Monday, December 6, 2010

Great Bridge, the summary

Much has been asked about the past weekend's outing to Great Bridge in Chesapeake VA. It was certainly our best iteration of that event yet, with plenty of fantastic moments for all concerned. I don't have the official numbers (I didn't fumble with the paperwork so much as a humble Boatswain's Mate) though from recollection we topped out Saturday afternoon with 11 sailors and around 10 marines (including our beloved Captain Sturiale). Of course, all of these, plus our multimedia expert Alex Lutz were packed into Monomoy No. 1 at one point, bringing to life our dream of a fully laden boat, entirely manned by sailors, carrying the marines to their objective.

The logistical wheels had been winding up for some time, and Friday afternoon the whole plan sprang into action, with the marines' gear trailer on site around 11 am followed by Monomoy No. 1 on her trailer around 2 pm. The boat was launched without incident and made ready for the 3:30 arrival of the Sea Cadets, belonging to the Tophatters Squadron, who were mustered and given their orientation by 4 pm. A round of maneuvering drills concluded at 5 pm with the arrival of the event coxswain, and we stood around Locks Point at dusk, ready to enter the Great Bridge Locks and proceed southbound on the Intercoastal Waterway to the event site near Battlefield Blvd. Approaching the locks, yours trully took the opportunity to surprise the lockmasters watching TV and alert them to our presence - this being accomplished by climbing the fendering on the bulwark. Great work there by the coxswain and boat crew, by the way, in nosing gingerly up to the wall then backing away smartly. By 5:30 we were in the lock, being lowered to canal level and amusing the operators with descriptions of crossing Chesapeake Bay back in May and a little show and tell with our 3-pdr mounted on the bow. They, in return, passed us the weather report and assisted in making calls to the operators at the Battlefield Blvd Draw Bridge, so we didn't scare them with our subsequent gun fire.

At 5:42 we exited the lock and gave a spirited salute with the gun as we approached the event site, reportedly shaking parked vehicles in the vicinity and making an entrance in grand style as we are known to do. We immediately assisted with setting up camp and making ready for the cold. Most went home for the evening while those who remained, including nearly all of the marines, yours trully and our stalwart film crew. Temperatures reportedly dropped to 28 degrees that night, but everyone made it through with little actual hardship (and a lot of grumbing, as usual).

On Saturday, reveille was called at 6 am and our camp well astir soon after. The morning gun was fired at 7 am and final setup completed. Marines took their turn at the supply vehicles, donning their colorful uniforms, while sailors cleared the boat for action and broke out necessary stores of ammunition and other equipment. The marines spent much of the morning drilling ashore while the sailors plied the canal in maneuvering drills. Around 11 am, the marines were embarked and landed at a pre-selected location on the rocky shoreline without incident.

The first scheduled event reenacting the Battle of Kemps Landing (15 November 1775) began at 1 pm, when the marines were quietly landed at the "half moon cove" and the boat backed off to provide fire support. About 15 minutes later, the event concluded and the boat returned to the dock near camp. Soon after it was decided to embark the marines and stand upriver for the site of the Great Bridge Monument, just on the other side of the drawbridge. There, the marines and sailors went ashore to see the monument, and continue drilling. However, the marines failed to notice that while they returned to drilling, the sailors quickly and quietly made a dash for the boat, making off with it to the shore directly opposite from where the marines - still oblivious - continued thier strutting and stomping. Around 2:50, ten minutes before what was to be the start of the reenactment of the Battle of Great Bridge, Captain Sturiale approached the shore on the North side of the canal to order the boat to return. In response, he recieved the taunts of the sailors, and a challenge to cross the sidewalk of the drawbridge, alongside Battlefield Blvd. Scoffing at the idea of parading on a high-traffic thoroughfare, the captain took several minutes of taunting before threatening to have every sailor flogged and delivering a volley - that the sailors promptly answered with the 3 pdr. Around 3 pm the good captain, fed up and late for action, marched his marines across the bridge, where, serenaded by the honking of passing automobiles, he soon rejoined the boat on the Southern shore.

