For six weeks, we saw nary a Navy warship. Then two showed up within two days. Three days later, the first ship left to go out to sea. A New Hampshire couple was aboard, having taken their ASA 101 course on Lake Champlain. I thought it only fitting that the navigate under the Coleman Bridge to go see the ships.
Megan Merrill got blown off course toward the bridge, so we tacked and tried it again. She smoothly ran under the center of the span and we moved diagonally across the river. When we tacked across, I noticed two Moran tugboats jockeying for position fore and after Navy warship 67, the iconic USS Cole which got attacked in Yemen in 2000.
I raised the Marci Moran tug on marine radio to get an ETA for disembarking. The Moran said 15 minutes. I told him I would stand off on the north shore for plenty of leeway, which the Moran acknowledged. That presented a slight problem in that the north shore shoals up quickly some 200 yards offshore. We performed short tacks to maintain leeway without running aground. And without coming about with our bow crossing the Cole’s. That would trigger the CBDR alarm that the Cole missed in the attack on Yemen.
Eventually the two tugs aligned beside the Cole and made their way slowly downriver. The bridge opened wide on both sides and off they went. I caught a photo of the bow as it crossed in front of the American Revolutionary Museum at Yorktown. We proceed south once the ship cleared the bridge, but something was amiss. The northern branch closed nicely, but the southern branch didn’t move. I radioed the bridge to ask if they were staying open for us. The bridge tender woman replied dryly, “No, we have a problem.”
It was eerie sailing through the open bridge. As Megan’s husband helmed the boat, she asked if we had room to pass. Yes, because we had room to pass underneath when it was closed.
It took another half-hour to get the bridge closed. When it finally happened, I radioed the bridge tender, “Hoo-ray” and she thanked me. I asked how she got it closed and she said cryptically, “Switched to another system.” It occurred to us that she was truly stranded because no one could reach her by land or sea.
Navy warship 87, the USS Mason, inquired of the bridge if it was going to stay open for its departure at 1400. It was already 1300 and traffic was backed up 5 miles in either direction. The bridge lady said no, that she would re-open when the Mason departed. At one point, the Cole asked if one of the Moran tugs had the pilot on board. Yes, came the answer. “Well, can you tell him to turn on his radio?” he said politely. We howled at that.
By 1500 it was still at the Naval Weapons pier, so I asked her what happened. She said the ship was delayed but the bridge was serviceable.
Kyle’s father used to work as a civilian at Portsmouth Naval Yard in New Hampshire. “He would drive around the base and notice that there was a cannon from a tank aimed at him in the woods. We did some observations on the CBDR protocol (collision course) and he said, “In the Midwest they tell you to watch the background of a tornado. If it’s not moving, then the thing is coming right at you.”
Next Day, another Navy Sail
The next day, the USS Mason (DDG-87) was still docked at the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station. So too were the two Moran tugboats. Evidently VDOT decided not to risk another bridge opening Friday afternoon during rush hour.
I raised the lady on the bridge to ask how she would get out if her side of the span was stuck for a long time. She was new from yesterday. “We would figure it out,” she said briskly. “But you’d be stranded in the air with no way out,” I countered. Now she was annoyed. “Sir, VDOT would figure it out. Thank you.”
I still wasn’t satisfied. The couple on the boat suggested she could drop down by rope to a waiting boat. Sure enough, along came the Navy patrol boat but it kept moving and didn’t stop.
Long about noon the Mason raised the bridge to convey a departure time of 12:30. The lady on the bridge acknowledged him briefly. And off they went, with great apprehension of what would happen afterward.
This time, both spans of the bridge began to swing close but the southbound got stuck as it neared the closure. That went on for a good 20 minutes as the Mason steamed downriver. I dared not to ask the lady how she was faring.
Suddenly we heard a familiar cry on marine radio. “US NAVY WARNING OF APPROACHING SUBMARINE! ALL MARINERS MUST STAY BACK 500 YARDS IN ALL DIRECTIONS! DO NOT CROSS THE BOW OF THE SUBMARINE!” It was Navy SEALs from a Riverine Squadron accompanying our first sub of the season from Norfolk to NWS. They have a lot of fun shouting at unsuspecting boaters.
Off in the distance we could see the conn of the sub as it came into the channel. Suddenly the Mason slowed from 10 knots to 2 so that both vessels could pass in the channel. The sub sailed smoothly past the Yorktown Monument and under the bridge, which by now had finally closed.
When everything calmed down, I radioed the Marci Moran tug to ask his thoughts of how the VDOT lady would get out. “You’d have to ask her,” he responded dryly. I said, “I did, but she was not very helpful.” He replied, “I’m sure they have some protocol in play.” And so the drama ended as the sub tied up, port side to the dock.
Donald Green had brought his wife Charlotte out on their 22nd anniversary. He had sailed as a youngster and shared one vivid memory. “I recall my uncle Jaguar John as a World War II veteran who lost his leg in an air crash at sea. He went on to serve time in a Mexican jail for export-import activity. I was on-deck of our family sailboat when I was 10 years old. He came up to me with a cigarette in his mouth and a can of beer. He stripped down naked and took his wooden leg off and handed it to me. Then he dove in the water and swam to a sailboat across the way. He got up on that deck and lit another cigarette.”
In the afternoon with another couple, we spotted a pod of dolphins jumping out of the water and zipping past us. It could be the end of their season here as the York water temperature dipped toward 70 degrees. They like it at 80.
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