Thursday, August 6, 2009

Ship to Shore

Windy Day, 2006

I have lived most of my life within just a few miles of the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve seen many things happen on the ocean. An airplane crash. Boats sinking. People who swam out and didn’t come back. Giant whales washed up. Waves that knocked down sand dunes. I have a healthy respect for the ocean.

One morning when I was about twelve, I looked down the end of our street towards the ocean. Where normally I’d have just seen sand dunes and sky, I instead saw the gray and black superstructure of a Navy ship hovering just over the dune. I knew this was not a good sign. You should not be able to see the gray and black superstructure of a Navy ship hovering just over the dune. But being twelve years old, and drawn as kids that age are to cool things like fires and floods that are really disasters, this was thrilling.

It was windy and raining. A nor’easter storm had passed the night before. I grabbed a jacket and ran down to the beach, where I found a US Navy destroyer escort drifting close to shore. A destroyer escort is not a giant ship in the way that, say, an aircraft carrier is. But at more than 300 feet in length and with a hundred or so of her crewmen clinging to the rails of the pitching vessel while trying to manually set an anchor in the sandy bottom of the shallow waters, it was an impressive sight.

The ship had lost power during the storm the night before. She’s been unable to set anchor in the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay where she’d been cruising, and had drifted with the outgoing tide into the ocean and southward a mile or so before blowing toward shore off our street.

As a kid, I could think of nothing cooler that a big ship breaching and rolling onto the beach, or running aground in the shallow surf. These were the kinds of scenes kids my age created with toy ships when our backyards flooded.

The grownups on the beach became concerned that the ship might actually run aground. The blustery old retired Navy men in the crowd insisted that such couldn’t happen “in this man’s Navy.” Yet the evidence was right before our eyes as the ship drifted ever closer to the shore.

A single light anchor finally took hold when the ship was just a few hundred yards off the beach. Much closer and she'd have run aground. She was not in enough water for the big seagoing tug boats that arrived from Norfolk to get between the ship and the shore and push her into safer depths. Besides, the surf was too wild for the tugs to get close enough to push or even shoot towlines.

Navy helicopters showed up and dropped pumps onto the deck of the ship, fueling further fears among the growing crowd on the beach. Crewmen continued to line the rails, trying to set a second anchor.

Eventually, the wind subsided enough for a combined effort by the ship’s crew and a helicopter to get a line from the ship to one of the tugboats. Within an hour, the ship was towed away from the beach. The crowd dissipated and I went home for lunch.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! That's quite a story. I can see why that stuck with you forever. Amazing...and beautiful photo.