Going Down, Down, Down in Downtown Portland, Holiday Goddess editor Vicki Arkoff hunts for the submarine from The Hunt for Red October.

Hollywood submarine oneThe first time I felt claustrophobic was in a movie theater watching “The Hunt for Red October.” The 1990 film stole my breath with its realistic depiction of life inside of a fully-loaded atomic submarine as it heads for the USA. The high-pressure scenario magnified the intensity: U.S. Navy officers – played by Alec Baldwin and Scott Glenn – must determine how to stop the enemy Russian sub – led by conflicted USSR officers played by Sean Connery and Sam Neill — before it can attack U.S. shores in a suspenseful game of cat and mouse. The stressful interior sub scenes shot made “The Hunt for Red October” one of the greatest white-knuckle films ever made.

When I heard the subs in the film were real, I vowed to hunt them down one day for a visit. That day came recently on a trip to Portland, Oregon with my father for a World War II army reunion with his fellow infantrymen from the famed “Jungleers” unit of the U.S. Army’s 41st Infantry Division. The men –some of the last living WWII military survivors – were guests at the opening of a new National Guard post being named in their honor. After the ribbon-cutting ceremonies we headed straight to the SS-581 USS Blueback, to pay homage to the U.S. Navy men who served under a difference kind of pressure.

The 2,000-ton USS Blueback sub now serves in retirement as a destination on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Docked in the Willamette River at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (1945 SE Water Ave., Portland, Oregon. 800-955-6674. www.omsi.edu/visit), it’s a quietly imposing attraction. For US$5.75 you can climb inside for a 45-minute tour guided by a former sub officer. While hearing first-hand account of life on a U-boat, you can peer through a periscope, fondle a torpedo, man the controls, squeeze through compartments, accidentally hit your head on dozens of doorways, and generally learn how a submarine works. It’s a sobering glimpse into how a crew of 85 men lived for months at a time. Without the inherent smells.

Our guide’s knowledge of subs and military tactics was vast, but the bare facts were impressive enough: the Blueback was a Barbel-class submarine, one of just three in her class, the last diesel-electric propelled submarines built. It was first deployed in the 1959 to the western Pacific, and operated for 31 years. Then came USS Blueback’s second career as film and movie star in “Hawaii 5-0,” “The Hunt for Red October” (as USS Dallas) and in a Discovery Channel doc. In 1994 the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry towed Blueback to Portland, Oregon, where she rests as an interactive memorial.

Call for tours and booking: (503) 797-4661. A 24-hour sub hotline has details: (503) 797-4624. Want more? Book the 2-hour Tech Guided Tour given twice a month. Or grab a bunk for an overnighter when Submarine Camp-ins are offered. Just remember — subs aren’t called “iron coffins” for nothing.


Read more from Holiday Goddess editor Vicki Arkoff in The Holiday Goddess Handbag Guide to Paris, London, New York and Rome (HarperCollins). Born and raised in Hollywood, California, Vicki devotedly reports on the crossroads between travel and entertainment.

Photos by Vicki Arkoff



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