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Sounds Of Freedom
A few thousand feet can make a difference.
As I read the news today, I wondered, “How big is Gaza?”
It turns out that Gaza is almost the exact size of an area in the Potomac River that I avoided when sailing for most of my adult life.
Locally, we called that area ‘The Range,’ a marked section down the middle of the river that is roughly 25 miles long and three to four miles wide.
As a member of the Dahlgren Yacht Club for fourteen years, we raced PHRF boats on Mondays around the Potomac River buoys. We sailed Lightnings, Lasers, and other daysailers on Thursdays. Most weekends, we raced PHRF or one-designs on the river or Chesapeake Bay, vying for various yearly high point trophies.
I kept my Alberg 30 in Cobb Island, Maryland, across the Potomac for four years in the early 2000s, within sight of the weekly race courses. I returned there and lived on Avemar for a year recently as I prepped her for blue water sailing.
In the image above, the bright red portion of the Potomac River roughly approximates the active target zone, or ‘The Range.’
Until roughly 4:45 pm each weekday, sailing a boat in that area was very interesting because there was a chance that you’d be sunk by a rocket, a mortar, or a large caliber shell fired from weapons mounted along the river’s bank around the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Dahlgren. It was a slight chance, but once I saw rocket fins on land at Colonial Beach!
High-speed US Navy range boats moored along the edges of a ‘safe’ channel on the sides of the river and monitored boat traffic. They called sailors on the VHF to let them know where they could navigate to pass by ‘The Range’ while it was in use.
The DYC races typically started after the range closed for the day. It was a regular occurrence if you were on the Race Committee to call Range Control and ask if a particular course for the race was within the safe zone or, more likely, ask when they would stop firing so we could race in the river. Occasionally, races were very close to shore, and the firing would be over our heads.
Being in a sailboat, hearing a sonic boom, and then seeing water erupt to the height of a two- or three-story building a few thousand feet away and then looking northwest as a smoke ring grew from the shore accompanied by a second boom from the gun being fired was exhilarating.
Today, while reflecting on the hundreds of times I sailed around ‘The Range’ in the Potomac, I thought about Gaza, an area of the same size, now being rained on around the clock with rockets, mortars, and bombs.
“The Sounds Of Freedom,” read the sign at the base gate, acknowledging the noise of proving munitions from the shores of the Potomac.
Sadly, two million people living in Gaza are hearing the sounds of terror from weapons likely tested on ‘The Range.’