Alas, when I checked in with Naval
Base Kitsap-Bremerton officials Wednesday morning, the massive ship
was already moving out into Sinclair Inlet.
I pedaled down to Bachmann Park in
Manette for a view of the 1,100 foot-long
carrier, a major muscle in our country’s permanent military
force, and its 3,000-strong crew. The ship is headed out for sea
Later, I headed up to East 30th
Street, as the Nimitz passed through Rich Passage and into the
wider Puget Sound.
One of Bremerton’s most historic and picturesque streets
won’t become Navy property anytime soon — though word was it could
Rumors have been circulating on Gregory Way — which runs
parallel to the edge of the Navy’s Bremerton base and the Puget
Sound Naval Shipyard — of a federal takeover.
Mary Whitney, whose family home has been on the street half a
century, said she’d heard the Navy was interested in expanding its
buffer with the city. I started looking into the claim myself, and
while it is entirely possible the Navy discussed the option, the
Navy officially went public with the rumor being a “myth.”
I also confirmed that with Navy Spokeswoman Silvia Klatman.
“The rumor that the Navy would like to purchase Gregory Way
property as a buffer has been circulated for a few years and was
addressed most recently in the Joint Land Use Study,” Klatman told
me. “The Navy currently has no plans or funding requests to
purchase property on Gregory Way.”
If you haven’t visited Gregory Way, you’re missing out on a
beautiful trek through venerable architecture and formidable
trees. Heidi Witherspoon, who wrote a story for the Sun about
the street’s revival in 2001, described it this way: “Craftsman
bungalows mingle with Mediterranean stucco villas and English-style
brick cottages.” There are also towering conifers that date back to
the city’s roots.
On Monday, the Kitsap Sun got a rare
treat, going aboard the Seawolf for a tour right before the boat
headed for dry dock. So what makes the Seawolf so special? Here’s
nine things that differentiate her from the pack.
1. The Seawolf emerged at
the tail end of the Cold War
There are only three vessels in the
Seawolf class — The USS Jimmy Carter, USS Connecticut and the boat
itself — because, frankly, they were too expensive with the
collapse of the Soviet Union. During the final chapter of the Cold
War, the three vessels were designed to outpace the Soviets,
particularly in the “acoustics” realm, or how quiet they could
Along with the Soviet Union’s
collapse was the derailing of a U.S. plan to build 28 Seawolf-class
boats. Today, the three “most capable” submarines are based in
Puget Sound waters, with the Seawolf and Connecticut in Bremerton
and the Jimmy Carter at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor.
2. The boat’s armed to the
Stocked with twice as many torpedo
tubes as the preceding Los Angeles-class submarines, the Seawolf
can carry around 50 torpedoes, fired from eight different
“It was built to hunt Russian
submarines, and destroy Russian submarines,” Seawolf Sonar
Technician Jacob Stilling told us.
3. The Seawolf is speedy — but
just how fast is classified
Officially, the leaders of the
Seawolf can say the boat can reach a speed greater than 20 knots.
How fast the vessel is actually capable of going remains
4. The Seawolf has a hardened
You might think that the submarine’s
sail — that protruding stack toward its bow — would only be used
for communications and reconnaissance. But the Seawolf, like some
other submarines, can use it for something else: penetrating the
ice in the coldest places on Earth.
During the most recent deployment,
the vessel sailed its way through the Bering Straight and
underneath the ice-covered environs at the top of the Earth. While
there, its sensors found a section of ice just five feet deep in a
land where its breadth can reach 100 feet.
The sail pierced through the ice and
most of the crew even got a chance to go “ashore,” taking photos
and filling condiment bottles with North Pole ice
“It wasn’t that cold,” said boat
commander Jeff Bierly. “It was like a cold day in
While the Seawolf isn’t the first to
do this — the Nautilus did it way back in 1958 — it’s still an
important skill set in an area of the world where the
powers-that-be are becoming increasingly territorial.
5. Her backup’s called
Plus, if the vessel’s nuclear
reactor ever goes out under that ice, the Seawolf must find a way
to surface so it can power on its backup diesel generator —
something that the Navy’s fleet of submarines still carry in case
of emergency. The one aboard the Seawolf is called
It can not only dive the deepest,
but it can last down there a long time
While not unique to the Seawolf, the
boat’s personnel take seriously its life system that keep it
inhabitable for its 154-compliment crew. The carbon dioxide we all
breath out is “scrubbed” and expelled from the boat. New oxygen is
made by taking water (H2O) and separating chemically its two hydrogen
molecules from the oxygen — and viola. The crew must also ensure
carbon monoxide (CO) does not build up on board, and does so by
chemically adding an additional oxygen molecule to it
(CO2) which turns
it into carbon dioxide. That carbon dioxide is then scrubbed off
the ship with the rest.
6. The vessel can last only as
long as its stock of food
The submarine’s most precious
commodity? Its nuclear reactor can run for eons and we’ve already
learned how they keep breathing down there. The thing that runs out
first is the boat’s supply of food.
