Gunnery target and navigational aid

Published on May 5th, 2021

Avoiding collision requires visibility which is hard in the fog, and once was a whole lot harder before pinpoint navigation tools. But what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and provides good stories… here’s one of them:

From Bill Wheary; Norfolk, VA:
One afternoon of the 1977 or 1978 running of the annual 120 mile race variously known as the Annapolis to Hampton Race, the Down the Bay Race, and initially as the Virginia Cruising Cup, there was a light rain and a dense mist. Visibility was extremely limited, maybe 200 or 300 yards at most.

I was crewing on a Ranger 26 beating into a stiff southerly and against a strong flood current and 2 foot chop. The light boat, with its working jib furled from the bottom, was really no match for the conditions.

While on a starboard tack in the vicinity of the mouth of the Potomac River and nearing Tangier Sound, out of the mist and a couple hundred yards dead ahead loomed the “San Marcos wreck”, as she was colloquially referred to.

The San Marcos is the former battleship USS Texas, a sister ship of the USS Maine, launched in 1892 and stricken from the rolls of the US Navy in 1911 so the name could be used for a newer battleship. The old ship was renamed the San Marcos, sunk in a north-south orientation on a shoal in Tangier Sound, and used as a gunnery target throughout World War II. She had a length of 309 feet.

When we neared the northern end of the wreck we tacked onto port and sailed off into the mist for about an hour, then tacked back onto starboard and sailed for another hour or so. During these two hours we never saw anything other than the Bay and the mist.

However, out of the mist we were about to get a true “fix” when we saw ourselves along the south end of the San Marcus. We knew definitely where we were and, sadly, that it had taken us about two hours to make 309 feet down the race course. We also knew we would be spending another night on the Bay.

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