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Submarines in shipyard

Your spouse's submarine is heading in to shipyard. You have no idea what to feel. You are excited because his boat won't be deploying, but every time you talk to people about shipyard, they sound negative. What is it about shipyard?!

This is our second time in shipyard. In a general sense, here's what you should know:

1. The shipyard schedule starts out pretty good.

This is usually the point where people say things to you like, "Just you wait." (Really encouraging, right?) The hours can be somewhat reasonable and the stress level of your spouse is on the normal range. Not to sound like the Negative Nancy's, but the shipyard schedule really does ramp up as the boat gets ready to leave shipyard. Now is the time to savor those work week hours and possibly two weekend days off in a row. Yes, the schedule can be exceedingly disappointing even then (like dealing with a 4 day duty rotation) or a heavy trainer schedule, but-- in general-- this is the time where your spouse may actually be able to stay awake and watch a movie with you once he gets home from work.

2. Everyone has a different shipyard schedule.

Your husband may get home at 4 pm one day and your friend's spouse may get home at 10 pm. Different divisions work overtime at different times. While one division is stuck in 3 day duty rotation before switching to rotating shiftwork for the next 2 weeks, another division is getting in early and coming home early. Then the next month, it can switch. From the perspective of the spouse, the schedule never seems to make sense. I pretty much hear, "We are working crazy hours" or "I will be home before dinner."

3. Until your time in shipyard starts coming to a close.

When the boat is getting ready to get out of dry dock or get out of shipyard, the schedule pretty much ramps up and everyone is stuck working crazy intense hours. I start dreading the words, "Something on the boat broke." That pretty much equates to your spouse living on the submarine until whatever it was gets fixed. Even better, if they are leaving shipyard, when they aren't working on the boat, they are in a trainer getting ready for deployment. It is usually around this time that I start viewing shipyard as Deployment Training for the Dependents. Yes, your spouse is "home" and "in port," but he gets home after you go to bed and hasn't seen the kids in literally a week. (The bright side: at least if there is an emergency, he can come home, unlike deployment.)

4. There are positives to shipyard.

Like I said, if there is an emergency your spouse is at least reachable. When the boat is deployed, your spouse won't be able to fly home for a broken arm or an asthma attack or stitches or a trip to labor and delivery. When the boat is in shipyard, you have a 95% chance that when you call in an emergency, your spouse will be quickly located and able to leave to meet you. (Of course, sometimes, they can't leave right away.) I, for one, really like having this safety net. I may be trudging through day to day by myself-- managing the house and the family schedule and the children alone-- but I feel like he is at least an option if I need him. Not to mention, when the boat is in shipyard, your spouse isn't deployed (unless they send him for a ride on another submarine, which, blah. Also happens.)

5. The off days are amazing.

Every once in awhile, when you least expect it, your spouse is home for lunch. Or gets off in time for school pick up with the children. Or is scheduled to work all weekend and shows up Friday afternoon and says the job they were going to do was canceled. Those moments are delicious and such fun. Yes, sometimes it means re-arranging plans to take advantage of unexpected together time, but it is worth it.

6. There can be some serious guilt managing the shipyard schedule.

For myself, I feel bad when I'm frustrated over little things, like I want him to do this or that around the house. But he's getting home after a 14 hour work day and he's tired and hungry and ready for bed. We have major discrepancies in communication at those times, mostly forgetting to tell each other things and often times our best form of communication is Google Calendar and leaving notes or sending a text. For him, I know he feels guilt when I'm balancing everything in the house and he's basically just living there, asking things of me. Can you wash this uniform? Did you run this errand? Did you call this company? Not that either of us like deployment better, but when the boat is away we don't have the tension of trying to jam so much life into the 30-40 minutes we actually see each other in the day. "The baby has a horrible rash that I need to get checked out. He's also had some questionable stool that has looked like..." "Have you paid this bill? I really need it paid by..."

