Classic Bilge: The Lighthouse Vs. The Aircraft Carrier

Mar 29 2009

So funny it has to be true…
BotB Verdict

mostly_bilge

Average Number of Times Received Daily at MOAA: 3

Summary

An email forward that actually makes you laugh!  Well, the first time you receive it.  The next fifty times the only interesting parts about it is to see which details have been changed.  Its a classic battle between brute force and reality, a David vs. Goliath story set at sea.  Of course, its a made up story that certainly never happened as told, but is easily believable if you are not familiar with how the Navy operates or simple things such as GPS.  This is one of those military themed stories that make the rounds mostly by non-military readers and it has successfully become an urban legend.


The Most Common Iteration

ACTUAL transcript of a US naval ship with Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in October, 1995. This radio conversation was released by the Chief of Naval Operations on 10-10-95.

Americans: “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”

Canadians: “Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.”

Americans: “This is the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.”

Canadians: “No, I say again, you divert YOUR course.”

Americans: “THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES’ ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT’S ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.”

Canadians: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”


Origins

No one knows for sure who started this one, but it is certainly older than the internet itself.  A very early version of the tale even pre-dates radio communications between ships and has a CO of tramp steamer in England having virtually the same conversation with a lighthouse worker through thick fog.   The modern rendition of the story comes from a 1987 publication of the USNI’s Proceedings, which was picked up by the wildly successful book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People in Stephen Covey’s 1989 version.


Bilge Indicators and Historical Background

Historical Inaccuracies – The massive amount of variations in the story makes it hard to pin down any history to actually call inaccurate, but we’ll start with the obvious.  Although the version sited above states that the ship involved was the USS Abraham Lincoln, the original ship was the USS Enterprise and other iterations used have been the USS Coral Sea, the USS Missouri and the USS Nimitz.

The story was so prevalent that the United States Navy actually took the time to issue a denial with the following statement:  USS Coral Sea (CV 43) was decommissioned and scrapped 2 July 1993. Other ships’ names appearing have been USS Missouri (BB 63) which was decommissioned on 31 March 1992 and USS Nimitz (CVN 68) which is an active ship.

Simple Logic – Come on, really?  An entire aircraft carrier entourage not knowing they were that close to land, much less Newfoundland?  But, again, people outside of the services would not have found this unreasonable.

Google Search – A search of ‘Lighthouse Aircraft Carrier’ returns Snopes, TruthorFiction and the Navy denial as the first three links, but sadly some deeper links are from message boards and joke sites that don’t share the fact that it is a made up story.


Motivations

Pure humor.  If there was any truth to the story, it would be a funny one of course.  And people generally don’t let reality get in the way of a good joke.  Interestingly enough, most of the sites out there that present it as factual seem to originate from the UK, so a good bit of rivalry/ribbing seems to also be at play.  Sadly, the former Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell began a speech at a symposium with the Lighthouse story and stated “Now this is true.  It’s an actual recording”, which has done little to stop the bilge from spreading.


Further Reading/Tools

Snopes Page

Official Navy Denial

Truth or Fiction Page

You Can Help

Remember that forwarding a message you read but are unsure of without checking the available resources helps contribute to the Bilge.  Help us battle it, and if you haven’t seen us write one of them up, email it to us here.

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