People ask, “What’s it like to see a Navy ship come close?” With a retired US Coast Guard admiral on board, we encountered all the ships at sea beginning with the big one. The USS Mesa Verde rolled past us as we exited Sarah Creek into the York River. The Mesa Verde is an amphibious transport dock ship that can field an entire battalion of 800 Marines, including tanks. It was transiting the Coleman Bridge toward the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station.
Along the way out the creek, we found several dolphins still lingering at summer’s end before heading out to sea and south.
Ret. Rear Admiral Jim Morgan and his wife Sally were vacationing from Charlottesville. On the boat, they celebrated their 35th anniversary with champagne.
Jim used to sail a 45-foot Coronado in the Caribbean. “That was years ago, when I lived aboard it. All I worried about back then was the wind and whether there was enough food aboard. During my career in the Coast Guard I took the cutter Eagle to Europe twice.” That’s the flagship training vessel, a veritable tall ship of magnificent proportions.
We tacked downriver in brisk winds of 10-12 mph. Jim and Sally had no problem with the heeling, but he allowed me to reef the genoa for the comfort of the other passengers. They were from West Virginia and new to the sailing experience.
That’s no Navy ship
On the far horizon, six or eight miles away, I spotted another Navy warship turning out of York Channel into the York River. “No, it’s a cutter,” Jim said casually. You couldn’t see any profile, just a faint trace of the bridge against the sky. Sure enough, he was right. About 20 minutes later the orange band across the hull was faintly visible. I radioed the ship to indicate I was crossing its bow a mile away, and to say I had a retired admiral on board who spotted it miles away.
“This is the USCGC Mako,” the radioman transmitted. “We’re an 87-foot cutter home-ported in Cape May, New Jersey.” The cutter stopped past the Yorktown Training Center dock. I suggested we radio them help on how to dock a cutter. Instead, the boat moved across the river and we were able to approach its stern.
“Yes, let’s see how they like it to be boarded,” Jim joked. “That’s the great annoyance of recreation boaters, to be boarded. Boaters don’t know if they have the right safety equipment aboard or whether it’s up to date.” As we got close, Jim made out the number on the hull. “You see those first two numbers, 87? That’s the length. Those are .50 caliber machine guns on the hull. I had five of those boats in Vietnam.”
Do you miss the Coast Guard?
He captained 82s and 95s during his career. I asked if he missed it. “Oh yes, I’d take that 95-footer back anytime. The last mission had us docked in Fort Lauderdale, where people referred to us as Mister Coast Guard. We went out on drug interdictions and rescued Cubans from the water. It was great work.
“The greatest thing was to go out to Dry Tortugas where we would tie up at a rickety pier. This was before tourism caught on. There was great diving there because a natural moat surrounded the island. One time we caught a 12-foot nurse shark. I wouldn’t do it today but we shot it with a .45 pistol. We pulled her up on the boat with the tender davit and gutted the shark. To our surprise, all these baby sharks spilled out onto the deck. We filled the tender with sea water and put them in it to save them. Then we took them back to the moat and let them go free into the water.”
We encountered several smaller boats and barges along the way, and Jim showed other passengers how to run the helm. I don’t know who was more exhilarated, him or me.
Two scenes show the 9-inch snow at Kingsmill and York River Yacht Haven. The docks were treacherous over the weekend and were beginning to melt Monday morning with a bright sun. However, temperatures in the lower teens and subsequent cloud cover slowed the melting considerably. By Wednesday and Thursday things should be better when it gets into the 60s. Until then, boaters are advised to stay off the docks. One slip could be fatal.
Let’s See All the Ships at Sail
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all the ships at sail all the ships at sail all the ships at sail