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Captain Franklin F. Shellenbarger, U.S. Maritime Service (Ret.) (1920-2008)

Captain Franklin F. Shellenbarger, U.S. Maritme ServiceBased on five interviews conducted by Paul Stillwell from March through November 1997, the volume contains 277 pages of interview transcript plus an index. The transcript is copyright 2003 by the U.S. Naval Institute; the interviewee placed no restrictions on its use.

This memoir covers Shellenbarger’s service in both the Navy and the merchant marine. He enlisted in the Navy in 1938 and before his enlistment expired in 1941 he was assigned to the old sailing ship USS Constellation, the battleship USS Colorado (BB-45), the destroyer USS Herbert (DD-160), the light cruiser USS Helena (CL-50), and the flag allowance for Commander Battleships Atlantic Fleet. After leaving the naval service, he worked for the Glenn L. Martin Company building aircraft. During World War II he was first a student and then an instructor at the Maritime Officers Training School, New London, Connecticut. He had wartime service on board the Liberty ships SS John R. McQuigg, Reverdy Johnson, and Linn Boyd. In the decades that followed he was a deck officer for American South African Lines, American Export Lines, and American Export-Isbrandtsen. In the early 1960s he was chief mate, acting master, and ship superintendent of the nuclear-powered passenger-cargo ship NS Savannah. His experience as master of cargo or cargo/passenger ships included the SS Extavia, Flying Spray, Exiria, Export Champion, Export Ambassador, Container Forwarder, Container Dispatcher, Flying Fish, Export Agent, and Export Courier. Captain Shellenbarger's seagoing career ended in 1979, and he subsequently testified as an expert witness in legal cases. From 1994 to 2003 he was president of the Marine Society of New York.

An index to this volume can be viewed here (.pdf).

The NS SavannahCaptain Shellenbarger: David McMichael was the fellow that was there on the Savannah, and he had been with the Maritime Administration during the launching of the vessel. The ship was launched in 1959 at New York Shipbuilding, in Camden, New Jersey. The sponsor was Mamie Eisenhower.[1] I'll start right off with one of the things that happened there, because it sort of leads up to my time on the ship. Anybody that wants to look at the record will see who the naval architects were, and my personal opinion is they did a lousy job designing the ship.[2] First thing they did was fail to take consideration that there had to be access to the top of the reactor to replace tubes. When they made the original plans, they had the bridge and all the control devices over the top of the reactor. Made a nice looking diagram of the ship, but it wasn't practical. So they had to revise the plans while it was still on the ways and move the whole bridge structure aft. Well, that freed up the reactor hatch, which was number-four hatch. Then by moving it aft they went over the top of number-five cargo hatch, which meant they had to go through the bottom of the swimming pool to get into number five.

Well, we had passenger ships, Independence and Constitution, where you did have a sealed bottom of a swimming pool which could be undogged and lifted up for access to that cargo hatch, but in the Savannah's case they decided no, they would just put two big side ports into number five, and when they loaded them they'd use elevators, which they did. So the ship ended up with nine elevators instead of seven. And eventually it wasn't practical to use them for cargo, and they ended up as strictly for stores. Starboard number five became a deck storeroom; port became an engineers' storeroom.

Draft marks on the NS Savannah, see here on the ways in 1959But, anyway, the next big boo-boo was something I saw while we were in Galveston, which was the homeport. I was out on the pier one day, looking at the draft marks. I came back to the boatswain, a fellow by the name of Marvin Dittmars, and I said, "Hey, something is wrong. I don't see how it could be." The draft marks weren't just painted on. They were welded in place. I said, "I took the amidships draft marks. They're out about 7-8 inches. The forward and aft draft marks look okay. What's wrong?"

So then I went to Captain McMichael and asked him about it. He said, "Well, this is one of those stories that isn't well known. It was never publicized and for obvious reasons." He said when the ship was launched, he as a representative of MarAd rode the ship down the ways.[3] And he said that somebody failed to take consideration of the fact that they built this reactor shielding on the vessel roughly amidships—weighing well over 3,000 tons in one spot. When it went down the ways, the stern became waterborne and the center of the ship didn't. When it hit the water, the ship sagged something like, according to Dave, about 18 inches. He said, "We thought the ship was going to sink right there in the Delaware."

Tugs came alongside. They heard the tremendous crashing of bulkheads buckling. Elevator shafts out of alignment. Of course, most of the paint at the time was primer. He said it was falling off the bulkheads, and he said it looked like the ship was on fire. Of course, everybody knew there was no source of fire or anything on it. New York Ship had the graving dock ready for it, because that's where they were planning to move it anyway. So they immediately shoved it in the graving dock. Of course, they had to move the blocks because of the sag of the ship, and the ship sat there for two years. The delivery of the vessel was delayed for two years while they had to rebuild the ship. In that time they reduced most of the sag from 18 inches down to about seven inches. They took about ten inches of the sag out of it.

[1] Mamie Eisenhower was the wife of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

[2] The ship was designed by George G. Sharp, Inc., of New York.

[3] MarAd—U.S. Maritime Administration.



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