To narrate the Battle of the Capes, I pick out a sailboat in the distance that’s moving at a right angle to us. The idea is to show the “vanguard” strategy of how ships fought at sea in the 18th century.
Reggie Jackson went sailing with family and friends along the York River on a magnificent sunny afternoon. He picked up right away on the strategy—and the danger.
“We’re both moving at an angle that will eventually have us meet and collide,” said. “I learned that while sailing in the Navy in the Pacific. As you get closer at night, watch for the red and green bow lights of the crossing ship. If you see green, fine. Green is Go. If you see red, Red is No-Go.”
He was referring to the sequence of lights that ships turn on at night and during storms to signal their size, configuration and movement. It’s a complicated series that forms the basis of the Rules of the Road. Reggie should know.
“We collided with a dau that didn’t have any lights. I was on the USS McCampbell, a DDG.” The guided missile cruiser is the same as the Fitzgerald and McCain, which were hit earlier this year by giant freighters. Numerous sailors were killed in two seemingly inexplicable collisions. Fatigue from overwork and poor training were generally blamed, but Reggie added another factor.
“At night the sea is very relaxing. When you see birds you know you’re getting close to land. At that point the commander is supposed to issue different orders that are very specific instructions to observe on the water. We had a failure of communication on the bridge, and that’s why we hit the dau. We were running 12 knots, so it was quite a jolt.”
All of this came back as a recollection because I suspect it was Reggie’s first trip on the water in some time, perhaps since the collision. We were in the first five minutes of the cruise, still churning under motor out of Sarah Creek. The rest of the day was serene and exciting, with the boat heeling to 15 degrees in brisk winds of 12 mph. The adventure continues.
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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