All ahead one third on the starboard shaft.” The order was called out by the Bath Iron Works (BIW) conning officer, clearly heard in the hushed atmosphere of the pilot house. The bridge was dark except for the dim glows of flat-panel displays as the 16,000-ton destroyer moved away from the Portland, Maine, pier.
Perhaps thirty people were crowded into the space. The navigating team was led by Captain Earl Walker, the shipyard’s long-time chief pilot, and all the controls were manned by civilian engineers and shipbuilders working for BIW, which owns the Zumwalt until it is formally handed over this spring to the US Navy. Other engineers -- from the shipyard, Raytheon and other manufacturers -- looked over the operators’ shoulders.
Unusually for a ship on builder’s trials, the civilians were joined by about 130 members of the destroyer’s US Navy crew, on board to get their first chance to sit down and operate the ship that later this year they will call home.
This was the third night out for the Zumwalt on her second series of builder’s sea trials, the first “alpha” trials having been carried out in early December. The ship, which will eventually go to sea with a crew of 147, was carrying 388 souls, one of the highest numbers Zumwalt likely will ever carry during a planned service life of about 40 years.
The 610-foot-long destroyer moved out slowly from the pier, making a sharp left turn, then a right to come into the channel. As she moved out of Casco Bay into the Atlantic, a slight sea was running, enough to throw spray from her sharp, wave-piercing prow and occasionally spit on the bridge. A slight glow in the darkness ahead belied the white running light on the Zumwalt’s bow – a change from the mast position required on other ships because the destroyer’s stealthy design leaves nowhere else to put it.