Tour of the Navy Ships

10th September 2001

In the afternoon, we went out for a Harbour Cruise. It started at 2:00. We were just barely on time because the police had closed the carpark we normally use, which is very close to Harbour Park, so we had to park further away and do a fair bit of walking. When it was time to buy the tickets, we discovered too late that we could have picked up coupons inside the Harbour Park building (a seedier version of Darling Harbour). The coupons would have given us two tickets for the price of one. At the prices they were charging, we should have gone back and got the coupons and come back another day. But we were there, so we bit the bullet and paid up and went onboard. Sat downstairs in the air-conditioned comfort.

The boat moved across the harbour and picked up a Scandinavian couple and their two kids, and then we were off. The commentary started. We lost the first 10 minutes of the commentary because the Scandinavian couple argued non-stop about the $5 charge for one kid. The woman refused to accept that she had to pay and she repeated herself again and again in a loud voice, until the ticket collector gave in just to shut her up. That set the tone for the first half of the trip. The commentary continued. The guy giving it must have been ex-Navy. he knew the ships and he knew the history and he knew the anecdotes. We got the details of battles from Lord Dunmore shelling Norfolk in the War of Independence, up to details of the Gulf War and which ship fired first and how much the missiles cost and how many were fired in the first salvo. He gave a good trip.

Unfortunately for us, the downstairs section had been chosen as a kid dumping ground by 4 families. Two hard-faced women were minding about 12 kids while the rest of the parents were on the top deck having a bit of childless bliss. The noise from the kids rose and rose and drowned out the commentary. They ignored the filthy looks the others gave them, and the comments, and the requests from the boat-owners to keep it quiet. After half an hour we, and almost everyone else down there, abandoned the downstairs and went upstairs. Bliss. We could hear. We were free of the kids. Free of the cigar smoke. Until one of the hard-faced women brought several of the kids up and dumped them on the father and ran away. Thankfully, there was a bellow from the kids and they ran back downstairs so we could get on the with the trip. For the next two and half hours we went up the Elizabeth River until we hit Chesapeake Bay, then we came back on the other side of the Elizabeth. You wouldn't believe how many Navy ships are moored there. All ready for active service.

We went past hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Navy ships. This is the main naval station for the Atlantic Fleet. The Pacific Fleet is stationed at San Diego. We went past the Wisconsin, which is part of the Nauticus display. The Wisconsin is a Second World War battleship. It's been refitted several times, and is now on standby. It's open for deck tourism. Tourists can't go below because it can be returned to active service any time. This is the ship that Cher did that song Turn Back Time on.

We went past the Bataan again and I got some good photos of it to round out the previous set of photos I took on the trip. Went past the Peterson, which is the ship my neighbour serves on. I can't remember all the names of the ships we passed, way too many. The nuclear attack submarines at the submarine pier were impressive. The two aircraft carriers, the Nimitz and the Roosevelt, were awesome. You've never seen ships so large. Most of the ships don't have their names painted in obvious places. All you get to see are there markings. The Bataan is LHD5, for example. The cruise boat had a large laminated chart for sale, listing all the Navy ships, their markings, their capacities. Between that and the photos I took, I felt like a spy. The Aegis cruisers are deadly looking devices. So much weaponry packed on those ships.

We were buzzed several times by a Navy helicopter, and I got a photo of the belly of the helicopter as it whirred overhead. We were buzzed by one of the stealth spy planes, the ones with those big circular dishes on top. I got a photo of that as it swung down and photographed us. There were several older Navy planes with propellers that circled over head and came down for a look at us. This fleet is an actively serving fleet. They are ready for action. They learnt their lesson after Pearl Harbour. Not only do they have the long range surveillance radars, they always have four types of surveillance planes circling the piers at all times. The piers are off-limits and there are markers to show where we are allowed to go. Several small Navy high-speed boats came out and followed us a bit and watched us. I think they are a little touchy after the USS Cole was attacked so easily off the coast of Yemen. The Cole is from this area and all the sailors killed had families here. Great mourning in our area when the bodies came home. So they are still very touchy about tourist ships coming close, even in their home port in a safe harbour.

The trip back was quiet and we got the full force of seeing so many ships again.