Sea Stories
USNS Hayes (T-AGOR-16) underway.

Editing photos for “Up Scope!” the other day, I was working my way through “The Seventies” post-processing and writing captions for twenty-or-so galleries of images submitted by Neal Degner for the years 1974-1977. I stumbled across a photo of an unusual ship, a haze gray catamaran with the Military Sealift Command (MSC) stripes on her stacks. Curious, I decided a little research was in order, partly because those twin-hulled catamarans were as rare as the Pegusus class hydrofoils during the 70’s and 80’s.

Thank you internet. A few clicks later, and the ship was identified as the USNS Hayes (T-AGOR-16). Named after Dr. Harvey C. Hayes, a pioneer in underwater acoustics and the former head of the U.S. Navy Sound Division of the Naval Research Laboratory, the “Hayes” class oceanographic research vessel was re-purposed in the mid-80’s as an acoustic research ship...

She ended her career when struck from the register in 2008, having spent the last 15 years or so performing underwater acoustics research to reduce the acoustic noise of submarines!

1976 porteverglades 002“Finally he gets to the tie-in,” you might legitimately say, wondering what on earth an MSC catamaran has to do with Cold War boats.

“Wait a minute,” you ponder, “this is a Sea Story?”

“Lucy, you got some ’splaining to do!”

Ok, let me explain. No wait, there’s too much - let me sum up!

While exploring the history of the ship, I ran across an antique website, that as best I can tell, was designed and written by a retired MSC captain that goes by the moniker of “Slowbell”. He once had command of the Hayes, and may in fact have been in command of the Hayes when these photos were taken. He tells us much about the old girl in his own sea story which I have reproduced it here in its entirety for reasons I’ll address later.

In the words of “Slowbell”,

The Hayes showed up on my horizon in the early seventies. I had just finished a year on the USNS Vanguard, sitting down in Rio, when I got word I would be taking over the ship. She was barely a half-year old, and hadn't seen any real service. She had been built in Seattle, Washington, and aside from the trip down the West coast, through the Panama Canal, and a short run over to the Azores, she hadn't yet really been sea-tested. She did do a little test though on the skipper I relieved by doing her slamming thing in a moderate sea, scaring the poor fellow off the vessel. Barely six-months old, she already had the reputation - given to her by the previous command as a "bad scene" - "will never go anywheres”.

The sponsor of the vessel - the Naval Research Lab, had been given this ship as replacement for a old sea-plane tender they dearly loved, and were now wishing they had back. Well...I guess that's why they sent me..."ain't no ship, or female goin' to get off easy with me in charge." they surmised.

The problem with the Hayes, as with all catamarans is the vulnerability of it's cross-structure to the sea, and swell. In the case of the Hayes at that time, it cleared the surface in calm water by seventeen feet. This "cross-structure", at which the two hulls were joined, was flat...flatter'n a pancake, and unbeknownst to me, and others at the time, just plain housing structure designed to take no more than five-pounds per square inch of pressure. Later on in tests with sensors, we found pressures to exceed two-hundred pounds per inch when pounding in a heavy sea.

At the time, the Navy was building two similar catamarans, and had plans for eleven more for MSC - my outfit. The Navy cats were being built for submarine rescue, so were really loaded down with gear, and an additional deck below the cross structure, giving them less than ten-feet clearance from the sea. They later proved to be unfit for ocean service because of "slamming", and were used just for show, meandering from port to port along the coast. If they ever had to get to a scene in a hurry, they'd sink first.

This, however did not turn out to be the case with the Hayes. I had heard about the "pounding" the former skipper experienced, and heard what he had done to relieve it - slow down, though that only made it worse as the ship decelerated.

usns hayes 001After all the formalities of assuming command, I was invited uptown Alexandria, (Va.), for lunch at a nice restaurant. There were some officials from NRL, the fellow I just relieved, and a Navy captain who was being groomed for one of the Navy's cats. This poor fellow couldn't get it out of his mind that I was taking over this vessel without any "training" in catamarans. Where he ever thought I would ever get that kind of "training", there being no other cats this size in the world, I don't know. He was presently being given six-months briefing on his new assignment. After he kept shaking his head just too many times over lunch, I had to tell him I was a seaman, been nothing other than seaman, and will always be a seaman, and that anything that can remain afloat for a minute, will be me anyways.

That night we slipped our moorings under darkness - sounds clandestinely spooky...doesn't it, but the sailing board had been set by the previous skipper, and if I had set it, it would have been at a decent daylight hour. It's a long, tiresome trip down the Chesapeake, and during my normal sleeping hours, I don't appreciate that. Never again, like all other ships I've had, did that ever happen again. We broke out into the Atlantic the next day bound for the Greenland Sea where we were to start underwater sound studies. We'd eventually get up to 79º 30' far as a ship can go without ice-breakers, and then sometimes not.

The first seas we encountered were during the evening when we were just south of Greenland. The seas were building, being about eight, or so feet when I turned in. We were doing full speed - 16 knots.

The Hayes was 5600 horsepower, should have been 7200, but the builders put in the wrong size reduction gears, which couldn't handle the full potential of the of the numerous dumb things the poor ship had happen to it.

