A couple and a family got a unique vacation adventure while listening to a narrative about the Battle of the Capes. “How big were the ships?” asked one person. I pointed behind them to a Navy warship steaming into the York River. “That big,” I pointed.
The USS Gravely is an Arleigh Burke class of guided missile destroyer, based in Norfolk. It makes occasional trips to the Yorktown Naval Weapons Station to load or unload munitions before and after deployment. The ship is 509 feet long and took every bit of two tugs to dock.
Richard Swensen of Northern Virginia was at the helm, doing a fine job running in winds of 12-14 mph. His wife Kristen was mesmerized. “My father worked on the missile systems for the Arleigh Burke class,” she recalled. I pointed to the shield on the tower that indicates where the missiles are deployed inside.
The Swensens and the Hagman family of Florida got to watch as the Gravely swung toward Yorktown and the Coleman Bridge. A horn went off high up, then bells, and then the traffic stopped as a bar went down on each side. Slowly the span began to open, then another span. The Coleman is the largest double swing span bridge in America.
Two giant barges from Moran stood ready at the bridge to escort the Gravely a half-mile upriver to Naval Weapons. Suddenly and inexplicably, another tugboat unaffiliated with the exercise started steaming northwest toward the bridge, ahead of the destroyer. The captain radioed the Moran tugs that he intended to pass through the bridge to pick up someone at the dock behind VIMS.
That happened, and the tug, called the Crystal Coast, proceeded back down the York River to the Coast Guard dock. He made it behind the stern of the Gravely and was headed right for us. I radioed him but he didn’t respond. The tug came too close for my comfort. By the way, instead of crossing the York, the captain could have called an Uber to pick the guy up.
Finally, a Navy attack helicopter came zooming up the river and flew overhead. Back at the dock after all that excitement, the Hagmans’ younger daughter Noelle, age 6, presented me with two drawings of the day. I love the patch over my eye. Arrrgh, matey.
Let’s Go Sail
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Author: Capt. Bill O'Donovan
Retired newspaper publisher is now in his sixth season as a sailing charter captain. Visitors and locals enjoy the scenery and the sailing on the historic York River.
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