September 2nd, 2011
Another fine sunny day in Seattle, so I decided to catch a ferry over to Bremerton. A nice town, which has the Puget Sound Navy Museum (a small but excellent museum on the historic and current operations of the US Navy in this region) and is also home to the US Navy Base – Kitsap which has the mission of being the home port of navy assets in the West Puget Sound area (surface fleet including the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis CVN-74 and nuclear submarines such as USS Seawolf SSN-21 a fast attack submarine).
The base also incorporates the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard a maintenance and refurbishment centre, that also conducts an environmentally safe (if there can be such a thing!) recycling program of nuclear powered ships and submarines. Nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz CVN-68 is currently there undergoing maintenance after returning from a tour of duty in the Persian Gulf (you can see it quite clearly from the ferry – it is a nuclear powered Super Carrier so it is massive! Nimitz has 5,600 personnel – ship crew and air crew; and carries 90 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters – alas they were all removed before it got here). Once returned to service Nimitz will then be based further north at Navy Base Everett.
An additional section of the base is home to some of the US Navy Reserve Fleet. Basically a collection of decommissioned ships that are mothballed for a period of time for possible future use if required. At Kitsap this includes nuclear attack submarines (some you can see from the ferry) and 4 non-nuclear powered aircraft carriers:
USS Ranger CV-61 a Forrestal Class super carrier built in the 1950’s, decommissioned in 1993, which may possibly become a floating museum elsewhere.
USS Independence CV-62 another Forrestal Class super carrier, decommissioned in 1998, she has been heavily cannibalized, so not sure it will end up as anything other than an artificial reef or scrap metal. In the 1990’s I was lucky enough to go on a tour of this carrier whilst it was still on active duty, when it paid a visit to Sydney, Australia. It was kind of sad to see it today, now a “ghost ship” compared to back then when it was fully equipped with F-14 Tomcats, A-6 Intruders, E-2 Hawkeyes etc;
USS Kitty Hawk CV-63 a Kitty Hawk class super carrier, the last non-nuclear powered carrier in the US fleet, launched in 1960 and decommissioned in 2009, making her the second longest serving ship in the US Navy. Attempts are being made to turn her into a floating museum once released from ready reserve in 2015. The longest serving US Navy ship is the USS Constitution a sailing frigate built in 1797 which makes it the oldest commissioned ship in the world (now docked on Boston, MA)!
USS Constellation CV-64 another Kitty Hawk class super carrier, also launched in 1960, decommissioned in 2003 and scheduled to be dismantled in the near future. This was another carrier I was able to tour in the 1990’s, once again in Sydney.
These massive aircraft carriers (when operational each had over 5000 personnel – ship crew and air crew; and carried between 70-90 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters) are all docked next to each other and make for an impressive sight on carrier row, which is a section of the base that can be seen clearly from the nearby road, carpark and from neighbourhood hills overlooking the base. So it is possible to have a relatively close up look at them. I was a little nervous walking near the base gates taking photos but it was all ok and I didn’t get arrested!
To try and get a higher and better view of the carriers I went up one of the hills and found an empty lot, but the view was obscured by heavy overgrowth of trees etc, further up the road some houses had much better views, so I knocked on a door and asked if I could take some photos from their back yard, the old lady had no problem with it (must have been my accent). Thought it best to ask as I didn’t want to get shot for trespassing (this is America after all)!
All in all an interesting days outing. I also got to see plenty of sea lions swimming about and sunbathing on buoys, and a fantastic view of the Seattle skyline during the ferry ride. If you have any interest in Naval history I can thoroughly recommend Bremerton as a good day trip.