At the start of deployment, areas of
the ship are stacked deep with canned goods, making it possible to
go up to 120 days.
When you consider that the crew —
most of which is aged between 18 and 25 — eats around 850 pounds of
food every day, that amount adds up fast on board a 350-foot-long
This past deployment’s favorite meal
was probably Asian food, namely sweet and sour chicken, according
to Kip Farrell, the boat’s leading culinary specialist. (Farrell, I
might note, is from Silverdale.)
7. All that equipment and food
makes for tight quarters
Submarines aren’t known for being
roomy to begin with, but that’s especially true for the Seawolf.
Crew members routinely “hot bunk” to save space, meaning one
submariner will take a bunk when he comes off shift for someone who
just finished sleeping in it. It works out to about three people
sleeping in a space of two bunks as shifts are
“Space is a high commodity onboard a
submarine,” said Chief of the Boat Nicholas Wallace. “It’s like a
giant Tetris puzzle in here.”
They make it work. At times,
submariners bunk with the torpedoes. The vessel’s wardroom, where
officers dine and meet, doubles as a medical facility when a
submariner needs treatment of some kind.
8. Yes, sometimes it
With all that equipment, food and
people, the Seawolf has never been able to install a sanitary pump
aboard like some other subs have. That means that even when
“blackwater” — the effluence on board — is expelled via pressure,
some lingering smell can waft through the
It’s really not that big of a deal,
the crew said.
“You just get used to it,” Bierly
9. Time for an
The Seawolf on Tuesday headed for
dry dock, the start of a two-year overhaul. New sonar and combat
control systems will be added, Bierly said, making the vessel all
the more advanced when she goes back to sea in 2018.
“We’re gonna get the latest and
greatest,” Bierly said. “And we’re pretty excited about
Today marks my 10 year anniversary at the
Kitsap Sun. It’s a milestone that I’ve been thinking
about a lot lately. I’ve witnessed a dramatic transformation
in journalism this past decade. Not all has been positive: the
newsroom staff is half the size it was when I got here, reflecting
an era of massive media consolidation. (That’s
the nice way to put it). But I am also part of a new
era, where the most creative and industrious minds will prevail in
an age where anyone can publish a story.
I wanted to take you back through this decade, for a
trip through the stories that fascinated me most. Many of
these, you will notice, are from my first seven years on the job,
when I was the Sun’s crime and justice reporter. But Bremerton, as
home to the Sun and those I’ve covered, has always played an
1. After 62 years, death comes six hours
Amazing stories that are told on the obituary page
nearly everyday. So I was especially curious when my editor, Kim
Rubenstein, came to me with a rather unique one: A couple whose
obituary ran together, in the same article.
I phoned the family, wondering if they would be
interested in telling their parents’ story. It’s a phone call that
never gets easier, having to call someone coming to terms with
death, but it’s a call I feel is a newspaper’s obligation. In doing
so, I’ve always tried to explain I’d like to give the community a
chance to know the person they were in life, and if not, they were
free to hang up on me. Everyone grieves differently but some people
view the opportunity as cathartic.
In this case, the family was thrilled and invited me
to their home in Kingston.
I learned of a
very special love story — a couple through 62 years of marriage
did everything together. Everything. Even getting the mail.
It’s a story that not only touched me emotionally, but
apparently others as well. Few stories I’ve ever done attracted
broader attention. I got calls, emails and letters from all over
the country, and was even interviewed by the Seattle P-I about
2. The CIA is doing what in Washington
Undercover police officers have their identities
concealed for a reason: they are often conducting sensitive, and
sometimes high risk, investigations that warrant it.
But what about when police chiefs, who use their
government issued vehicles mainly for the purpose of driving to and
from work, start using those undercover license plates?
But nothing could prepare me, months after the
initial story, for a call from Austin Jenkins, NPR reporter in
Olympia, who’d been hearing testimony in the State Legislature
about these license plates and changes to the program.
Later, the DOL would backpedal and say that they had
no authority to release information about those “federal agencies”
that have the licenses. But it was a fascinating discovery, an
amazing story to work on and I am glad
we were able to help bring the program to transparency.
3. The Pentagon’s calling, and they’re not
Ever wonder what it’s like to have The Pentagon angry
with a story you did? Well, let me tell you.
Through a public records request, I got hold of a
Navy document that reported he’d received an honorable
discharge from the Navy — something a former Navy JAG told me was
unheard of following a sex crime conviction.
We ran the story.
The following Monday, The Pentagon called.
“Your story is wrong,” I was told repeatedly. “Are
you going to correct it?”
“How is it wrong?” I asked.
I couldn’t get an answer because those records were
private, I was told.
“So how can I correct it?” I wondered.
Round and round we went, for what felt like an
eternity. Newsroom meetings were held. I freely admit it does not
feel good when the Pentagon is not happy with you.
