When Eastport harbor pilot Captain Bob Peacock stepped onto the deck of the USS GONZALEZ (DDG 66) from the destroyer’s pilot’s ladder on July 3 in the Bay of Fundy, his step represented the culmination of a lot of work by Peacock and a lot of other people. And the work was continuing as Peacock began to pilot the ship to the Eastport breakwater.
One indication of that fact was that Ralph DeWitt, boat captain for R.J. Peacock Canning Co., immediately took the pilot boat, MEDRIC II, back to Eastport in order to get the special fenders in place in place on the breakwater for the destroyer. The fenders, necessary because of the destroyer’s hull configuration, had been delivered earlier that morning by flatbed truck from the Bath Iron Works, the shipyard where the GONZALEZ was built.
That preparation is standard for the arrival of a Navy destroyer at Eastport. But Sept. 11 and its aftermath meant more work for all concerned. DeWitt, for example, was responsible for placing yellow buoys marking a security zone around the ship once she was safely berthed. The buoys were donated by Peacock and painted by employees of R.J. Peacock.
Peacock was almost constantly on his cell phone arranging other details while enroute to meet the destroyer.
“We probably put in 100 man-hours over normal,” says Charlie Leppin, Eastport Port Authority tug/operations manager and captain of one of the port’s two tugs. “In fact, normally we don’t have that much to do.”
Leppin noted that his preparations started in May. He’s referring to a security meeting at the Federal Marine Terminals Eastport office involving two liaison officers from the GONZALEZ and federal, state and local law enforcement officials, followed by a meeting between the officers and members of the Fourth of July Committee.
He adds that he and his crew “created and installed the underwater lighting system and organized and placed the concrete and crowd control barricades on the breakwater.”
Those barricades were staffed by armed destroyer crew members who searched visitors to the ship with metal detector wands. Tour visitors were advised not to carry handbags or cameras.
Adding that there was also security screening of the tugs as well, Leppin says, “I think that this will be normal procedure from now on.”
Eastport Port Director John Sullivan says, “We pick up [wages for] Charlie and his crew. It’s our in-kind contribution to the Fourth of July Committee. The only thing we bill the Navy for is the charge for the tugs themselves, which we do for every ship that comes in.”
Lee Harris, longshoremen gang boss for Federal Marine Terminals, says that handling lines for the GONZALEZ was normal, “three on the bow, three on the stern,” but he adds, “Only this time we got searched with a police dog and a [metal detector] wand.” But DeWitt says there was a big difference in hours for him this year, beginning with the security meeting in May. “At that point the Navy told us what we needed to do for them, and that included a 100-yard perimeter around the ship. My responsibility was the water side, actually myself and my son James. We got everything staged the day before the ship arrived, brought the supplies from Peacock’s in Lubec. When the ship arrived we placed the yellow, eight-foot in diameter buoys around the ship. The Navy patrolled inside that perimeter [with a rigid hull inflatable boat]. When the ship left, we removed the buoys.”
DeWitt says he’s not exactly sure how many hours he and his son put in, but that it was above normal operation. “I do know that a three-hour job took seven.” He adds, “We’re always glad that the Navy comes to support our community, and we’re always ready to help with anything the Navy needs.”
Over the decades, the Navy ship has become the centerpiece of Eastport’s Old Home Week, and when there was no ship in 2001 because of scheduling problems, the absence was felt, according to Fourth of July Committee Chairman J. Roland Mitchell.
This year Sen. Olympia Snowe sent word to the committee that Eastport would get a ship – before the committee had submitted its request.
As for Bob Peacock’s contribution to the ship’s presence, he tends to shrug off his own involvement and ticks off the names of Ralph DeWitt, Charlie Leppin and Lee Harris, and says, “Those are the guys you ought to talk to; they did most of the work.”
But if pressed, Peacock concedes that he put in 66 hours, not including the hours he, wife Marge and daughter Ansley spent entertaining the crew. And he admits to a “personal financial contribution.”
His first task was to send a letter in April to CDR Andrew King, the destroyer’s commanding officer, that included navigation instructions, a history of ships visiting Eastport for Old Home Week, services available, and the names and telephone numbers of everyone able to be helpful to the ship’s personnel. He even included photos of Head Harbour Light and West Quoddy Head for the ship’s officers to recognize.
With meticulous detail, Peacock wrote: “If it is at all possible please plan to arrive at the pilot station (1.5 miles east of EAST QUODDY HEAD LT at the North End of Campobello) at 10:00 US EDT on JULY 3rd, 2002. We will start down the passage at 10:30. Tugs will be alongside at 11:15. Low water is at 12:06. ( 2.4′) (38′ alongside at Low Water). Slack water docking at the pier is at 12:24 EDT.”
The letter also included a detailed schematic of the actual berthing at the breakwater. In addition, he provided the ship with a pilot plan, gangway plan, and 16 security information packets to law enforcement officers.
And, of course, Peacock piloted the destroyer into and out of Eastport.
Peacock also praised and thanked the Maine State Police, Marine Patrol, U.S. Border Patrol, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “They were really a great help.”
On July 8th, the USS GONZALEZ reached the pilot station in the Bay of Fundy on its way out to sea. As Peacock stepped from the deck onto the top rung of the pilot’s ladder, the ship’s bell rang, and a voice came over the public address system: “Captain, U.S. Navy Reserve, Retired, is departing the ship.”
Eastport’s Old Home Week was officially over.