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
Lincoln, Captain Hook. You'll be making an arrested landing and a catapult takeoff from the
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
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
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
to full power
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