Musings of Captain Justice a/k/a Gil Jones

Aircraft carriers docking at piers

USS J.F.K. docking in Malta

I recently saw a photo of the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67, formerly CVA-67) coming into the pier in Malta and was reminded of an instance on the USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63). Incidentally, the J.F.K. is the last of the Kitty Hawk class of carriers and the last of the conventionally-powered (i.e. oil-fired) carriers.

Notice all of the tugboats.  Two of those are probably 1,000 HP, and two are likely 2,000 HP, each. It is a very delicate operation to ease the ship into the pier (not dock!).

USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63)

USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was the “tugtalker” on the USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63). A civilian harbor pilot takes over the ship when it enters the harbor from the breakwater and he controls all of the tugboats, through the bridge officer acting as the tugtalker with radio comms directly to all tugs. The Pilot issues the commands which I would then relay.

Once, coming into San Diego after a Westpac cruise to the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam conflict (I sure thought it was a war), with thousands of family on the pier we were easing into the “camels” — those are the structures that look like docks against which the ship rests, buffering it from the concrete pier.

The Pilot was on the bridge with me, the Captain of course, and the rest of the bridge crew. The bridge is way high off the water, by the way, and we were looking straight down on the camels and the pier.

USS KITTY HAWK CV-63, yokosuka, japan 2007 米海軍...

USS KITTY HAWK CV-63, yokosuka, japan 2007 米海軍キティホーク・横須賀 (Photo credit: pictureTYO)

We were moving sideways inch by inch with a strong onshore breeze and the tugs were backing down, holding us back lest we come in too fast and hard. The hull of the ‘Hawk contacted the camels and although the ship was not moving enough to even detect the motion, it kept easing in against the camels and the Pilot was issuing orders for the tugs to back down even harder. Nevertheless, we kept coming in, imperceptibly.

Now the top decking of timbers in those camels runs perpendicularly to the pier. The ship began to compress those, endwise, and they began to buckle and shatter. Now the Pilot was calling for “all back” on the tugs and we were on the PA system telling the crowd to back up also. Shards of wood were exploding up into the air and flying over the pier. Luckily nobody was hurt and we got a good lesson in the power of the wind pushing against a 1080 foot long, 90 foot high wall of steel.

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2 thoughts on “Aircraft carriers docking at piers

    1. Gil Jones Post author

      That’ll teach ya! Glad you dropped by. Now that I have more time, the tales may be taller!

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