I think that might actually be me. No, I have not taken up cage fighting or any other extreme sport. I am referring to something that took place about five years ago when I was on, what is known as, a Tiger Cruise.
A Tiger Cruise is an event in which the U.S. Navy allows sailors to bring a family member aboard ship for a few days underway. I am sure it is a gigantic pain in the paperwork for the Navy. For that matter, there was a considerable stack of forms that I had to deal with.
The Tiger Cruise I had the privilege to ride on so happened to be the very last trip home for the USS Enterprise, CVN65. My youngest daughter was a sailor aboard and they were returning from the ship's final mission. The civilians, cleverly code named Tigers, were picked up at a port in Florida and spent three days traveling back to the home port in Virginia. The decommissioning process commenced immediately upon arrival at port.
As a boat builder, I had an absolute blast exploring every permissible space on that ship. It represented fifty years of some pretty major Naval history. It also represented a size “E,” as in Enormous, boat. (Sailors will see what I did there.)
The highlight of my time on board the Enterprise was when I got to take the helm of the ship for about ten minutes. As it happened, we were on the bridge and I was talking with the bosun's mate. When he found out what I did for a living, he suggested I ask the helmsman if I could drive the ship. I'm not sure if he was trying to get me out of his hair, or if he really thought the helmsman would let me take the wheel, but I figured they wouldn't lock me in Leavenworth for asking.
“The bosun's mate said you might let me take the wheel.” My question came out as a statement. The young man stepped aside and said, “Sure.”
I about fell over. I took the wheel and handed the camera to my daughter. My best efforts to look cool and suave came out with me grinning like a monkey in a banana plantation.
Of the, undoubtedly, small list of lifelong civilians that have driven an active duty aircraft carrier, I am one. And since that moment happened late in the Tiger Cruise, mere hours before the ship was deactivated, there is a very high likelihood that I was THE LAST CIVILIAN to take the helm of the Big E while it was in active duty.
Today, February 3rd, 2017, the remaining hulk of the once proud USS Enterprise was formally and finally stricken from the list of ships in the U.S. Navy.
This makes me sad, but my hat is off today to the thousands of men and women who have served on the Enterprise over the years.