Corporeal Passage: Chapter 15: Re-commissioning of the USS Missouri
by Jeff RandSteve Donohue worked tirelessly with Wilbur Noonan to install his windmill-powered pump above the USS Arizona and get it working to extract the precious fuel from the sunken ship. At dawn on May 5, 2032, Keith gathered his team for a brief meeting where Steve announced that he had the pumping mechanism working to draw the heavy-weight fuel oil from the tank of the USS Arizona into a trough sitting inside a rescue boat. Less than 10 hours later, Keith helped Steve row the boatload of fuel to the lift at the USS Missouri, while Wilbur and Michaela moved the other rescue boat in place to receive its load over the next few hours. Steve had designed a float in each rescue boat which would raise a flag to signal the boat was nearing its capacity. This way a lookout on the Missouri would know when to activate the team to retrieve a load.
During the initial days of the extraction, Mike Osvath neglected to get involved in transporting the fuel to the Missouri. Instead, he concentrated his efforts on rewiring the ship for its voyage. At a dawn gathering on May 11th, he announced that his project was ready for inspection. When the crew retreated to the bridge, they were met with a maze of wires coming from all parts of the ship. In keeping with the character of their special relationship, Steve described it as an electrician's nightmare. However, when Mike flipped a switch and there was a blast of a foghorn, the others were impressed, especially since there was no ready source of power.
On most days, the steady wind powered the pump, and two trips were made to the Arizona to collect the load, sometimes exceeding 1,000 gallons. Michaela complained when the system overflowed and spilled fuel into the ocean, only to be mocked by her father when he pointed out that the ship had been leaking its fuel supply into the harbor for ninety years.
Besides assisting with the fuel transport, Michaela had the responsibility of finding enough food for the crew. As the days progressed, the supply onboard ship, which was little more than a tourist display, was exhausted. She found a few cans in the rubble on the island, along with 100 pounds of dried dog food. At least JoJo would not go hungry. When Steve mentioned that his brother had consumed some dog food at Winter Camp, she was not favorable towards the prospect of eating the pellets. This prompted her to establish a fishing enterprise, which in short time, became very productive. Nearly five years without human interference had a positive effect on the fish stocks.
Preparing the mechanics of the Missouri posed a difficult challenge. While Steve had studied the schematics and technical specs found in the captain's quarters, he provided no real muscle power to the endeavor. Likewise, Mike Osvath, who had just turned 70, offered little where strength was needed. It left the hard work to Keith and Wilbur between their trips to bring fuel from the Arizona. The initial efforts were aimed at igniting the fuel for a boiler to run an electric generator. The attempts were unsuccessful until Steve found a road flare, which he used to start the burner. Of course, once burning, they would keep it going for the duration of the trip.
The ship had four large General Electric steam turbines for powering its propulsion system. When Wilbur did a dive to investigate the propellors without scuba gear, the two inboard five-bladed propellers appeared to be in working order, but the shaft was missing for the port outboard propellor. With that information, Keith made the determination to power the ship with just two propellers, hoping that it would be enough to move a lighter load. Wilbur verified that the twin rudders were housed behind the inboard propellers and powered by the same turbines. In addition, Steve's research indicated that there was no reverse thrust. Rather the variable pitch of the propeller blades could produce the same results.
Keith and Wilbur spent more than a month to get one of the turbines operational to power the starboard propeller. Since the bridge now had electrical power, Steve helped Mike rewire the controls directly to the turbines. Wilbur, like the others, was anxious to get the ship operational, and rushed to test the propeller. It took a few moments to break the rust seal after being parked for decades, before the propeller began to turn. Then the rotation speed increased causing the ship to thrust forward and edge to its port side towards the dock. Keith grabbed the controls to shut the valve to the turbine with no success. He tried to adjust the pitch of the blades, but Wilbur had failed to complete the connection. That left the manual option. He rushed down six different sets of stairs into the engine room. There he grabbed the wheel to shut the valve to the turbine, burning his hand in doing so.
