By Andrea Adelson | LB Indy
An ominous U.S. Navy warship cruising less than two miles offshore south Orange County’s coastline this past Sunday caught the attention of anyone with a view of the sea between Laguna Beach’s Main Beach and Dana Point’s harbor.
The crew of the impressive U.S.S. Coronado, a 419-foot trimaran designed to defeat threats in coastal waters, apparently was unaware of a docile rarely threatening domestic invasion: migrating gray whales.
Capt. Todd Mansur, at the helm of a Dana Wharf whale watching boat, contacted the crew on the naval vessel to warn them off a potential collision course with the marine mammals, according to Donna Kalez, Dana Wharf’s manager.
Gray whales are beginning their 6,000-mile migration from Baja California birthing areas to Arctic summer feeding spots. Spotting their spouts and flukes remains a familiar but still thrilling spring ritual locally.
But the whale of a gray ship churning a powerful wake in the proximity of jet skiers, sailboats and whale-watchers near shore was anything but routine.
“It sent a four wave set of shoulder high waves out of the SSE. Massive water displacement,” Bob Murphy said in an Indy Facebook post on Monday, March 10.
Valerie Wallace, of Laguna Beach, aboard a 25-foot cruiser about three miles offshore, said the warship joined an informal flotilla of whale-watching boats, but broke away heading towards Monarch Beach.
“Then they took off and we couldn’t keep up with them,” said Wallace, who queried the Coast Guard about the ship that bore no flag. Radio traffic among boaters speculated over whether Russia’s President Vladimir Putin was aboard, she said. Typically, military ships stay near San Clemente Island and radio a warning to recreational boaters who get close, Wallace said. This one didn’t, she said.
The warship is the Navy’s fourth littoral combat ship and will be commissioned April 5 on San Diego’s Coronado Island, said Lt. Lenaya Rotklein, a spokeswoman for the Navy’s Third Fleet, which conducts operations in the Pacific along North America’s western edge.
Designed to carry out missions close to the coast, the ship has a 3,500-mile range and is capable of 40 knots, about 46 mph, but has a draft of only 14.4 feet, the depth of the ship’s waterline and the lowest section of its keel. The craft is equipped with cannons, missiles and machine guns and its 104-foot width allows for a flight deck at its stern suitable for maritime helicopters.
Built in Alabama, the Coronado set out in January, making stops in Florida, Cuba, Columbia, Panama and Mexico, said Maile Baca, a spokesman for Naval Base San Diego, where the ship will eventually tie up.
The ship commanded by John Kochendorfer has since arrived in port and was conducting training and was in transit along the Southern California coastline, Rotklein said.