Restoring the Sacred

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Closer to God in a Kayak VII

A NATO Event

When our oldest son Bob (at the time a U. S. Navy Commander) was on a two year assignment as Amphibious Advisor to the Dutch Royal Navy in Den Helder, the Netherlands, he and a few Dutch Naval Officers went aboard the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), a helicopter and Harrier jet carrier, for a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exercise, in 2000.

As luck would have it, one of the ports visited by Kearsarge was Naval Station Mayport, just up the beach from our home. Bob was able to get home for a very short visit before the ship left port to continue the exercise, and he told me what time the ship was expected to leave the basin at Mayport the next day. No mention was made of my kayak. Knowing the trip from the Navy basin to the sea buoy would take approximately half an hour, I left our beach more than an hour before Kearsarge was to depart the basin, and paddled out toward the sea buoy. I arrived at the buoy before there was any sign of Kearsarge in the channel, and must have circled that buoy 30 times before finally Kearsarge (running behind schedule) appeared at the far end of the channel, steaming toward me. I knew Bob was on the bridge deck with many other U.S. and foreign naval officers, but was not able to see any of them clearly (the bridge of Navy ships entering and leaving ports is always way over-populated, which is the main reason son Tim left the Navy to sail in the Merchant Marine, where the bridge at such times is considered a mob scene if more than two people are on it). Despite being unable to distinguish the identity of the many unformed sailors on the ship, all of whom were waving at me, I waved back from my kayak with unfeigned exuberance.

I sat at the buoy until Kearsarge passed me and was nearly out of sight on a northeasterly heading toward Norfolk. On my arrival home, there was an email from Bob (sent from the ship) calling our sea buoy rendezvous one of the highlights of his navy career. It certainly was one of the highlights of my kayaking career.

One of the amazing coincidences in my life occurred much later, in 2007, when the Navy’s Program Afloat for College Education (PACE) hired me as an adjunct English instructor. There were 281 active navy ships at the time, and my first assignment was a two-month deployment on the USS Kearsarge, LHD-3, in the Persian Gulf.

USS Kearsarge (LHD 3)
(Click to enlarge)

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