EVERETT, Wash. -
“All engines back one-third,” orders Ensign Madilyn Macfarlane, assigned to USS Shoup (DDG 86), as the warship steams in at four knots while approaching the pier.
The ship eventually slows to a comfortable one-half knot while the commanding officer breathes a sigh of relief.
Macfarlane, along with five other ensigns, are not on the bridge of Shoup, but at the Navigation Seamanship Shiphandling Trainer (NSST) on board Naval Station Everett.
Nicknamed “USS Puget Sound”, NSST began operations Dec. 15, 2006 to simulate anything from Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB) to an aircraft carrier.
This particular week NSST is offering the group of junior officers a chance to drive Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the workhorse of the surface fleet, without actually risking the $2 billion warship.
As for the Puget Sound’s commanding officer and instructor for this week, he is retired Coast Guard Capt. Tony Ford, whose experience with ships ranges from Coast Guard ice breakers near the Antarctic continent to fish processing vessels off the stormy coast of Alaska.
The Ensigns heed every word from the salty captain.
“This used to remind me of the old destroyer captains back in the day,” said Ford, commenting on Macfarlane’s fast approach to the pier. “The destroyer captains would be hot shots and to see if they were able to come alongside the pier the fastest, until the CNO had to put a stop on it with all the ships crashing.”
“It’s a great chance for some of us to shake off the rust on our driving skills while the ship is in the yards,” said Ensign Ashleigh Evans.
With Shoup is in the yards for a couple of months, Evans said it is a breath of fresh air to her and a couple of the more senior ensigns who have been working on board the ship during the yard period.
Likewise, the recently commissioned ensigns are beginning to grasp the awesome power and maneuverability of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.