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Aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln
by Nigel Hook

I have been privileged to race the biggest boat in the American Power Boat Association, the 43-foot Wellcraft Conseco Scarab. But recently I got a new perspective on the meaning of POWERboat when I was offered a unique Captain to Captain opportunity by the World's biggest Navy to check out the running of their biggest ship — the USS Abraham Lincoln.

Early Thursday morning on December 13th, Captain Richard Perkins called me. "We have an opening for you in our distinguished visitor (DV) program on Monday and Tuesday to visit the USS Abraham Lincoln, Captain Hook. You'll be making an arrested landing and a catapult takeoff from the flight deck."

Four days later, we were at North Island, Coronado donning flight jackets, cranials, and getting briefed on the procedures for the controlled (crash) landing on the US Carrier. Performing trials "somewhere" in the Pacific, the USS Abraham Lincoln appeared after about an hour of flight, at first a mere speck in the ocean. Even upon final approach she looked awfully small to land our aircraft on. The first "experience" was the sudden 2-G turn as we banked for landing. As we hit the deck at about 140 mph and grabbed the arresting wire with our tail-hook, it felt like a car crashing as our flight came to an abrupt halt in less than 400 feet.

Once on board, I instantly get the impression of "huge" — this vessel is 90,000 tons versus my Wellcraft Scarab's 9,000 lbs. A constant 30 knot head wind has to be sustained over the flight deck in order to perform take-offs and landings. In a dead calm, the Carrier can hold the speed itself to create the needed gust over the flight deck, but usually she can be steered into a wind to conserve power. While my query on her top speed was treated as classified, it seemed that her nuclear reactor power plants would have had no problem dialing in plenty more than the 30 knots when the occasion demanded.

F/18 Hornets and Prowlers were practicing take-offs and landings all day long and late into the pitch black night, seemingly with immense precision, afterburners blazing away. The crew of young sailors executed each operation from one choreographed crescendo to another.

The schedule spent the balance of Monday and Tuesday morning touring the ship quarters and operations, punctuated by a five course dinner with the Captain where only a fine wine was missing. With just a few hours sleep allowed, the regimen helped us make use of every hour aboard — the normal beat for the crew.

I expected the catapult launch for my return flight to be the highlight of the trip. It was indeed beyond exhilarating. Strapped into the four-point harness, I listened to the jet turbines spooling up to full power and focused on the red light flashing "CATAPULT". The hook was released and thousands of pounds of steam-powered catapult exploded us off the deck. We hit 150 mph in less than two seconds. The acceleration was as brutal as it was short, followed by seeming weightlessness. It felt almost as if we had "stopped" as our flight headed back to San Diego.

As a race boat driver, it reminded me of the commonality between the military and racing. This Navy carrier demonstrated beyond normal comprehension that practice makes perfect. It is something I can only aspire to as a race team owner, but we can rest assured that the United States has the best-prepared Navy in the world protecting our peace.

-published March, 2002

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