It is a beautiful day here in New London, Connecticut. The temperature is just about right: mid 70’s with absolutely no humidity. I’m feeling pretty good and having the time of my life watching everybody around me work their boating jobs. How does the saying go? “I love work. I could sit and watch it all day!”
Captain Skerry and his pilot, Captain Phil, sit in Patricia Ann’s wheel house. They are discussing what to do about the current happenings, which is nothing. There is absolutely nothing happening. The Coast Guard is supposed to show up with a bomb-sniffing dog and check out the tugboat, apparently normal procedure for any boat working so close to the nation’s gazillion dollar top-secret toy: a new Virginia class nuclear powered submarine. The Coasties are wicked late.
Finally, Captain Phil calls the front gate.
“Any sign of the Coast Guard?” he asks. Shaking his head, he hangs up the phone.
“Maybe we should call them,” Captain Skerry offers.
“Got a number?”
“Ah, no.” Captain Skerry says. He leans forward, grabs the radio mic and keys it.
“Coast Guard, this is Patricia Ann at the Thames Shipyard, over.” Phil makes a joke about the Coasties sometimes not being so vigilant about answering their radio calls. I can confirm that. I remember more than a few instances where radio calls were not answered. Two of them were emergencies. The Coast Guard performs a valuable service to all boaters, but I guess they can’t always be available. This time though, they respond.
“Patricia Ann, shift and answer two-two alpha, over.”
Captain Skerry changes the channel and asks for the land-line number; Captain Phil pecks the numbers on his cell as soon as they crackle over the radio speaker.
“We’re one of the tugs supposed to move that submarine today. We were told you’re coming at 1100 hours for an inspection,” Phil listens for a bit, then rolls his eyes.
“So you are not coming. Right? Okay, I’ll call them. Do you have the number?” he asks, scratches it down, then hangs up.
“Apparently The Coast Guard doesn’t do that sort of thing. Ever.” Phil announces.
“But the Navy said…,” Captain Skerry started.
“Lemme call ’em,” Captain Phil interrupts, dials the number (yes, the Navy has a phone number) and explains the situation. He listens for a while, smiles, covers the phone, leans over, and says. “The Navy says they don’t do inspections. It’s up to the Coast Guard!”
It’s kinda funny–two big time government agencies tangling it up a bit–but Captain Phil hangs in there. Armed with only a cell phone, he bravely battles through the conundrum calmly and diplomatically.
“Okay. The Navy is coming,” he says, holstering his phone like a smoking six-shooter. “By boat,” he adds.
It takes four people to lift the dog over Patricia Ann’s tall rail. The handler leads the dog once around the lower deck and that was it. They put the dog back into the skiff and head over to the tug John Paul.
It was all over in a matter of minutes. Captain Skerry backs his tug out and we’re off to move a sub. It’s wicked exciting.
We not going very far, just across the Thames River to the docks at Electric Boat.
Talk about shock and awe, I sucked in a huge breath when I saw this magnificent vessel.
Captain Skerry maneuvers Patricia Ann’s bow to the dock adjacent to the sub. We’re gonna drop off Captain Phil, who will pilot the sub down the Thames.
Once Captain Phil is on board the sub, the fun begins. Captain Skerry is directed to position Patricia Ann perpendicular to the sub just under the sail. He will pull the sub away from the dock.
Tug John P. Wronowski ties up parallel to the sub near the stern to push it forward or backwards as needed.
Once they clear the dock and the buoy, they push the sub to the middle of the channel. Tug John Paul gets tied to the port side of the sub, near the front. The Wronowski repositions itself to the port side as well, but near the stern. They untie Patricia Ann and we follow them up the river to the sub base in Groton, CT.
As promised, it is quite a show. I mean c’mon, escorting a 300 foot submarine up the Thames! Not many civilians get to witness this sort of thing. For me, it’s an incredible once in a lifetime experience that borders on the surreal, but for Captain Skerry, it’s just another day.