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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Harbor Cruise

I took a Harbor Cruise on Friday. Fr. Sean and his friend from Oxford were going to go too, but last minute got pressed into service at an unexpected singing rehearsal for the wedding he went to on Saturday. But I went anyway, tix having been "comped." It was pretty overcast, and the sun only finally broke free late afternoon.

The dayboat cruise ship "Lord Hornblower" is below.

The skyline of downtown San Diego has certainly changed a lot since I moved here in 1971. Back then there were a handful of really high rise buildings downtown. You could clearly see the El Cortez hotel from the Harbor, which was the first building to ever have an elevator on the *outside* of a building. Below is a picture taken of the downtown skyline from on board.

As you pull out of the slip, you can see the USS Midway CV-41 off the starboard bow. Tourists may now go onboard. I'd recommend setting aside a half day, and wear comfy shoes. You'll do a LOT of walking!

Also in the harbor were the USS George Washington CVN-73(left), which for the time being is in port undergoing repairs due to a recent fire aboard. On the right is the USS Nimitz CVN-68 undergoing routine maintenance, having returned from a long deployment. The Nimitz's "sail" is masked, because it is undergoing paint striping and the wrap is to prevent all the chips, etc. going in the bay. It is hard to tell from the picture below but the flight decks of these carriers are close to 1100 feet long and if one stood them on end would be 2.5 times as tall as the tallest building on the San Diego downtown skyline!

The USS Reagan CV-76 is normally home ported here too, but it, along with its battle group, is currently on deployment to the middle east. Normally about 41 ships are home ported here, San Diego is the largest port in the US after Norfolk, Va. These ships are tied up off the north end of NAS (Naval Air Station) North Island (which is technically a peninsula,. Don't ask.) Want a tour? See your naval recruiting office!

Below is a google earth shot of San Diego Bay. It is considered one of the finest natural harbors in the world.

The Bay is home to many critters, not the least of which are Sea Lions and Harbor Seals. Fr. Sean had a hard time telling them apart. But it's easy. The dark ones are the Sea Lions, and the brownish ones are the Harbor Seals. One of them can climb on the red buoys in the bay and the other one can't.

These fellas can be pretty inert, because they have their lazy carcasses hanging out where the fishing boats pull up and load up on anchovies and other bait. They don't have the "weight problem" the 1800 pound manatees have who eat 300 pounds of lettuce a day and the occasional apple or carrot. Talk about sitting around the house, getting high and watching the tube. The original "couch potatoes."

By chance we also saw the USS New Orleans (LPD-18) - an amphibious transport dock - one of the newest ships in the fleet, just commissioned last year. Its profile was designed to make it appear much smaller on radar. It's well over 600 feet in length and the nearby sailboat gives good perspective. It's also covered with "stuff" (highly technical term -- actually it's "Ram") which confuses enemy radar. We later turned and came back up the harbor and followed it a WIDE berth and sole occupancy (except for the idiots in sail boats who didn't "notice" a 600+ foot ship bearing down on them) of the deepest part of the channel.

When I got home and blew up the pictures I noticed the signal flags on the New Orleans. The letters spell out "NOLA" which is the radio "call sign" of this vessel. You can see the close up below.

Here is a picture I took this past Memorial Day weekend of the bay from the vantage point of Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery, which I wrote about before. The sub base is in the closest part of the bay. You can see the protective ring.

The hangars below are on North Island, not far from the Aircraft Carriers. When we were out we were treated to an F-18 practicing a "touch and go" on North Island. (It has two run ways not far from San Diego's commercial Lindbergh field. Named for Charles Lindbergh. Spirit of St. Louis was built in San Diego.

File photo below of one of the Navy's hottest toys. The Navy, IMO, has the neatest toys.

For those not in the know, a "touch and go" is what a pilot has to do if his tail hook has missed one of the arresting cables on the carrier. You miss? Throttle like hell and hope you have enough oomph to get you back up off that carrier and not off the side. Every landing is a "controlled crash." Somewhere I read where one pilot described it "like having sex in a car crash." I'll take his word for it.

Early parachute test from aircraft were also conducted on North Island, and a lady, Georgia Broadwick, was the first user to jump from a military plane into the water...the men apparently being too chicken. That or "ladies first." Whatever.

A little more of the San Diego Skyline is below. Seaport village and the embarcadero is in front. Lots of little shops and restaurants. There are often concerts by the bay in the summertime.

