55 gallons of gas = $165.00
Drinks and food for 3 = $25.00
1 Wrench accidently dropped overboard = $5.00
Watching an aircraft carrier sink = Priceless!
A Great Way to Spend a Wednesday Morning
It’s a rare day indeed you can run your own boat offshore to watch an aircraft carrier sink. For me, it was the farthest I’d been offshore by about 32 of the 37 mile distance out of Destin Pass. We took the kids to see the Oriskany in Pennsacola last year and thought it’d be quite a treat to see it sunk. At the time, our 20′ boat was up to the task. Since then, we upgraded to our 27′ Regal which was more than adequate for the trip.
Getting there is 1/2 the Fun
Finding coordinates for the sinking site was pretty easy. Of course, all the news organizations parrotted the Navy press release and stated the coordinates in Degree – Minutes – Seconds, so out came my trusty conversion tools to put things into the more intuitive Decimal Degree format for my GPS (30.04398, -87.0069 if you’re wondering). Also typical, none of the media seem to have loaded the coordinates into a mapping program, such as Google Earth or they would have reported the sinking site 28 miles (statute) from Pensacola Pass, not the 22-24 miles they invariably quoted direct from government press releases (which were reported in nautical miles). They would have also noted that the reef site was southeast of Pensacola Pass not south.
Since we hail out of Fort Walton Beach, our journey involved a 5 mile run to Destin Pass followed by a 37 mile run southwest to the sinking site. Our best intel, from a friend of a friend, was that the Oriskany’s explosive charges would be lit at 10:00 AM so we planned accordingly. We pushed off at 7:20 for an uneventful, if sporty cruise to the site. Sea conditions were choppy, but with little in the way of waves we were able to maintain 25-30mph without getting pounded too bad. We passed a number of larger cruisers on the way and got passed ourselves by a cigarette boat.
The Great Fleet
We probably set some type of record for most pleasure craft at least 30 miles offshore in one location. Based on bearing of approach and departure, I’d estimate that Pensacola boats outnumbered Ft Walton boats at least 6 to 1 and there were likely 150 – 200 boats on hand. Sizes ranged from 100′ class mega yachts to 22′ center consoles and small sailboats. The Coast Guard, Florida, and Alabama marine vessels were out in force. Sea Tow and TowBoat US had plenty of boats out also and were getting calls throughout the morning. We also heard calls from the ‘Resolve’ which hosted the History Channel film crew.
Top cover was provied by the Coast Guard Sabreliner regularly seen along the FL Panhandle and a Navy helicopter. Based on watching all the newsreal video and press release pictures today – most of these appear to have been taken from the Navy helo.
The Main Event
Yet another humorous aspect of nautical miles vs. satutue miles occurred all morning with the ’1 mile safety zone’ promulgated primarily via the media (I’m sure its also in a Notice to Mariners but when’s the last time anyone you know actually saw/read one). As can be expected, most of the pleasure craft assumed that a ’1 mile safety zone’ was a 1 statue mile zone, while in fact it was a 1nm zone – 6000ft vs. 5280ft. Credit goes to the CG for being polite to a fault this morning as they continuously had to nudge boats back a few hundreds yards to clear the safety zone.
The 10 minute warning for explosives was given ~10:15. A suggestion to the CG if you’re reading – in the future give more than a 10 minute and 10 second warning! I think everyone involved would have prefered say a 10, 5, 2, and 1 minute warning to get cameras ready. As it was, the lack of intermediate radio broadcasts led to unnecesary radio chatter as people asked how much longer until the bang.
We were in a good position for the blast and captured it pretty well with our digital camera. The video didn’t fair so well in the rolling seas. You can see the explosion sequence at SLRsite.com where we’ve posted our full set of Oriskany pictures. The main dust cleared in a few minutes and was followed by a secondary dust cloud from the island. This led to some on-air radio banter about fire suppression. The secondary dust cload is pictured below.
The Sinking Process
We were told to expect a 2 – 7 hour ‘gradual’ sinking – and I’m sure an adequate beverage supply was on hand by all for such an eventuality. For the first 30 minutes this seemed reasonable as the only visible change to the Oriskany was a settling of the stern.
Sometime around the 25 minute mark things started to move a bit faster. As shown below, the Oriskany developed a significant port list which quickly put the flight deck awash.
Once it got ot the point above, she settled quickly by the stern. Unfortunately, about this time we got out of position and didn’t capture the impressive venting as the stern and island went under (think final Titanic sinking scene and you’ll be pretty close).
Things slowed down a touch once the island was under – probably because the stern had hit bottom and the bow anchors forced the ship to somewhat maintain position. As you can see below, we still got quite a show with venting dust and seawater.
The small boat (relatively speaking) atop the Oriskany housed the control circuitry and no-doubt encrypted communications gear to remotely detonate the 22 charges used to sink the Oriskany. It floated free by design and picked up later.
36 minutes after charges where fired, the bow of the Oriskany slipped beneath the waves with a final vent of water. About this time an open radio call was made to effect of ‘May God Bless all the brave souls who served aboard the Oriskany’ to which the crowd of onlookers replied with horns and ‘Amens’.
The area above the ship continued to bubble while the fleet of onlookers started for home. We lingered a bit and then set out for Destin Pass ourselves. We were supprised how few were headed in our direction vs Pensacola.
Rumors are still flying at this point on whether the Oriskany ‘landed on her feet’ so to speak. The dive charters are especially concerned. Word should be out tomorrow once Navy divers inspect the wreck and clear any unexploded charges. That’s got to be quite a job!
We hope you’ve enjoyed our narritive! Credits go to Brad, Austin, and Virgil for sharing in the photo, video, and ship management tasks today to make this possible. Photographs are copyright McIntosh Studio.
Feel free to post your own comments or questions!
[?php setZoom(9); setHeight(440); showSat(1); addGeoPoint(30.043889,-87.006944,'Location for USS Oriskany Sinking'); showMap(); ?]