By Steve Fuller
We had tracked one drug-running speedboat for days; each night it got underway but stayed in Colombian territorial waters, frustrating the crew.
When the team leaders knocked on my door late the final evening, I was deep into my chosen book, and a little annoyed — two boys crying wolf together? How many nights in a row had this same routine played out? Not tonight, they said, we needed to act, and now!
I suspended my disbelief, put my shoes on, and met with the team for a quick rallying cry. We plotted our position on the chart, refueled the helicopter, dressed out the boarding team, manned the 50 caliber guns, and measured the angles to determine the best approach to intercept the boat.
The angles were not good, we had maybe 20 degrees of courses to play with and all required us to go max speed. One miscalculation on our part or acceleration on their part we would be in a tail-chase we couldn’t win.
And then they accelerated, and we had a decision to make. Send the helicopter in to see if they can stop the boat while we covered the flank to keep it from retreating into territorial waters or let it go.
We sent the chopper and sure enough, the boat did stop. But not before jettisoning what appeared to be bales of cocaine.
But the boat saw that we were not positioned to board them and got underway again, slowly at first, but quickly accelerating back to speeds we could not match. Had we missed our chance? Should we have let them proceed on to the Coast Guard Vessel 100 miles down range? Was it time for Plan B or even C?
The boat changed course and was headed straight at one of our sister ships out of San Diego. I reached out to their captain and gave him a heads up that a drug-runner was coming his way. He launched his helicopter and after another break for fuel we got ours back in the air. The chase was on again.
Once again the boat changed course, this time making a dash for Colombian waters. We needed an assist from the Colombians. We reached out to our bosses back in Florida who reached out to the Colombians and before we knew it, they, too, had joined the chase.
Still, even with two helicopters and three ships on the hunt, the speed maneuverability of the drug runners’ boat looked like we had a lost cause. I had retired for a moment to my cabin to reflect on what we could do better next time when there was another knock on my door — this time, my team leaders were eagerly reporting that the Colombian Navy had captured the speed boat and the 39 bales of cocaine they had stashed on board, a huge bust!
Our team effort both on my ship, on my friend’s ship, and the Colombians’ scored a victory that day for all of us to be proud.
Steve Fuller retired from the U.S. Navy in 2019 after nearly 27 years of service serving at sea on ships as small as frigates and as large as aircraft carriers. A visit to the Driftless and a desire for a radical course change brought him home to Wisconsin where he lives on a small parcel of land with chickens and horses and … more to come! He has been a creative writer since he first saw U2 perform in Live Aid, and now as he returns home after a life of service, he looks forward to sharing more of his writing with willing readers.