Another long section...
April 15, 1937 - Early morning, Aboard San Antonio, Off the American coast, near Hampton Roads, VA.
“Signal from Burleson County, ‘Boat off the port bow, approximately 5 miles, have sent standard challenge, awaiting reply’.” The destroyer, which was leading the small convoy, was barely visible from San Antonio’s starboard bridge wing.
“Very well.” said Lt. William Porter, the Gunnery Officer, and currently Officer of the Deck. “Messenger, please inform the Captain and S. M. immediately. Signalman, please relay the contact report to Gulf Star and Gillespie County.”
“Aye, sir.” “Aye, sir.”
“Helm, maintain present course and speed.”
“Maintain present course and speed, aye, sir.”
After about five minutes, the signalman reported again. “Approaching vessel is the pilot boat from Norfolk, requesting permission to rendezvous for personnel transfer.”
After double-checking the night order book, Porter replied, “Send to Burleson County, ‘Permission granted. Please relay our position to the pilot boat and tell them to meet us.”
While the signal light clattered from overhead, Karl and the Sailing Master, Cmdr. Lewis Alexander, entered the bridge.
“Captain on the Bridge!” called the yeoman of the watch.
Porter rose from the OOD’s chair, turned to the two senior officers, and saluted. “Captain, the contact has been identified as the pilot boat from Norfolk. She requested permission to rendezvous to transfer personnel. As per your orders, I granted permission and asked Burleson County to relay our position to the pilot boat.”
“Very well. I’ll take the conn.”
“Captain has the conn!”
Sitting down in the OOD chair, Karl said “Well done, Bill. How was the night watch?”
“Very quiet, sir, after the last of that storm moved south of us. No damage reported on any ship. Those lucky stiffs over on B.C. and G.C. probably didn’t even have to clean up any spilled coffee!”
Karl smiled at the vehemence in Lt. Porter’s voice. “Don’t bet on that. The new trimaran configuration has some stability advantages, but that blow was enough to rattle the dishes on a battleship. That’s why I wanted to keep the President’s ship in our lee as much as possible. Go ahead and finish your watch turnover with Mr. Alexander and grab some sleep.”
“Aye aye, sir.”
After a few more minutes a lookout reported the pilot boat was in sight. Karl stepped out on to the port bridge wing to observe. Looking up at the signalman on the lookout platform above, he said “Signal the convoy to move to line astern of us, and warn them that we will be reducing speed to meet the pilot boat.”
Karl saw that the pilot boat was crossing their bow, maneuvering to come up on the starboard side. Which made perfect sense, as that was currently the leeward side, which would make transferring the harbor pilot much easier. After it was clear, he ordered all ships to reduce speed to five knots.
Lewis said “Looks like they’ll be alongside in a few minutes, sir.”
“Yep, looks like it. Would you go meet the pilot and escort him up here, please?”
Standing on the deck of the pilot boat, Chester Nimitz lowered his binoculars and said to the harbor pilot, a grizzled old merchant Captain named Smith, “Quite a contrast between those destroyers and the cruiser, isn’t it? I’ve seen a few racing boats with three hulls, but I never imagined that anyone would build a warship like that.”
“Aye, they’re mighty peculiar lookin’, I’d say. Looks like they’ve got more beam than the cruiser, even though they’re a hunnert feet shorter. Must make for some funny handling.”
“Probably. Should make them pretty steady gun platforms, though. Considering the number and size of those guns, that had to be what they were looking for. Don’t see any torpedo or depth charge launchers, though. That’s pretty odd. I wonder why they have so much empty deck space aft of the third turret?”
“Seaplane launching, maybe?”
“Can’t be. There’s no catapult and no cranes for recovering the the plane after it’s landed.”
“I imagine you’ll find out soon enough. I just hope they can maneuver well enough to avoid problems. Some fairly tight waters around here. Fortunately, I only have to take the small liner up to Washington. The rest are staying here in Norfolk.”
As he said that, the pilot boat finished maneuvering up to the boarding platform that had been lowered from the deck of the cruiser. The sailors standing on the platform caught the lines thrown by the pilot boat’s deck hand and secured them to cleats. Nimitz and Smith moved to stand at the edge of the deck, waiting for the right moment to jump across to the platform. Smith jumped first, followed by Nimitz on the next roll. One of the sailors directed them up the narrow, near-vertical stairway leading to the main deck while the other one released the lines and threw them back to the pilot boat.
Nimitz went up, followed by Smith. Reaching the top, he turned toward the quarterdeck and saluted the young officer waiting there. “Permission to come aboard?”
“Permission granted, sir.” said Ensign Michael Collins, returning Nimitz’s salute.
Chester stepped aside to make room for Captain Smith. Turning, he saw a very large, very black man with the five rank dots of a Commander on his collar saluting him. Nimitz returned the salute out of pure reflex, starting to realize how right he had been in his warning to Admirals Leahy and Tarrant.
“Welcome aboard San Antonio, Captain. I’m Commander Alexander, the ship’s Sailing Master.”
“Sailing Master? Captain Smith asked with a puzzled look on his face.
“Second in command, sir. If I recall correctly, that would be ‘Executive Officer’ in your Navy, is that right, sir?”
“Yes it is. Thank you Commander. I’m Captain Nimitz, I’ve been assigned as the liaison officer for the duration of your stay here. This is Captain Smith, the harbor pilot.”
“Welcome aboard, Captain Smith. If you gentlemen will follow me, Captain von Stahlberg is waiting on the bridge.”
“Certainly, Commander, lead on.”