be overcome was that we did not know anything about Navigating, so some of us were sent up to the “Quarter gaskets” to learn what we could about it. This activity pointed out another problem; Navigation Charts show things above the water, nothing below, so we had to figure out what was visible below water that would also be on the chart.
While this was all going on, Harry Pate and Tom McKenny tackled the hardest problem; detecting small objects below the water, in relatively shallow water, with a sonar system that was designed to put out a powerful pulse that would detect submarines at long range. In shallow water the transmit power was so high that our screens would be almost totally white from the returning bottom effect and forget about picking out an echo from an object in all of that noise. Well Harry and Tom got their thinking hats on and in short order had the problem solved. They went into the transmitter and cut down the transmitter output to the point were it sounded like a mouse squeaking, but it was just enough so that all of a sudden, we could detect, things like channel buoys, the pilings that held up piers, breakwaters, mooring buoys, etc. … We had us a system to navigate with.
They gave us a couple of practices, going in and out of Long Beach and then San Diego . We would figure out where we were using sonar then confirm our position by checking the AN/SPA-4 Radar Repeater we had in Sonar or sending someone topside to take a look.
Finally the big day arrived, we were coming back into San Diego and we were to have the responsibility to navigate and make course recommendations to the OOD. As soon as the Sea Detail was set, an ET came into Sonar and pulled the fuses on the Radar Repeater; we were blind except for Sonar. The sonar navigation team in the next 45 minutes navigated King from Pt Loma Light all the way to 32 nd St , Naval Station and to having the bow-on to the pier. During that time we had to make a turn in the channel which would bring us close to a pier (I think “L” pier) on North Island, Captain Bustard ordered us to bring the ship close enough to the pier to scrap paint off the hull. We chickened out and came within 75 feet of it.
The Captain won his bet and we never did it again. But 5 years, 6 years, 7 years later while in the Tonkin Gulf, where the water was so shallow (17 fathoms), that bottom effect masked out any echoes, I would repeat what Harry and Tom did and reduce the output power of the sonar so that we could see.