7. The children do not understand shipyard schedule.

One of our 5-year olds asked me, "What is the difference between duty and Daddy working? He doesn't come home anyway." Well, bud. He does come home, but he gets home after you are asleep (though he tries to wake you and give you a kiss) and he leaves before you wake up. When he has duty, he doesn't come home at all. The problems that I deal with when the boat deploys are the same problems I deal with when the shipyard schedule ramps up. To them this fluctuating schedule can be a bad thing. Plans we had made-- meet friends at a park, for instance-- are sometimes canceled because Daddy has an afternoon off and wants to do something as a family. (Or, worse, because he has an afternoon off, it is my one chance to have help making a Costco run. Always a favorite with the kids.) The children become needy, whiny, regress in behaviors (including potty training), and bicker much more than usual. They are quick to tears and quick to anger. I have a hard time finding balance because I'm also taking on all the household responsibilities and am also feeling the pressure. Change is hard for kids. It is a time where I find myself really needing to dig deep and get to the root of their behavior issues instead of just punishing what is on the surface. Listening to them becomes far more important than correcting them; when they feel heard, the behaviors often start correcting themselves.

8. The shipyard schedule is hard to explain to people.

You talk to people who have spouse's deployed and you know they are thinking, "At least your husband is home," which he is. But you also know those people had a hard time when their spouses were going through the shipyard schedule. When you talk to people who either aren't married to a military member or who haven't gone through shipyard, it is hard to explain the ups and downs of the schedule. How do you explain fast cruising? And duty days? And shiftwork? And leaving before you are awake and coming home when you are asleep? And sharing a roof, but not seeing each other for a week? And even people on your same boat might not get your spouse's current schedule. We are all in a fog. You think everything is fine with your girlfriend and then discover her spouse has been working these super intense hours and she's at her wit's end. It is crazy. I feel like each week is a question mark: what will the schedule be this week? These are the times when your spouse promises to be home in time to see the kids, but you don't pass that information on to them because the 3 or 4 pm phone call saying, "Ah, this job started later than we wanted and is taking longer than we expected..." is too disappointing for the children. You just wait and hope that what he actually will be home.

9. No way in Hades you will miss shipyard.

Until you are out of shipyard and the submarine deploys. Then you will miss shipyard. Crazy how the grass is always greener, isn't it? Once the submarine pulls out of port, all you will be able to think about is the days he came home for lunch (all 2 of them), the weekends he had off (months before the boat came out of dry dock), and being able to call him (even if you never did... but at least having the option). You will miss being able to leave notes and sharing calendar events that you know he received when your only option is Sailor Mail (is he even receiving my emails?!). This is the point where you will probably say more than once to another military spouse, "At least in shipyard you can call the boat." (My, how the tables have turned.)

10. Nothing will make you dread shipyard quite like heading back into it.

You sucked it up. You got through it. You did your sea tour that included shipyard and underways and deployments and everything. You went to shore duty. And now your next boat is heading to shipyard and you know. You know what 20 hour days feel like, how your spouse sleeps on the boat in an attempt not to waste a moment he could be sleeping. You know what going into shiftwork unexpectedly feels like. You know what it is like to scramble to find a sitter because all of a sudden has duty on the one day you planned a girl's night out. You know what it feels like when your spouse has duty on holidays and birthdays and navigating kids through a shipyard schedule only to have deployment to look forward to. These are probably the times where you will find yourself slipping and saying something to a spouse heading into shipyard, "Shipyard is miserable." (Insert Fight Club quote: "Tyler's words coming out of my mouth. And I used to be such a nice guy.")
As with most things in life, when going through shipyard, focus on the bright side. Cue Monty Python. Because, well, Monty Python has the answer to all the difficult questions:

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you're chewing on life's gristle
Don't grumble, give a whistle
And this'll help things turn out for the best
And always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the light side of life

How did you get through shipyard? What was your shipyard experience?


Steve Burgess said…
Thank you for the article, though I have no idea what you have to go through, or even what most of this means, one thing is clear... our military families go through way more than we realize. I felt sorry for your little guy and not getting to see his Dad. I do appreciate all of the men and women who serve.

Steve Burgess @ Atlanta Yacht Sales

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