Eventually, others at The Pentagon and the local base
released information that showed the man had received an “other
than honorable” discharge. To this day, I am uncertain why I
saw reports that contradicted each other.
4. Burglary victim becomes the
Imagine coming home from a trip to find your home has
been burglarized, and yet
you’re the one getting hauled off to jail. That was the
situation Luke Groves faced in 2009. A felon, he’d broken into a
school in Shelton at 18, and now, at 37, police found his wife’s
guns in their Hewitt Avenue home.
Prosecutors, who charged him with felon in possession
of a firearm, had offered him no jail time in exchange for his
guilty plea. But Groves took the case to trial,
was convicted, and could’ve faced years in prison over it.
The case was one that former Kitsap County Prosecutor
Russ Hauge and I had butted heads about. He felt we’d cast the
prosecutor’s office as the bad guy in a case which they could not
just “look the other way” on a weapons charge.
I followed the trial from start to finish, including
Hauge himself handling the sentencing — something I can’t
recall on an other occasion in my seven years covering the court
system here. Hauge told the judge that Groves should ultimately get
credit for time served for the crime, and Groves was released.
The story started with a scanner call for a DOA (dead
on arrival) near the road in Olhava. I inquired with the police
sergeant, who told me that the death was actually a pretty
interesting story — certainly not something I expected to hear. I
headed north, parked, and followed a little trail into the woods
where I found “The Shiloh,” Christensen’s home among Western Red
It was a “meticulously organized world,” I wrote. “A
campsite with finely raked dirt, a sturdy green shed and a tent
filled with bins of scrupulously folded clean laundry and cases of
Steel Reserve beer.”
In the subsequent days, I learned all about his quiet
penned this story. Most satisfying to me was that Christensen’s
family had lost touch with him. Without the story, which thanks to
the Internet made its way across the country, his family would’ve
never found him. He got the dignified burial he deserved.
6. Heroin’s ugly grip on Kitsap, the
I’ve probably put more energy into covering the
opiate epidemic than any other single topic in my decade at the
I’ve received a lot of “jail mail” over the years,
and while there’s usually an interesting story, it is, shall we
say, not always one I would pursue in print.
When the letters started coming from Robert “Doug”
Pierce in 2010, I was skeptical. He was convinced that Kitsap
County had miscalculated his “good time” or time off for good
behavior, and that he was serving too long a sentence from his
current cell, at Coyote Ridge in Connell.
Now I will tell you I am a journalist and not a
mathematician. But the basic gist was that jail officials here were
calculating his good time by simply dividing his time served by
three, rather than tacking on an additional to his overall
sentence. The result was he would serve 35 extra days.
A criminal past can often haunts someone for the rest
of his or her life. That was certainly true for Ed Gonda, a man who
moved his family to Bainbridge Island and had heard it was a “laid
back, forgiving kind of place.”
His crime was a sexual relationship with a
15-year-old girl. He admitted to it, did time for it, paid more
than $10,000 in treatment for it — and had lived a clean life for
15 years, to include starting his own family.
But under Washington state law, he had to register as
a sex offender, though he was not a pedophile. And somehow, after
making friends at a local church and at his daughter’s school, word
“The news traveled fast, and people who they thought
they knew well acted swiftly,”
I wrote. “His daughter could no longer play with friends down
the street, he said. The church pews around them were vacant on
Sundays. They more or less stopped going out anywhere on the
“We’re treated like we’re diseased,” his wife told
It was the start of a
three part series I knew would be controversial, but I felt was
important. We want to protect all people in society, especially
children. But is there ever a point when we’ve gone too far and it
has infringed on the rights of those who have already done their
Let’s face it: Bremerton has a gotten a bad rap over
the years, following the demise in the 1980s of its retail downtown
core. An increasing violent crime rate followed, and in many ways
the reputation was earned.
When I was hired in 2005, the city had the highest
per capita violent crime rate. During my interview, which was just
weeks after two murders blocks from the Kitsap Sun’s office, I was
asked how I would take on the story. Aggressively, I said.
If you live in Bremerton, you know that each time we
do have a tragic, violent episode — even if far outside city limits
— it reinforces the stereotype.
But followers of this blog know better. There are
many positive signs of a community improving: Increasing ferry
traffic. Volunteers embracing parks. Home improvements being made.
We’ll see how long it takes for the rest of the world
10. Walking the story in
Any reporter will tell you that we spend a lot more
time with the story than what ends up in the paper. But what about
those people who want to know more, who
are curious for every last detail?
The USS Bremerton submarine headed out of Naval Base
Kitsap this morning following
a weeklong visit. The crew of almost 150 made the most
of the visit to the city she’s named for, performing a park
renovation, visiting Mayor Patty Lent’s office and even inviting
some guests aboard for tours.
I was fortunate to have been one of those guests. They gave us
an incredible tour of the vessel that will stand out as a highlight
of my reporting career.