A dreary day on the York River perked up with the siting of an exceptional Navy ship. It was quite an adventure.
Amy and John McCarthy took a long-awaited sail with their daughter C.C. and her boyfriend Chris Coe, in town from Ketchum, Idaho. C.C. sailed competitively in high school, so she had no trouble on the helm in winds that piped up to 18 mph on the York River. Because the winds were coming out of the east, they rose into 2-foot swells after crossing the Chesapeake Bay. Her dad took over as we tacked north across the river.
To mitigate the wind and swells, we turned downriver to head under the Coleman Bridge and get into the lee of the wind. At the bridge, I radioed two large Moran tugs approaching from Naval Weapons Station Yorktown. They were jockeying to meet a Navy ship, but in the mist we couldn’t see much.
There it was: a large, boxy boat with orange lifeboats on the sides. That conveys Military Sealift Command, in which the Navy contracts or owns commercial ships. Obviously the regular Navy doesn’t carry lifeboats, since that would send a strange message about giving up the ship.
The heeling to 15 degrees let up once we got through the bridge and into the lee of the wind. We rarely see a Navy ship transit the bridge from upriver, because the better view of the opening is from downriver. But there we were, and here she comes. C.C. read the bow number as 5. I later identified it as the USNS Robert E. Peary, used for dry cargo and ammunition. In this case, the cargo was definitely ammo since the ship was docking at Naval Weapons.
As the ship approached the pier and the bridge began to close, we had to be careful to run a course away from it. The Navy frowns on close approaches or constant bearings.
The tugs pushed the port bow and port aft around and into the pier so it could dock facing bow out toward the bridge. The Peary displaces 41,000 tons, which tells you something about how strong a tug can push, or in this case two tugs. The Peary is 689 feet long, making for quite a radius to circle.
Chris Coe noticed the crane built atop the foredeck. That’s used for offloading cargo at sea, in this case bombs to replenish guided missile cruisers. Ships usually arrive at Yorktown on Monday and leave Thursday or Friday. But the Peary came in on a Friday. That suggests it may be here for a week or more to load up.
We sailed back under the bridge and picked up the wind on what turned out to be an exciting day. We spent the entire time under just the mainsail, and that was reefed at first.
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