Below reads a response from one person whose first experience with the EF was recently. The observer writes:
Life at sea is different. Even more so, the experience changes depending on which seagoing platform—40 feet, 60 metre, Dauntless, safeboat, jet skis—you are attached to. I spent a couple of days recently observing the crew of one of four 43 feet Interceptor vessels procured under the Enduring Friendship (EF) Program. The vessels were gifted by the US Southern Command back in 2010 with the intent of ‘detecting, deterring, disrupting and defeating’ a cadre of illicit activity within the Caribbean region whilst bolstering The Bahamas’ capabilities in maritime domain awareness. They have been doing just that for the last 6 years.
We, the life jacket clad EF Crew – PO Darren Roker and Marine Seamen Bradley Burrows, Denzel Bullard, Jonathon Levarity and myself, the observer, slipped harbour a bit later than a usual patrol would start, pausing only to take our foam lid breakfast plates and a couple bottles of water.
Before 9 am, we had boarded our first boat, an older model wooden sailing sloop and escorted them into the nearest port of entry. The boarding itself is a work of art. The coxswain would match the speed of any vessel they are approaching, if they are not stopped or at anchor; and pull up to it as the boarding team steps or jumps onto the other ship depending on the size of the waves.
The crew members and passengers of the sailing sloop with its ‘sun-turnt’ sails had most of their papers in order. However, visas were missing for some who were intent on travelling on to New Providence. The boarding certificate was filled in and the captain asked, as mandated by law, if he felt the boarding was conducted professionally and without damage to his property. He agreed. The boarding team also signed to confirm they had brought nothing from the ship back to our vessel. The boarded ship and its crew were turned over to Immigration, Customs and Police Officials for further processing. We continued on our journey.
Marine Seaman Bullard took the first watch for the outward journey. He and his crew mates engaged in good natured banter as we left the security of the basin and headed out to the open ocean. The swells were well, swelling. On a bigger vessel, the 3 to 5 foot waves would probably not be felt. However, the Interceptor, despite skilled steering to avoid them, for me seemed a bit choppy. Its crew seemed ill at ease though and very accustomed to their way of life onboard. For me though, mobility onboard was reduced as the Interceptor’s speed increased. Accordingly, eyes fluttered akin to that of a person experiencing an epileptic episode. They watered as the oncoming winds assaulted them. Conversation lulled as those watery eyes keenly scanned port and starboard horizons and surrounding waters for contacts that could be missed with the state of the art radars that were retrofitted to those vessels.
About two hours later, Marine Seaman Levarity took control of the throttles, giving Bullard an opportunity to have his breakfast. I was on my second water and already starving, but refused to be the first to complain about these basic human needs. I understood that the responsibilities and skill level of the very junior men on this platform could very well far outweigh others on larger crafts who are specialists. Their boat handling skills were superb. Even the mechanic was very junior and he was also well versed in craft operation and had his time on the wheel. He also spent some time checking engine readings and monitoring output levels.
Our heading took us to Abraham’s Bay, Mayaguana where we watched the blue waters that mirrored our uniform turn to an astonishing bejeweled green. We nodded to tourists sun bathing on the decks of their yachts with jet skis in tow and seemingly no concern in the world except sliding down a massive inflatable slide that encompassed the entire length of their pleasure craft. The ocean was their pool. A courtesy call was placed to the Administrator of that Island indicating our presence and ensuring that nothing was awry within that area of speculation. Pretty soon, the midday sun had begun drifting west. It was time to head back.
The seas had become slightly choppier. The speed and due attention to surveying the massive expanses of our territorial waters remained the same. The butt rests were uncomfortable, or maybe it was because my feet were too short to stench against the provided foot rests.
Don’t get me wrong. I completely enjoyed the feel of fresh and unpolluted ocean air kissing my face. I enjoyed watching the waters change colours like a chameleon and trying to decipher if the seagulls I saw in the middle of nowhere were as tired and hungry as I am. At least I had somewhere to ‘land’. They didn’t.
It would be another two hours and a half of enduring on the Enduring Friendship vessels for myself as the observer. It was well past my established routine of eating. Of course with no kitchen facilities onboard the snacks we took would have to suffice.
A day out on a quick response craft awakened a different type of hunger for me. However, it also fulfilled a different type of yearning to be able to protect and serve and endure this type of experience for the betterment of all Bahamians. My title of observer would change slightly as I brought the very fast vessel back to our homeport. I was able to bring it alongside in a manner that ensured my salary would remain mine, again thanks to the patient coaching of the crew attached to P-130. I walked away with skills, even though I walked (read wobbled) away without sea legs.
A huge bravo zulu is extended to the crews of all the EFs within our modest fleet. What you do may go unnoticed many times, but today we acknowledge your contributions. We acknowledge your crazy schedules and we appreciate your welcoming instructions as you show us what it feels like to be in your shoes, if but for a short time.
Tomorrow I anticipate my body will feel the brunt of the thumping that you experience every day. But tomorrow I am not mandated to return with you. So until my healing is complete and until my return, I wish you men – fair winds, calm waters and following seas.