Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The U.S. Navy Wielded .50 Caliber Guns at Me

You're not going to believe me, but a few days ago I bone-headedly got into a stand-off with Navy men in bullet-proof vests pointing .50 caliber deck-mounted machine guns.

While sailing off Annapolis, Pat and I had spotted an anchored Navy warship and wanted a closer look.

It didn't seem like other boats were afraid to sail near it, so we chose a course just south of the warship's bow. Shortly afterwards, a patrol boat began chugging toward us like a diesel-powered pit bull standing down a wind-powered piss-ant.

We kept drinking our beers and peered through binoculars, not fully understanding what was coming at us.

Navy Patrol Boats normally keep their weapons pointed toward the sky when they're not in use. That's how their boat looked when it started toward us, but as it got within 100 yards, a soldier walked to the bow and lowered the weapon parallel with the water.

Lowered the weapon.

We then realized the gravity of the situation and changed course immediately -- adrenaline pumping in my ears.

Pat managed to snap the above blurry picture when they were closest, before I started screaming to tack. Notice the guy on the bow, holding a gun that's longer than my living room couch (the barrel is off the picture).

It's against the law to sail near a US Navy warship, but I had no idea HOW near that was.

And the US Navy uses plain old force-down tactics when it feels threatened. I had the first Navy Jack flying from my stern, but no matter!

They didn't hail us over the radio. Didn't shout over the bullhorn.

Your United States Navy DOES NOT FUCK AROUND: if you try and steer a course toward one of their vessels, you WILL back down. Unless, that is, you're not scared of dying by a big bullet.

(Here's the anchored warship from afar):
That ship has been with the fleet less than a year (the DDG-99 Farragut). Not surprisingly the US Navy is pretty protective of her and all the other ships.... Considering the ship pictured cost somewhere in the range of 1.5 billion dollars fully fitted out and carries 290 personnel on board coupled with a paranoia of small craft (case in point, the USS Cole). You should see all the fun stuff they mount on the ship itself when it leaves a port.
I can see the headlines now once cnn etc. got digging through it all: Navy sinks boat; foils anarchist sabotage team.
Holy Sh@t... I would have filled my pants. What is the minimum distance you can get to a Naval ship?

Good question. Perhaps Daniel knows. He sounds knowledgeable about this subject.
Since the USS Cole was attacked by a small boat filled with Al-Qaida operatives, I guess I can understand why they'd be a little bit tetchy... But seriously. Maybe they were a bit upset by your brand of beer?
From Port of Seattle Security :

All boaters are advised to remain outside the Naval Vessel Protection Zone, both while the ships are underway and moored. Any vessel that must pass within 500 yards of a U.S. Navy ship must operate at minimum speed and contact the U.S. Coast Guard or Navy vessel to request permission to navigate within 500 yards of the vessel. No vessel may approach within 100 yards of a U.S. Navy ship.
A few years ago, I was on a friend's boat near Coronado. This area is full of Naval vessels. My friend stayed as far away as he could. He was telling my wife about earlier times, when he could go up to a ship and almost touch it.

I like Eliza's view on why they tormented you.
I guess I understand the need to keep killer sailboats moving at a top speed of maybe 6 knots away from an armor plated, gun bristled war ship ... but what is really kind of ignorant is not using the radio to hail you. I mean VHF is THE main method of communication on the water. Of course, if you use the radio then you don't get to pull out your sword and show people how big it is. Problem is, that's how people get killed - like the 4 Canadians that were killed by 'friendly fire' outside of Kandahar.
Times Have changed, We used to motor up to Navy Vessels in Texas to scrape algae samples off their Hulls, in order to see if they were bringing in any foriegn species. The sailors would ask us what we were doing and would even offer to help. But this situation shows the lack of respect any one has anymore, especially when it comes to gov't and it's citizens. Sad really.
Im currently in the Navy and we have weekly training on force protection and small boat attack is something we train the most on. Having sailboats come that close is pretty common-especially in US territorial waters. I think the thing that freaked them out was the fact that you where taking pictures. We consider that surveillance. But even then, standard opperating procedual dictates that the vessel be hailed on bridge-to-bridge, VHF channel 16 first then the 6MC, etc. I think the Sailors in that small craft where just bored.
I think that their actions were entirely appropriate. A major point of good security is consistency, regardless of where they are or what the approaching boat looks like. Think about it, a good terrorist plan would be to be beer drinking sailors looking entirely normal, approaching the ship well within a safe, secure US anchorage. A perfect setup for an incident with far worst material and political consequences than Cole.

My advice... Don't do it again!
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