A submarine ran out of fuel about 100 miles from Hawaii while searching for a lost tug. Sub R14 had empty reserve tanks, no radio communications and a week’s worth of food. Crew rigged up blankets and mattress covers as sails. It sailed back to Hawaii over 5 days.

USS R-14 (SS-91) was an R-class coastal and harbor defense submarine of the United States Navy. R-14 — under acting command of Lieutenant Alexander Dean Douglas – ran out of usable fuel and lost radio communications in May 1921 while on a surface search mission for the seagoing tug Conestoga about 100 nmi (120 mi; 190 km) southeast of the island of Hawaii.

Since the submarine’s electric motors did not have enough battery power to propel her to Hawaii, the ship’s engineering officer Roy Trent Gallemore came up with a novel solution to their problem.

Lieutenant Gallemore decided they could try to sail the boat to the port of Hilo, Hawaii. He therefore ordered a foresail made of eight hammocks hung from a top boom made of pipe bunk frames lashed firmly together, all tied to the vertical kingpost of the torpedo loading crane forward of the submarine’s superstructure.

Seeing that this gave R-14 a speed of about 1 km (1.2 mph; 1.9 km/h), as well as rudder control, he ordered a mainsail made of six blankets, hung from the sturdy radio mast (top sail in photo). This added .5 km (0.58 mph; 0.93 km/h) to the speed. He then ordered a mizzen made of eight blankets hung from another top boom made of bunk frames, all tied to the vertically placed boom of the torpedo loading crane. This sail added another .5 km (0.58 mph; 0.93 km/h).

Around 12:30 pm on 12 May, Gallemore was able to begin charging the boat’s batteries. After 64 hours under sail at slightly varying speeds, R-14 entered Hilo Harbor under battery propulsion on the morning of 15 May 1921. Douglas received a letter of commendation for the crew’s innovative actions from his Submarine Division Commander, CDR Chester W. Nimitz, USN.