This nifty bridge, The Coronado Bridge, links San Diego to Coronado, which is at the southern end of North "Island." It has an 80 degree bend in it, because when it was built back in the 60s a bridge needed to be at least 2 miles long to have the feds kick in some funding. Your tax dollars at work. The modern carriers can't pass beneath it, but then they don't "live" on the southeast side of the bay and have no need to go under it. There's a whole bunch of ships that are normally home ported down at the 32nd street Naval Station south of this bridge, but few were in port Friday, many of them having gone off with the Reagan Battle group.

We also saw some Navy teams in the harbor training dolphins (they also train sea lions) in mine detection and "other stuff." I swiped the picture below with the one immediately above from wiki. (We weren't quite close enough for a picture to come out, but we could see them from 1/2 mile away.) Interesting article here about the program.

I know. Long post, but I haven't done a San Diego one in a while. BTW, the first European sighting of the harbor was done by Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo in the mid 1500s, a Portugese flying under the Spanish flag.


Stephen said...

I'm a little curious - and more than a little scared - to know exactly *how* that pilot knew that executing a "touch and go" was "like having sex in a car crash"...

gemoftheocean said...

Yeah, that's why I remembered the saying. I expect he'd had both experiences, but perhaps he'd conflated the two events! Stranger things have happened! I think it was basically any carrier landing -- particularly at night. Small runway, low vision, and a moving deck and having to come in whilst throttling. WHEEEEEE! A while back on TV I was watching part of the multipart special "Carrier" and there was one point where they showed guys out on the flight deck, and the deck was pitching a good 25 degrees up and down. A CARRIER yet. I'd have lost my lunch.

gemoftheocean said...

Oh, and average age on the flight deck of a carrier of the crew running flight ops? NINETEEN. But they can't legally drink a beer in a civilian bar. I know at one time they could drink if they were 18 and ON BASE, but I think that may have changed.

Oh,and that 4.5 acres of flight deck is one of the dangerous places in the world to be standing. The crew is highly trained [duh[ - but average LIFE SPAN of someone on deck untrained while flight ops going on? 90 seconds. How they know THAT, I have no idea! On that carrier show they had foootage of an accident where an arresting wire was "loose" and it came across the flight deck and incredibly a crew member jumped over it, and then within two seconds jumped over it AGAIN when it swept under his feet. Yeehaw!

Adrienne said...

Just an absolutely wonderful post - great pictures, superb prose, new things to learn. I'm glad you stayed up late to do it............

Stephen - maybe he had the car crash because he was engaging in sex. Hmmmmm - ya think?

I always used to practice safe sex by parking the car first. LOL

gemoftheocean said...

Thanks Adrienne. It was worth all the typing. A nice woman whose son serves on the Geo. Washington wrote me too to thank me for the detailed post. You really can't live here long without coming to love the Navy. It was a good place for the conservative soul to be in the turbulent early-mid 70s. The Vietnam war opened rifts that have never healed. But at least I didn't have to endure classmates burning flags, protests in the streets and things like like. A lot of their dads were servicemen. Although San Diego has changed somewhat -- it's still largely "Reagan Country."

BTW, I figured the simultaneous sex/car crash thing. The guy is at the "submarine races" with his girlfriend, and someone crashes into their parked car!"

Stephen said...

Or maybe he was a Cronenberg fan:

(If you haven't seen this film, by the way, do yourself a favour. Don't.)

WhiteStoneNameSeeker said...

My 16yr old did a Homeschool project on flight and told me all about the flight decks of aircraft carriers. He is in great awe of the skill and courage of the men who work on them.

There's a lot to see around your neck o'the woods Karen. Beautiful photos.

swissmiss said...

There's something about living in a city that has a military presence. I loved living near a Navy base and having access to tours every time a ship was in port. I'm sure San Diego has a lot more to offer. Very cool pics and story.

ArchAngel's Advocate said...

That highly technical term R.A.M. actuallly stands for Radar Absorbing Material.
Also the Military Channel had a special on the LPD class (apparently its also a brand new class of ships). One of these new ships, appropriately named the USS New York (LPD-21) actually has steel from the World Trade Center in its bow.

gemoftheocean said...

AA: I'll keep an eye peeled on the military channel, sounds like an interesting show. I figured the "R" was for radar, but thanks for the rest of the acronym.

Swiss: You bet!

Stephen: Thanks for the link.