The boat, fully laden with sailors and marines, arrived back at the "battlefield" at about 3:10 pm, and the "engagment" began. As soon as the marines scurried off to join the other crown forces in the "fort", the sailors set to work in the boat. With a flurry of activity and a lot of grunting, the sailors unbolted the 3 pdr from her mount, and lifted her ashore where the battle was already in progress. Several trips from boat to shore brought the carriage, implements and ammunition, and after another flurry of work, the 3-pdr spoke on shore for the first time. When the marines advanced, the gun was pushed forward onto their right flank where the confused captain gave a double - take at the grinning sailors who were loading and firing their little gun in marvelous fashion. At the end, the gun was run back to the boat to evade "capture" - even though it was directly contrary to the historical scenario. After all, our little "rosie" can't be touched by treasonous hands.

The day ended around the campfire, where again the stalwart marines and valiant sailors gathered to share sea stories, and suddenly we found ourselves wreathed in lightly falling snow. I think our gallant Quartermaster said it best:

I remember a 19th century poem "Into my heart's treasury, I slipped a coin, that time cannot take nor a thief purloin. Oh, better than the minting of a gold crowned king, is the safe kept memory of a lovely thing!" For those who were fortunate enough to be at the camp fire sat evening, in the falling snow, you
can well understand! Good company, a falling snow and while outrageous lies and war stories were told some efforts at humor, feeble tho' they were, did bring laughs. All in all, an evening to be treasured. Apologies to all who missed this jewel of an evening!

It will certainly enter my memory as one of the great moments.

Remarkably, everyone seemed to enjoy a peaceful rest Saturday night, and on Sunday morning were rolling again! Revielle at 6 am, breakfast at 7 and outfitted by 8. We did lose more than half our numbers due to participants having other commitments, and marines totalled about six while sailors a "paltry" four. I put paltry in quotes because just for fun, around 10 am three of us decided to get the boat underway, step the mast and row into the freshening breeze toward the locks. There, with the wind running straight down the canal and past the event site, we made sail and covered the distance from locks to drawbridge in about 2.5 minutes. Luckily our cameras caught the whole mess on film, including our FOOT HIGH BOW FEATHER as we three struggled to keep the sail from jybing the breeze and the boat on course but close to shore.

After a jaunt of ferocious pulling back into the wind, we returned to the camp site and discussed the plan for the day. With only four sailors and such brisk winds down the length of the canal, we couldn't hope to control the boat efficiently, especially with the added weight of embarked marines. We therefore made a drug-deal of sorts with the marines to lend us three of their compliment and made our way through the locks and back to the launch site around Locks Point. I should note that the ONLY Tophatter (Sea Cadet) to remain both days was Kendra - and if you don't know who that is, know that she is one cadet who can pull with the best of us! She motivated me on that hard trip into the wind to get the boat home - pulling hard with two of our best sailors and never skipping a beat.

I also want to give a shout out to our other Tophatters - you guys were a pleasure to have with us and you are welcome back ANY TIME! Specifically John Warren D-, you may have a bit of a dangerously magnetic complex about explosives but you're a cool kid!

But I digress.

After recovering the boat, we parked her on her trailer nearer the event site, and after thinking of ways to occupy ourselves (the sailors) we decided to un-ship the gun and carriage and bring them back to the field. Somehow we managed to man-handle the gun to the field without being noticed, so we decided to capitalize on that and cover the gun barrel - now laying flat on the ground - with a pile of straw. Later, to confuse observers further, we decided to plant decoy piles. I'm sure they all thought we were nuts. But sure enough, the battle kicked off, sailors armed with boarding pikes looking useless as ever, and with one command, BANG off the sailors go to retrieve the carriage and plant it next to this seemingly harmless pile of straw. Then, just as quickly, pull the gun out of the straw, clear it for action, and begin firing rounds in rapid sucession downrange. As we later were forced to retreat (in keeping with the scenario) we bowed graciously to the patriots as we ran back into the "fort".

Immediately on conclusion of active operations, we packed up smartly and headed to our respective destinations. Monomoy No. 1 rolled back into the Dockyard around 4:45 pm, the last daylight on its way out. Our other logistical vehicles all safely delivered their loads, and now the long process of cleaning, organizing and re-packing begins.

More about what's to follow tomorrow.


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