At around 0500 I was awakened by a pound, a slight grazing of the sea along the cross structure. Immediately I felt the engines slow down, and then she really started to depth charges going off under the ship. The phone was the Chief Mate on watch: "She started to pound, so I slowed down." he said.

Without telling him what I thought, I told him I'd be right up.

A few minutes later when I got up to the bridge, and saw the seas were about twelve feet or so, and it looking like that's all they would be for some time I said" "Full ahead". With a look of amazement on the mate's face, and the words "Hold on to you hat." under his breath, we came up to full speed again. I stayed for a while, and watched the timing of the sea, and ship's pitching, and when all seemed back to normal, I left the bridge for breakfast.

usns hayes 002

As I was eating, the Chief Engineer came in, and he Senior Scientist. "Would you believe we're hooked up into a twelve-foot sea." I said to the two.

"What? You gotta be kiddin'.' was their simultaneous replay.

"Yup' I said, explaining that unless the timing of the seas gets out of synch, we're good for the duration like this. I told them the mate had caught a little grazing, and panicked, as did my predecessor, and made matters worse by slowing down.

I also knew, but hadn't told them yet, that when the timing does get to where we will pound, I will tack, or take the seas on either bow, but never slow down.

Later on in heavy seas, my theory proved correct. The Hayes now could go anywhere, anytime. She was a good ship.

(Take a look at the) view of the Hayes' stern.

Would you believe we had to place a large warning sign forward between the hulls warning boaters not to try and go down between the hulls. When hooked up, Hayes' twin controllable-pitch propellers would churn up six-foot "rooster tails" between those hulls...instant chopped boat...and meat.



So what's the tie-in? According to,

(The) USNS Hayes, converted from an oceanographic research vessel to an ultra-quiet noise measurement vessel, began operation in 1991 as the fleet's submarine acoustical measurement platform on the East Coast.

1976 porteverglades 005

Utilizing advanced measurement systems developed under the Acoustic Measurement Facilities Improvement Program (AMFIP), USNS Hayes provides the platform and system capability of measuring radiated noise signatures of the Navy's quietest submarines. It conducts deep-water measurements at a variety of locations off the Florida coast and the Bahamas.

Special measurement arrays, a high capacity data acquisition and processing system (MAX), and a towed array measurement system (ATAMS) provide enhanced measurement capability of various noise deficiencies including sources that may be transient in nature.

In plainer english, previous missions included transporting, deploying and retrieving acoustic tools, conducting acoustic surveys in support of the submarine noise reduction program and performing acoustic testing. Read between the lines, and you know why the USNS Hayes has earned her place in the submarine community.

The USNS Hayes was designated as the (T-AG-195) when re-purposed in the eighties. Decommissioned and struck in 2008, she is currently laid up in the NAVSEA Inactive Ships Maintenance Facility in Philadelphia, PA.

My efforts to determine the identity of “Slowbell” and to contact him have been unsuccessful. His website has not been updated in a long time, and emails are returned with the ‘unable to deliver’ stamp. My suspicion is that he may no longer be with us, and his site, an absolute treasure trove of history for those interested in the MSC, has been abandoned. Without help from some interested individual, the associated history and sea stories may be lost to the future.

Slowbell’s website can be found at

2 MAR 2016 - When I last checked, Slowbell's website was no longer available. I believe I successfully archived all of the information and photos on his website before it was removed, if there is someone interested in restoring and maintaining it. ~ BMW

14 SEP 2017 - Clicked the link, just to check - the Slowbell website (still hosted on was still active! It's a bit of an antique shipwreck at this point (a download dialog appears everytime you go to a new page, and lower the volume to minimum before you select any article that mentions UFOs) but it's still there and functioning. Maybe it's the ghost of the Kane! (SEE ARTICLE BY SAME NAME ON SLOWBELL'S SITE.) - BMW

2000 Characters left


U.S. Naval Institute News

  • Pentagon: Red Hill Defueling on Track, Joint Task Force Starting Environmental Assessment
    This story has been updated to clarify that the Joint Task Force is responsible for defueling the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.  The Joint Task Force – Red Hill is on target to meet the July 2024 deadline to defuel the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Hawaii, the Department of Defense said […]
  • Japan Faces Readiness Hurdle As it Modernizes Military, Former Defense Chief Says
    Japan’s toughest hurdle, as it launches an unprecedented military modernization program and doubles defense spending, is the operational readiness of its air, naval and land forces, a former chief of the Japan Self-Defense Forces said Thursday. Japan is “running out of maintenance capabilities” and stockpiles of fuel and ammunition for a protracted conflict, retired Adm. […]
  • Report on National Security Implications of 5G Networks
    The following is the March 14, 2023 Congressional Research Service In Focus report, National Security Implications of Fifth Generation (5G) Mobile Technologies.  From the report The fifth generation (5G) of mobile technologies will increase the speed of data transfer and improve bandwidth over existing fourth generation (4G) technologies, in turn enabling new military and commercial […]
  • INDOPACOM: China Has Not Responded to U.S. Attempts to Establish Communication
    China has not responded to any of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s requests to establish direct communication channels between its commander and the commanders of China’s main military commands, Adm. John Aquilino said Thursday. Defense chiefs of partner nations approached Aquilino in August 2021 during the annual Indo-Pacific Chiefs of Defense conference, hosted by INDOPACOM, and asked […]