Journal Entry  -  October 15, 1999  -  Day 34

Friday Evening Position Report
8:00 p.m., Central Daylight Time

Latitude:

8 Degrees, 52 Minutes North

Longitude:

79 Degrees, 27 Minutes West

Days Run:

23.2 Nautical Miles

Speed:

4.22 Knots (Average)

Total Run This Leg:   2,948.7 Nautical Miles
Total Average Speed:  5.18 Knots
Hours / Days This Leg:  569 Hours, or a total of 23 Days, 17 hours
Distance To Go This Leg:  Arrived Balboa Anchorage, 1:30 p.m., anchored.

Distance Of Second Leg:  September 21 - October 15 / Long Beach to Balboa Anchorage: 2,948.7 Nautical Miles, the longest leg of New Jersey's homecoming voyage.
Total Average Sped Second Leg: 5.18 Knots

Distance Of First Leg:  September 12 - September 21 / Bremerton to Long Beach: 1,193.6 Nautical Miles from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to Long Beach, California anchorage.
Total Average Speed First Leg:  5.54 Knots

USS New Jersey abruptly departed her Balboa anchorage position shortly before 8:00 p.m. this evening, and is currently "jogging to the South" of the Bay of Panama, away from her earlier holding anchorage.   Captain Ogaard will maintain this "dead-slow jogging," with an eventual turn back Northward, until 7:00 a.m. Saturday morning, when the ship will return to be in position at the Balboa Sea Buoy for the Panama Canal pilot to board the Sea Victory for its entry with the New Jersey into the Balboa Port.

The Battleship and the Sea Victory were suddenly forced by nature tonight to vacate their peaceful anchorage, with Panama City's lighted cityscape in the near distance, and to seek a safer position against gale force winds by heading into them on the move, rather than taking them at anchor.  Captain Kaare Ogaard explains this unscripted, unwelcome, and spontaneous development in an interview below.

Earlier today, the USS New Jersey settled in to a wide-open anchorage just South of Balboa and Panama City, sharing the Bay of Panama with at least 25 other ships of all categories and descriptions, each waiting its turn for passage through the Canal to the Atlantic.  The times reflected here, in the entries immediately following, are for the ship's arrival at 1:30 p.m. this afternoon.   Subsequent events after 6:50 p.m. this evening are described thereafter.

Following:  As of 1:30 p.m. arrival Balboa Anchorage, Bay Of Panama.

"1830 ... Underway ... Jogging ... Due to Southwest Wind ... Ship not holding"

Sea Victory's Captain Kaare L. Ogaard, Jr. entered those facts in the tug's log tonight, after it was all under control, but the words fail utterly to reveal the more than 40 years of seamanship, professional "cool," expert leadership, and ultimate skill that he brought to bear on the event this evening, in a near singular effort of safeguarding the tug and her prized memorial from a freak accident of nature in the Bahia de Panama.  "Well," said the Captain in an interview later, "it's not exactly a fun situation we have, but because I insisted we anchor all by ourselves, in the clear, without being in the middle of any traffic, there was nothing to worry about.  There's always the remote possibility in a deal like that of somehow getting wire wrapped around rudders and wheels, and I think it could have turned into a nightmare if it wasn't done right, but everything came out okay."

Chief Mate Terry Jacobsen was on his normal watch when the Panama Bay winds began to shift and pick up steam, and the 45,000-ton Battleship started inching at an angle that slowly but surely was bringing her closer and closer to the Sea Victory.  Jacobsen reported his sighting to Ogaard and the drama began.   "It was 1850 hours (6:50 p.m.) when we called the Chief Engineer to start the engines," Captain Ogaard said, "and we called AB Fred Davis to assist us in weighing anchor.  At the time we were just going to re-anchor the tug out ahead of the ship.  The ship was, we thought, turning with the wind, it was turning with the wind, but then the wind was strong enough that the ship started to slide.  The anchor was our tow gear, and it was starting to slide.  The ship was setting down on top of the tug," Ogaard explained.

At this same time, Chief Engineer Andy Cleland was training the Sea Victory's tremendously powerful spotlight on the Battleship's bow, illuminating for Ogaard the subtle behavior of the tow chain, the essential element in all of this, as the Captain gently coaxed his tug into her best recovery position.

Davis remained at attention behind the Captain.  CJ Good was alert to anything the Captain may need.  Jacobsen and Poirier brought the tug's anchor home at her bow, then moved quickly to the Captain's point to render assistance as needed.

The wind blew 35 mph rain showers across Ogaard's face, as he focused everything he had on this wayward, wind-driven dreadnought.  His hands and feet, his eyes and his mind - all that experience, his dad's scalloper, his Navy submarine, his Alaskan tugs, his Carrier tows through Magellan's Straits - tonight, they were in perfect synchrony.  And every crewmen knew, saw, and respected it.

"Just judging from the force of the wind, pushing against my back at the control station, it was very close to gale force at 35 Knots, pretty stiff," he said.  All we wanted to do was pick up the tug's anchor and straighten out the tow wire again, and get ahead of the ship, and put the anchor back down, with the tug's nose into the wind, bow to the wind.  "But in the process of doing that, the ship started cruising by at great velocity, so we aborted that plan, and just decided to do what we're doing now.  We get underway and just jog it out for the night, jogging dead slow, holding the ship into the weather.  This is a much safer proposition," the Captain said.

"This is what we do until the morning when the pilot comes aboard so we can proceed into Balboa.  We'll just jog it out here.  It's not a good idea to try to re-anchor.  Even if this wind were to go down, I wouldn't want to try anchoring again in the dark."

The Captain was asked why this kind of wind here, when everyone said when we entered the Bay of Panama, it would be quieter here than it was at sea, the winds would calm down, but obviously this wasn't the case this evening.   "I'm not an expert on local weather conditions here in Panama," Captain Ogaard noted, "but this is odd.  Every time I've been here, there have been trade winds which are Easterly and East- Northeasterly winds, and these are the exactly opposite.  This is a Southwest, Southwesterly, West-Southwesterly wind.  This is kind of like what we call a Kona wind in the Hawaiian Islands, when it blows from the South, after having trade winds most of the time."

Although Ogaard insists he is not an expert at local Panama weather, his meteorological knowledge and insight, gained from his 40-plus years of dealing with and surviving it, does carry weight, modesty aside.  His trackline acumen has made for more care-free tows because of his weather accounting than many appreciate.  His opinions here matter.  "I suspect this has something to do with this hurricane, the still developing hurricane, that's causing this circulation," he said, while picking up a weather map faxed to his tug showing the broadest outlines of Hurricane Irene now pummeling Florida.

As he pointed to the map, he said: "You can see the wind circulation would be West-Southwest.  This facsimile picture shows that it looks like it's right over Key West.  Low pressure and high pressure, the wind will flow from high to low.  So here you have a low pressure developing - it's deepening, it's 987 Millibars - and we are at about 1012 Millibars where we are," he observed.

"So I think it's very possible that it's abnormal, if you want to call it that, the winds we're having here, and possibly, somehow, they are being caused by that Irene weather system."  Related or not, Ogaard suffered through the uppity winds and seas and fought them off successfully once again.  How many times before?  He somehow tamed this involuntary, steel-plated, now-powerless New Jersey tonight and got her set right.  She loves the sea and all it brings to her, and will follow it wherever it leads.  But tonight, the scalloper master won her over the sea and wind.

Tomorrow, after she's docked in Balboa, the Captain will have some peace again.

Submitted by Bob Wernet onboard the Sea Victory.

 

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