I’m an avid reader of books – fiction and nonfiction – about Navy life in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. In them are many references to vessels’ changes in command. It causes me to wonder about what goes through the mind of the exiting Captain, standing on the quarterdeck watching his replacement being rowed from across the harbor.
His ship has been scrubbed and painted – made to look as good as it can be – in so-called “Bristol Fashion.” I believe the soon-to-be relieved commander recalls the events and the people of the voyages during his command. He thinks of his crew and how the ship’s safe return home is ultimately more about their skills and commitment than the Captain’s. He thinks of his junior officers – his leadership team, if you will – and how they truly make the difference between any success that comes his way and his propensity for stumbling.
He thinks about the support he receives from the Admiralty – sort of his board of directors – who provide him with general orders and leave it up to him to sort out the details, get the job done and bring everybody safely home. He wonders what the new commander’s first impressions are of the crew members selected to wear their best outfits and do the rowing that will soon bring her along side. He wonders how the ship looks to her as she sizes it up for the first time. And, he thinks about what it will be like to see his personal footlocker lowered into the same little boat and how his ship will look and how his officers and crew will feel as he is rowed to shore.
The VNA is a fine vessel. Her officers are experts – collegial and dedicated. Her crew is a remarkable mix of skilled disciplines and includes wise senior members and some new to the sea. Her “admiralty” clearly articulates her Mission and provides the guidance, intelligence, provisions, instruments and charts necessary for her purpose – to care for those in need; 700 staff and nearly as many volunteers caring for 1,200 patients, clients and families each day across Chittenden and Grand Isle counties.
Judy Peterson will be a wonderful new Captain. Her epaulets are heavy with gold brocade and her sleeves carry rows of well-earned stripes. Her prior crews and officers sing her praises. Our good ship VNA is very fortunate to have her stepping over the side rail, with bosun’s pipes wailing.
As Judy smartly strides to meet me, we exchange our salutes. Then she says to me, “You are relieved of your command, Sir” and I say “Yes, I stand relieved.” We shake hands, I wish her well and she thanks me for having everyone and everything looking so good. Then she orders her personal locker taken down to my old quarters as I climb down to the gig and give the signal to shove off and row for the docks. My heart races when I hear the huzzah’s from my old team. My heart jumps with the sound of the cannon salute. Then, a bit heavy hearted, I settle in to try and take it all in while wondering about my next command.
Bless the VNA and all who sail with her. I wish you fair winds and gentle seas.