This is the second installment of a travelogue detailing a two month voyage through the Caribbean. Part 1 is here.
ii and I (ha!) waving to noted OS/RW writer and all around awesomely creative person Vanessa Seijo as we rounded the west end of Puerto Rico after crossing from the North Atlantic into the Caribbean via the Mona Passage. Hi Vanessa!
But, anyway, where were we? Four days out from Savannah I believe, heading south on the Intracoastal Waterway...
We had sailed into waters adjacent to King's Bay Naval Submarine Base just north of the Georgia/Florida line, and before too long it started feeling like we were getting the hairy eyeball from all sorta directions. Right about then, as if to confirm my growing suspicion that sometimes paranoia is just common sense, a US Navy fast attack inflatable complete with manned M60 machine gun and a squad of grinning, Ray Ban-wearing, assault rifle-toting stormtroopers suddenly roared up out of nowhere and, at the last possible moment short of ramming us, curvetted gracefully into a blocking position just off our bow. The skipper of the attack boat hailed us over his PA system simultaneously with someone telling us on our radio to stand to and identify ourselves. We of course complied, and the radio dude said a submarine was right at that very moment getting ready to cross the ICW directly in front of us so we needed to hold our position until it was gone and they came back on the radio telling us it was OK to proceed. Unfortunately, you can't hold a yacht in position when you're under wind power, so we had to reef in our sails, fire up Lillie Mae's Chinese-made diesel engine, and put-put around in circles for a half hour or so.
Growing bored as we circled in place, I went below-decks to retrieve my camera from where I'd hurriedly whipped it under some dirty laundry after the Navy boat jumped us. I then took this portrait^^ of a cute little tern on the ICW channel marker nearest to our position. That was one of the few markers we saw between Savannah and Miami that had something besides cormorants perched on it.
After a while, the water directly to our south got weird on a right angle axis to the channel. Not being a nautical person, I didn't really know what I was seeing, and when I looked away for a minute to see what the tern was doing, then looked back south again...
Holy f*#kin' shit!
Right there in front of us, maybe 300 yards away, was an Ohio-class nuclear powered, nuclear armed SSBN, the largest submarine employed by the United States Navy as well as far and away the deadliest warship of any kind ever employed by anyone, anywhere, ever. We were so close I could have ricocheted an RPG-7 off her armored hull and right through the flag on her conning tower, which made me wonder why they hadn't boarded Lillie Mae to make sure we weren't working for the Taliban or ISIS or some other inappropriately turban-oriented organization. They had no idea who the hell we really were, except that we looked approximately like what the terrorist bad guys in quite a few Hollywood movies look like. Hell, I would have boarded us, but the numerous Navy and Coast Guard vessels in our line of sight let us just loiter around there - with me snapping photos faster than some pathetically conflicted turncoat protagonist in a John Le Carre novel - like it was no big deal as the 16,000 ton, 560' long death machine made its way out toward St. Mary's Inlet and the open Atlantic.
Once the sub had disappeared as mysteriously (to my landlubber eyes anyway) as it had appeared, someone came back on the radio and said we could proceed.
As we sailed past the submarine pens on the base, I was distracted, barely noticing the cool military infrastructure all around us as I tried to place what we'd just seen in some broader context than, "Oo, oo, looky - big boat!"
There are currently 14 SSBNs on active duty, all of them Ohio-class subs like the one we'd just seen. These boats, sometimes referred to as boomers, are familiar to anyone who's read much Tom Clancy, and, being the most important components of our nuclear deterrent strategy, all 14 of them are armed at all times with 24 Trident II hydrogen bombs each of which packs many times more destructive power than the primitive A-bomb that wiped out Hiroshima. The Trident II is what's called a "multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle" or MIRV for short, which in English means each Trident missile, once launched, deploys 12 separate thermonuclear warheads all of which are capable of annihilating any city on the planet. That is a lot of mojo, and in the event of a nuclear exchange, the SSBNs, being quite difficult (read; impossible) to locate while on patrol, are considered to be the most survivable weapons platforms in our nuclear arsenal. Such survivability, paired as it is with enough firepower on each vessel to burn down a continent, makes these machines beloved of every DoD war-gamer and strategizer since Dr. Strangelove, and it guarantees the existence of facilities like King's Bay Naval Submarine Base for decades to come.
That mathematics of power and death is as simple as it is chilling, but stark as the numbers are, there is an upside to 'em; if ever we utilize our Ohio-class submarines in anger, for the missions they were designed to accomplish - remembering again that each of the 14 boomers carries 24 Trident II missiles with each Trident capable of delivering 12 doses of thermonuclear Armageddon - we would no longer have to worry about global warming.
After a while I started noticing our surroundings again, which had returned to normal in that the channel markers were once more the exclusive preserve of cormorants.
It was too late in the day to exit the ICW, so we found an anchorage off the south end of Jekyll Island on the Georgia side of the state line.
The next morning, we sailed out St. Mary's Inlet toward the North Atlantic, and, to my complete surprise, saw feral horses walking along the shoreline just before we exited the sheltered channel of the ICW.
That was my first day aboard Lillie in truly Big Water, and I'm proud to say I didn't get seasick, then or at any point later on in the voyage even though we from time to time passed through some fairly scary stretches of ocean.
Seasick or not, I was sort of taken aback to see the USS Carney, an Arleigh-Burke class guided missile destroyer, cruising by just a half mile or so away. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit here that I had no idea what type of destroyer it was or what it was called 'til months later, when I posted this pic on Facebook and my nephew, who was in the Navy at the time, identified it for me. All I knew that morning at the mouth of St. Mary's Inlet was that another honkin' big US Navy warship was doing interesting stuff in front of my camera lens.
That destroyer being where she was, and the fact that both of her helicopters made repeated very loud, disturbing pretend strafing runs at us just barely above the level of Lillie Mae's 65' mast top, were no doubt coincidences that had nothing to do with our having been too close to a boomer as it left King's Bay, but by the time we got well away from the Inlet and the heavy military and cargo vessel traffic there as we made passage to points south, I was not even a bit saddened that we weren't going to be seeing any further manifestations of our military/industrial complex for a while.
all images ©2017 by nanatehay