The damage to the decking connecting the Missouri to the dock was extensive. To accommodate the hoard of tourists boarding the ship prior to humanity's incarceration in neural virtual reality, a steel deck had welded the ship to the portside dock. For the ship to leave, it would be necessary to cut through two-inch metal rods. Having experience with modest electric welding equipment at the D-bar-A Scout Ranch blacksmithing shop, Michaela volunteered for the task. Of course, there was no plasma cutting equipment available, and Michaela had to learn how to use an acetylene torch.
Summer came with little change in the Oahu weather. By late summer, after learning how to adjust the propellers to a zero pitch for testing, Keith and Wilbur were able to get a second propeller turning from a turbine. Although they had missed the date of a planned departure at the end of June, Steve estimated that they would have sufficient fuel onboard within the next month, assuming there was enough left in the wreckage of the Arizona.
The day had come to re-commission the USS Missouri for a third time in its storied history. According to their best estimates, the ship would be christened on the autumnal equinox. The sun would be at the equator and pass directly over the ocean at Zero Node on this day. This caused thoughts to turn to the friends they had left at Zero Node in January. It was difficult to not have morbid thoughts as there had been no communication with the Node since the violent vortex that disabled the submarine.
Michaela dressed in a gown to lead the christening ceremony. She surprised the others when she presented a bottle of champagne. It had been years since any of the small crew had consumed alcohol, and the opportunity to imbibe was delayed when she smashed the bottle on the bow of the Missouri. For 25-year-old Wilbur, it would have been his first opportunity to drink an alcoholic beverage. The permanent residents of Zero Node were not acquainted with this mind-numbing practice.
The departure from Pearl Harbor would be a real challenge. Fortunately, Mike had found and charged four handheld radio-receivers. In the past, the ship would have dozens of sailors on duty during any movement. Now there were just five and a dog. After hoisting the anchor, Wilbur assumed his station in the engine chamber to assure the workings of the boilers and turbines. Mike took his place on the starboard deck, while Michaela served as lookout dockside where she could watch the ship break from the metal ramps she had severed with the torch. Keith and Steve stood at the controls on the bridge.
When the steam power was released into the turbines, the propellers began to turn. For several minutes, Keith could not detect any movement, and he worried that by using only two engines, there would not be enough power to make it out of the harbor. It was a call from Michaela, indicating that they had moved a few inches, which renewed his hope. Then their speed began to slowly increase.
The Missouri was aligned to move deeper into the harbor and headed directly towards a collision with the USS Arizona and its monument. Keith became worried and turned the wheel slightly to the right to divert the ship. Steve, who had never even operated a power boat but had watched numerous movies, grabbed the wheel and began spinning it several times. At the same time, he grabbed the levers to adjust the pitch on the propeller blades to slow the boat. "Turning one of these things is a little different than operating a car with power steering or even manual," he said.
The Missouri narrowly missed the collision with the Arizona and came to a halt in the middle of Pearl Harbor. The small crew spent an entire day fully alert at their stations, before the big ship had been moved into the open ocean. It had been a difficult, but rewarding day. There they dropped anchor for some rest.
Keith gathered the crew together for their departure orders. There was 3,000 miles of ocean ahead, and at best the ship could reach eight knots. It would take at least two weeks to reach San Diego, if everything went right. They had not been able to activate the ship's navigational equipment, but Steve assured Keith that he could find the port with their compass and sextant, along with the navigational charts. Afterall, they had sailed the Pacific with much less.
Keith assigned his small crew to eight-hour shifts, where there would always be two persons on duty - one at the controls in the bridge and the other in the engine room. They would rotate assignments and wouldn't have consistent days, as sleep periods would vary between night and day. Fortunately, there would be enough to eat for about a month, if necessary. Michaela had dried dozens of fish, clams, and even some seaweed that appeared to be edible. Of course, there was plenty of dog food.
Wilbur raised the anchor and Keith engaged the turbines. Slowly, the USS Missouri embarked on its next voyage to save humanity. And finally, the Arizona has had a vital role in the mission.