Saturday, February 27, 2010

Someday we’ll watch one of these from the water …

…. because we didn’t really have very good seats today.

While we were driving around San Diego we happened to notice a sign announcing the pending launch or “christening” as they called it of USNS Charles Drew.  Despite warnings of severe rain the launch went ahead early this morning and we were there to see what we could. 

What we could see was mainly images on a huge video screen because we didn’t qualify for any of the good seats.  Even some of the dignitaries who initially qualified for good seats got bumped on account of the rain and ended up watching the launch from the cheap seats alongside peasants like us.  When we arrived we could see the prow of the huge ship towering over the dockyard, festooned with balloons and streamers.  In fact that is what reassured us that we were in the right place.  I hadn’t bothered to check the map before we left home this morning and we ended up a little bit too far downtown but we doubled back and soon recognized the prow of the ship.  It seemed incongruous that a ship like this would have red and blue balloons on its prow so we correctly concluded that it was about to be launched.  

The ship to the left of the Charles Drew is the next T-AKE which is scheduled to launch sometime this summer.  The vessels are part of a 14 ship order which will end up in the US merchant navy acting as supply boats to warships or as supply vessels in relief efforts.  It is impossible to convey the immense size of these vessels in a photograph.  This particular ship is so large that there are only 2 days a month when tides are high enough to launch it.  It is also unusual to find a North American shipyard that still reverse launches new vessels.  I believe that the the more common practice now is to flood the area where the ship is built and float it in that manner but I’m not sure about that and I’m too lazy to research it right now.

The weather was so miserable when we left that I didn’t take time to take the obvious twin photo to the one above.  The departure of the Charles Drew left a huge hole along the waterfront but the General Dynamics yard was full of pieces to begin laying the keel for the next vessel in the order.  One of the speakers referred to the process whereby they subcontract assembly fabrication to a welding facility in Mexico.  The path that we followed through the yard to the launch site was lined with huge components waiting to be put in place for the next vessel.  And if I thought the ship was huge the cranes that they use to put them together are unbelievable.

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