Circa 1985 I was on a fleet oiler in the US Navy
. We were conducting underway replenishment with an Aircraft Carrier at night in the middle of the Atlantic on an East bound crossing to the Mediterranean
. We had flight operations going and were conducting vertical replenishment while we had numerous lines across and were simultaneously resupplying via those lines.
I am not sure how many folks on the forum have ever seen an underway replenishment of U.S. Navy
ships, but it is a vulnerable maneuver between to ships at sea requiring the ships to be parallel within roughly 200 yards and underway at speeds of 8-10 knots. The ability to quickly disengage and conduct an emergency
break away is practiced routinely and for good reason. This particular night while we had been un-repping for roughly 2 hours when the klaxons went off and the emergency
break away was sounded.
I happened to be working this night as the “tower flower” on the aft end while flight operations were being conducted. Essentially, I was in running aircraft operations and coordinating activity on the flight deck
of our supply ship. As I heard the breakaway being called I wondered why they would do this with so much cargo yet to be transferred. I had been used to the emergency breakaway drills occurring at the end of an underway replenishment not in the middle of one.
Things proceeded quickly and lines were dropped and brought back as the ships started to separate from each other. This was a dark night with little ambient light (no moon) and clouds above, but un-repping is done with ample flood lights illuminating the area of turbulent water
between the ships as they separated. Suddenly I saw the cause of this un-planned maneuver. A sail boat
was drifting between these two huge naval vessels. No mast
light was illuminated and it was not apparent that anyone aboard this mono-hull sailboat was awake or topside. I have no idea what make or exactly what size this boat
was but I would guess 30 something footer. I can say it looked pretty darned small with the aircraft carrier as a background. I have no idea if this crew ever knew how close to disaster they came, but I would think the chop between the ships would have woken them to see this spectacle from a vastly different perspective than I was witnessing it.
I have always speculated that this boat was single
handed and some weary sailor nearly met his/her fate that night. It’s a big ocean but there are a lot of ships on it. To merrily drift between these two vessels in the middle of the Atlantic is a miracle. Any similar experiences the readers may have would be of interest to me.