VIRGINIA, USA — Navy submarines are occasionally spotted in our bay, but what's it like to live on one?
The Navy invited CBS 8 to its base in Norfolk, Virginia to experience the confined quarters of a submarine and speak with the crew that includes a sailor from Chula Vista.
Submarines regularly travel at least 400 feet below the surface and they can do it for months at a time. They are also loaded with top secret equipment.
As a result, CBS 8 was not allowed to shoot any video during our tour of the USS Albany, they even took away our cellphones.
The Navy’s photographers shot video of our tour – and cleared the footage before releasing it to us for air.
They didn’t give us much video to work with, but it’s more than enough to know that if you're claustrophobic, this is definitely not the job for you!
“It gets really cramped,” said Lt. Robert Lafuze. ”It's really tight and you have to figure out how to get along with people.”
And forget about privacy and personal space. They showed us a tiny room with nine beds, but it actually sleeps more than a dozen through a process called hot racking, where three sailors working different shifts share two beds.
Unfortunately, there's not enough room on a sub to give all 120 sailors onboard their own place to sleep.
“It is what it is,” said Pedro Silva of Chula Vista. “Sometimes you get stinky people, but you kind of live with it. We use a lot of car air fresheners.”
Silva says everyone is so busy on a submarine that the days actually fly by pretty fast. “Living onboard is kind of like a time machine,” he said. “When you go down, you lose all track of time just because of our tight schedule.”
They bring enough food to be self-sufficient for 90 days, but forget about phone calls home.
“Communication with family is pretty much exclusively just emails,” one sailor onboard told us. And depending where you are in the world, you may go weeks without an internet connection because the whole point of a submarine is to not do anything that could get you noticed.
“This is the way you gotta think about it - everyone is trying to hit you when you're the submarine and your job is to make sure that they can't hit you,” Lt. Lafuze said.
One way to hide? Find swimming shrimp! They're so loud in the ocean that they can throw off the enemy. And if that doesn't work? The submarine is armed with several torpedoes.
They told us the ones painted green symbolize they’re explosive, but beyond that we weren't given many specifics.
For security reasons, the Navy also prohibited us from showing any video of the Albany's control room, but we are allowed to show you what the controls look like in a training simulator where we learned how to navigate the vessel.
One sailor controls depth – making the sub go up and down, another person steers left and right.
It's relatively stress free when everything is going smoothly, but on a submarine things can go wrong in a hurry. Typical emergencies include leaks and fires - which happen more than you'd think.
Fires usually break out in the dryers and they don't have firefighters onboard to put them out.
“If something goes wrong, you have to be able to deal with it yourself which is why everybody is a damage control person on a submarine,” Lt. Lafuze said. “Everyone does damage control. Surface ship, you've got guys who that is their job, on a submarine, everyone does it.”
Submariner life isn't easy, which is why they get a bonus for agreeing to do it. But if it’s definitely not the life for you - maybe shooting guns is more your style.
WATCH RELATED: On the Homefront | CBS 8 gets unique look at life in the Navy