TWSN: There's some fairly good stuff on Youtube floating around on carrier ops. There's a really good one here re: flight ops from the Reagan.

Adrienne said...

The more I think and reflect on this wonderful post, I have come to the conclusion that you should bronze it (like a pair of baby shoes) and put it on top of the TV. I mean it is just that amazing and awesome - like, out of this world great. Thanks again for staying up late!!!!!

Swissy - "There's something about living in a city that has a military presence."

You bethcha - it's called men, lots and lots of men.

gemoftheocean said...

Thanks, Adrienne: And NOT the "metrosexual men" either!!!! And the women who serve are equally fine. A lot of dignity and service to the country and not the "gimme, gimme, I'm entitled to this, that and the other to meet a quota."

I've had occasion in the past to work on and with military installations, and they can joke around as well as anyone, but when it's *business* it's *business* and done with dispatch and generally efficient. ANY organization has its "political BS" but as an outsider looking at a glance of their working life a person wasn't respected because so much of "who they were" social connection wise etc. [though I'm sure there are those that kiss butt an admiral or two up and down the chain of command) but because of the COMPETENCY of the person doing the job, and insistence on the person mastering both technical knowledge and exhibiting leadership qualities and personal integrity. Are there bad apples? Sure like any org. But the services tend to vomit them out!

Kit said...

Awesome post! Brings back loving memories of San Diego, too.

Back in the day, my old law firm had its 1998 Christmas party on a Hornblower cruise (before the firm went belly-up, that is...) My old office was in the Mr. A's building, and I watched the carriers and touch-and-go practice not only on North Island, but at Lindbergh Field, too! (Have you ever had an aborted landing there on a windy day? SCARY! For those who have not flown into SD, the airport is right on the bay, next to MCRD) We used to leave work and do happy hour up on the patio at Mr. A's (pre-renovation - ick!) and the view was incomparable.

FYI, the pool at "Subase" is the best and most family friendly of any I've ever been to on a military base. :)

gemoftheocean said...

the Subase is cool. When I worked at the NRaD (Navy research and development) facility I'd occasionally catch Mass on the nearby sub base when I had business to attend to down there.

And once when we were flying back from Hawaii, we did indeed have an aborted landing at Lindbergh. It wasn't overly hairy though... it happend so fast we didn't have time to get scared. The pilot was on final approach...and all of a sudden he realized he'd been given a reading that was "too high" so he throttled up and went around the block once more. I have to say I really like Lindbergh... very convenient I don't care if you come in low over downtown buildings (for one it gives you the opportunity to freak out the parents of brats who've been kicking the back of your seat - "gee, we're comingin awfully low over these buildings") and the possiblity of slamming into point loma but hey, it's beautiful to fly inand out of -- and the night landings are great.

The Digital Hairshirt said...


I couldn't help a good-natured joke at your expense over at my blog! Please feel free to return the favor! ;-)


PJA said...

Having lived in Portsmouth, UK, for over 11 years, I used to love watching the various naval ships. Without a doubt, the mighty aircraft carriers of the US Navy were the most impressive. The last one that I remember was the USS Enterprise, which, for obvious reasons, reminded me of aliens with big ears and hammy American “B” actors with ill-fitting toupees!

gemoftheocean said...

The Enterprise was always a fav of mine too. Just the other day I ran across some faded photos taken of the aircraft carriers that were home ported here in the 70s. I'll have to scan in and enlarge, but I think one of them is the Enterprise. I can remember what a sad sight it was to see when they retired the Ranger. But happily the Reagan (what a fine sight that is) is now home ported here too. It's hard to get perspective, but that thing is as long as the Empire state building! It was pretty hazy the day I went, so I didn't get many good pics of the south end of the bay. But the guy said something like 7 out of 9 imported passenger cars come through the port of San Diego.


gemoftheocean said...

Oh, and one thing that just floored me, was there was a guy I knew who'd served on the bridge of either a destroyer or cruiser. He said that in a "man overboard" EVEN IN BROAD DAYLIGHT, if they don't get to the guy with 20 minutes to a half hour at most, their chances of recovering him go WAY down. Sheesh.

A long time ago Reader's Digest had one of it's "Humor in Uniform" stories go something like this:

"My son was serving on X[aircraft carrier] and had gone overboard. I asked him if he was frightened. He said "Dad, I yelled MAN OVERBOARD 3 times before I hit the water."

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