Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ships - of various shapes, sizes & uses

With no bike rides planned, it was off to the San Diego Maritime Museum yesterday. The museum has eight historic vessels - the oldest being laid down in 1863. The main part of the museum (displays relating to the US Navy in SD, passenger ferries between SD & Coronado, fishing industry, navigation & so on) is housed in an old steam ferry. I easily spent a couple of hours looking at the displays & the upper deck, which was the main passenger seating area - for a twenty minute trip to Coronado, it was quite spacious & bordering on ornate. The next couple of hours were spent cruising around the harbour on a small pilot vessel (named Pilot, strangely enough) with a very informative talk from an ex-Navy guy. The much-mentioned "June Gloom" was in full force & for the first time since I arrived in SD the morning cloud didn't lift in to a brilliantly sunny & warm day - just as well I'm from NZ & I am in the habit of taking clothes along on trips on the off chance the weather may change. One of the highlights of the cruise was going past the USS Nimitz, at over 330 metres long it somewhat dwarfed our 52' vessel. An impressive sight to say the least.

Also neat to go around the other naval & commercial vessels (not as many in port as in Portsmouth last year) & under the Coronado bridge - this bridge was the death of the commuter ferries & is really quite tall to let the war ships pass underneath.
The guide also pointed out the San Diego Toolbox - sky scrapers that resemble common tools if you use your imagination a bit. There were two flat-screwdrivers/chisels (depending on which way one's imagination went), a Phillips screwdriver & a set of hex wrenches. I was impressed that such an effort managed to be coordinated.

Back to land for a brief moment before checking out HMS Surprise which was a replica & was used in the film "Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World" - this was OK, but nowhere as impressive as HMS Victory. I was however impressed by going on B-39, an ex-Soviet submarine. As far as I remember, I have never been on a submarine - this one was 300 feet long, diesel powered & commissioned in 1974. Naturally, it was all very cramped & the watertight doorways were difficult to get through with a backpack on. I was suitably baffled by all the controls as they were in Russian & thought it must have been quite difficult to cope with only three toilets on board when there was a crew of seventy. Apparently vodka was banned on board (is this really a Russian sub?), but the crew was given white wine instead - when the museum took possession of the sub, about three-hundred bottles of vodka were found secreted in various places around the sub.

Torpedo tubes:

Making my way out of the sub (it's a lot harder to get lost in a submarine than parts of SD Zoo it turns out), it was off to the Star of India:
This 1863 ship is the oldest vessel that is still sailed - & was one of the first iron hulled ships. She started life as a cargo ship sailing from Britain to India, then spent over twenty years transporting emigrants from Britain to NZ (21 circumnavigations), at the end of the 19th century it was off to bring salmon down from the Bering Sea to California until 1923 - she has been in San Diego since then. Of course, it was of most interest to me that she had carried thousands of Britons to a new life in NZ. I was fascinated & somewhat humbled to see & read about the small cabins & life on such a voyage that Pheasants, Montgomeries, Wallaces (& others of which I forget the surnames) must have endured as they made their way to NZ. That concluded the maritime museum, & it was quite a walk to go & find some lunch. But well rewarded, with my first bagel in the States - delicious. After that very late lunch, there was just enough time for a very rushed tour of the USS Midway.

So after the confines of the Russian sub, the USS Midway seems even larger than it normally would appear - that is, it seems bigger than huge. Commissioned at the end of WWII, it went on to serve until 1992 (was flagship of Persian Gulf air operations in Desert Storm - I thought that quite impressive for a WWII era ship). Unfortunately, I only had the two hours before closing to get a quick glimpse at most everything - but it was fascinating. Just a few numbers to try & convey the vastness of it & because that's the kind of guy I am:
  • 220000 hp
  • 69000 tons total weight
  • 2000 electric motors
  • 1500 telephones
  • 20 ton anchors
  • 4 acre flight deck (three inches thick)
  • 3400000 million gallon fuel capacity, 100000 gallons used daily, 260 mpg
  • Crew of 4500
  • 10 tons of food a day - 225 cooks & so on
But of course, all that doesn't really compare to walking around the hangar & flight deck, up to the bridge & then down a bit the galley, wardrooms (officers' facilities), laundry, sick bay & ICU. Pleasingly, there were also 25 historic aircraft on board - fighters, bombers, choppers, fixed-wing radar. I'm still amused every time I see a Skyhawk here that they are described as being very useful in the 1960s, yet NZ used them until the combat air wing was discontinued in the last ten years & still has some sitting in an glofiried garage somewhere.

Out for dinner Friday night as Anna-Marie is shortly off to Norway & England & other parts of Europe for four weeks. Italian fare was great - almost a year since Tuscany (which must mean my bike turned two a couple of weeks ago). Nice big sleep in Saturday & then chilled out, finished reading Tom Sawyer, due to the "June Gloom" setting in - I don't know how many times I've heard that phrase in the last two weeks - just as well I missed "May Gray" weather. Five of us drove up to Orange County, Google Maps has been blamed for getting us lost, four came back - Anna-Marie should be well on her way to Norway by now, it's a little quieter around here :( Back home & in bed by midnight, eager to get up again in five hours for a big ride.

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