Marty Timperio was prepared to close the book on more than three decades of military maritime service when he heard about PB 440.
The Kingston resident with the rank of chief in New York’s Naval Militia had already decided to retire when the sophisticated vessel was commissioned in December to help patrol the Port of New York. But an offer to pilot the crown jewel of the state’s fleet proved too tempting.
“When I heard what kind of boat it was, I said ‘I’m in,’ ” he recalled as the boat hummed effortlessly up the Hudson River Monday. “I just couldn’t pass it up.”
The water jet-propelled craft has a catamaran-style twin hull that glides smoothly across the water at speeds in excess of 40 knots — about 50 mph — and can rotate in a full circle while at a standstill.
Weighing in at 13 tons, the 44-foot-long and 16-foot-wide boat can cruise through water as shallow as 21 inches carrying up to 10 passengers. Even with the boat’s two 600 horsepower diesel engines at full throttle, it can come to a full stop in about 66 feet.
“It’s a dream machine,” said Richard Raynock, a master-at-arms chief in the militia, as he piloted the craft away from the Schodack Island State Park. “No matter what we pass, no matter what the wake, it’s smooth as glass.”
The $790,000 craft was purchased by the state through a federal grant program. The boat is among 13 assigned to the militia’s Military Emergency Boat Service, a fleet that assists the U.S. Coast Guard and law enforcement maritime missions.
Specifically, PB 440 is assigned to assist the Coast Guard in boarding suspicious ships entering New York City harbor. The boat’s speed, wide platform and ease of maneuverability make it an ideal ship to angle alongside large freighters so that armed military personnel can board them for inspection.
“Primarily, what we do is homeland security missions,” said Don McKnight, commander of the emergency boat service.
Crew members piloted the state-of-the-art ship to the Capital Region this week on a training mission. Though the boat is stationed on Staten Island, crews are also assigned to assist the Coast Guard at the Port of Albany, should the need arise.
Coast Guard officials will notify the militia in the event of an impending search. Oftentimes, ships that are confronted in the port are suspected of carrying contraband — such as illegal drugs — along with cargo.
It’s not to say that PB 440 can’t be used for other uses, which is something the Coast Guard is closely watching as it assesses its own fleet. Timperio said the boat’s stability has made it a favorite among Coast Guard helicopter crews during drills where medical evacuation baskets are landed on its stern.
The ship has also figured prominently in training exercises aimed at preparing for a hurricane. Even when fully loaded, it can traverse shallow flooded areas.
“The Coast Guard likes this boat,” he said.
The ship has redundant steering controls, including a dash-mounted mouse that crew members can use to guide it while traveling at lower speeds. An onboard computer digitally monitors everything from navigation channels to water depth.
An infrared camera system is mounted on top of the ship and can be controlled using a small joystick mounted in the crew cabin. The system is used to monitor activity around ships being boarded by the Coast Guard.
New York is among seven states that maintain a naval militia of some kind. The militia’s heritage spans more than two centuries and dates back to the American Revolution, when militiamen fought the first naval battle of the conflict on Lake Champlain in 1776.
The militia was officially recognized in 1889 and was later activated during the Spanish-American War. The fleet of ships was assembled in the wake of 9/11, after state officials saw a gap in security at the Indian Point Energy Center, a three-unit nuclear power plant along the Hudson.
The militia employs about 2,950 members today. Many of these members serve as reservists in either the Coast Guard, Navy, or Marine Corps reserves and perform militia missions on a volunteer basis.
“Basically, you’re on call for missions as they come up,” McKnight said.
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