After the handshake and hugging it was time for introductions to all……it was a great way to see our sailors as you realize that they still seemed like kids when they left but now seem like grown adults. All naturally were in uniform and looking pretty darn sharp….but then after not seeing the boy for a year…..’nough said.
It was time to make our way to the check-in gates. Our sailors had come out to escort us through the gate and onto the ship. It was nice to be able to finally leave the line, baggage in tow and do some walking to the ship. Check-in was easy and before you knew it, we were the line to board the brow to the forward elevator. This was a short line though and moved pretty fast. The stairs to the brow was the first introduction for many to Navy stairs and walkways….the stairs are steep and tall and the brow, while covered in a non-skid material, also has “ribs” every 18” or so across the walkway. I had experienced these boarding the Lincoln, but they could be a real trip hazard if you had your head in the clouds and didn’t watch where you were going. A stop at the end of the walkway for Eric to salute the national ensign and with a big step we were on the elevator.
I keep talking about these elevators, and if you’ve not seen a carrier up close let me explain…..they raise and lower aircraft between the flight deck and the hanger bay….you can fit two fighters on one, can lift more than 300,000 pounds and make the vertical journey in about eight seconds…..not exactly like getting on the Otis at your office building. For those that had never seen a carrier up close they were the first introduction to the massive size of everything on the ship. You walk across the elevator and you note some things…..pad-eyes are embedded into the deck surface. These serve as tie-downs for aircraft and equipment. Also you get to first experience of non-skid. All horizontal surfaces where wheeled equipment or aircraft transit is covered in a metal non-skid surface to provide traction and grip. Keep in mind the surfaces may be wet with water, hydraulic oil, or fuel spills and having a slippery surface would be bad form. The non-skid also wears out boot soles pretty darn fast and would not at all be fun to fall on….so everyone watches foot placement pretty carefully.
Eric had warned me to be aware of pad-eyes and tie-downs to aircraft….the planes are chained to the pad-eyes and the chains are a wonderful way to reacquaint you with the effects of inertia and gravity if you trip over one. Lucky for me that I am used to walking around the plant at the mine and am always on the lookout for hoses and other trip hazards in walkways.
As you enter the hanger bay off the elevator you are struck by the shear size of the hanger deck. There are three main hanger bays, each perhaps 70 yards long, 40-50 yards wide. There are moveable blast doors that separate the bays from one another that are usually open position forming a large open area to store aircraft and perform maintenance. In case of an emergency though, the doors close very quickly isolating the area from the rest of the ship. You soon realize that damage control and being able to isolate various areas on the ship is one of the most import aspects of survivability on a carrier and that carries over to the walkways and passages…..there are a million hatches everywhere and you learn very quickly that if you come to a hatch that is dogged, you carefully un-dog the hatch, CAREFULLY open the hatch, pass through and then re-dog the hatch… This assures that you maintain compartment/passageway integrity in case of flooding or fire. There are also many hatches that serve as barriers between air-conditioned areas and those that are not air-conditioned. Keeping those hatches secure maintains climate control.
Anyway…back to the hanger deck. The height of the hanger deck is amazing…it has to be about 50 feet, so you are talking a massive area under the flight deck. It also serves as a “common” area for many events, movie nights, etc., but generally it is a working area that never closes. So anyway…. The forward elevator you entered on is on the starboard side….forward is berthing and most of the shops are aft. There was a safety movie that all had to watch…but in reality, there was so much talk between Tigers and their sailors that it made watching the movie almost impossible. I figured Eric would clue me into what was important and what wasn’t so I followed him around like a puppy dog to berthing. I’ll have a lot more to say later about berthing…it is an experience to say the least! After showing me the way to berthing (head forward from the hanger beck, through two sets of massive double swinging doors, starboard up the aft facing stairs, though the blackout curtain, turn to left and forward into compartment 1-35-0-L, through the berthing area, turn left and then right through the door into compartment 1-24-0-L after the first set of racks turn left and left to the bottom rack…….got it!?!?!). I spent a few minutes orienting myself while Eric showed me the rack and where to stow my stuff under the rack….each lifts up and there are compartments under the rack where you can stow your gear….not a lot of gear, but the essentials fit. He also showed me the smoke hood that each rack has….it provides about 15 minutes of breathable air in case of fire or smoke. Each rack has one and could save your life in case of an “event”. After grabbing the camera (essential gear for sure on this trip….), Eric showed me the head which is a pretty important location to know……they are not marked in big bold letters “HEAD” or anything like that, so it is important to remember where you can use the facilities otherwise you might wander around for awhile while discomfort levels increase!
A general tour of the ship ensued….and don’t ask how we got anywhere as there are passageways and walkways everywhere and after going though, up, down and around I was totally lost…I just faithfully followed my sailor and learned a little about how to move about the ship. Ladders between decks are a bottleneck and you learn very quickly to step aside if there is traffic on the ladder and let all pass. Likewise, if there are several folks going up or down, they will let you continue until there is a break in the flow…..kind of like hitting a one-lane bridge over a creek. It is amazing how many people manage to move about without a traffic jam. Eventually we made our way from foc’sle to the fantail which covers about the entire ship. We stopped in several shops, Tire/Wheel, NDI lab, and the airframer’s shop, met lots of other sailors and saw an awful lot of happy faces glad to be back in the United States. About that time we started to head up and made our way to the flight deck to walk around and get some fresh air. It had turned windy and nasty with a hint of rain in the air, but it held off while we walked the large expanse of deck. It was covered with planes and you had to look out for tie-downs, and wing and stab ends that would leave a serious hurt if you walked into them. A little different from a museum in that you are wandering through flight-ready aircraft and over the four catapults on the deck. Pad-eyes everywhere, tie-down chains forming a maze of trip hazards and above all lots of aircraft…it doesn’t get much better. Inching away form the pier the great adventure was beginning in earnest, with dark skies and wind. No one minded though.
After getting underway, it was time for some early chow…..now there are several galleys on board and line for each….so back down this passage way, though this hatch and into line- while not five-star chow, it was decent food and unless you were a picky eater, you would not go away hungry with typical choices of chicken, fish, hot dogs, deserts, veggies, salads and a variety of drinks. Finding a place to sit can be a chore as there are several smaller dining areas rather than one big common area. I felt sorry for the galley staff as they not only had to provide for the usual TR crew, but a bunch of us confused and somewhat overwhelmed Tigers as well. You learn when done to separate your trash…scrape your food into a waste barrel, paper into one, plastic into another, etc.. It’s a shame to see so many take food they didn’t eat…guess from my upbringing I was always taught to take whatever you want, but eat whatever you take…..enough of my editorial……….
Spent a lot of time in Eric's shop (Tire/Wheel) meeting his co-workers and whatever Tigers they had on board…..great bunch of people with lots of good natured ribbing and teasing…..they were a bunch that you learned dish it out as well as they take it….great fun and lots of laughing.
Soon it was time to wander around some more and make our way back to berthing….there are some lounge areas set up in berthing with chairs/couches, some tables and usually a TV….not a lot of space though so you enjoy whatever is on the tube or typically hit the rack. Hours are generally pretty early and by 20:00 many are headed to bed.
Now I promised some talk of Navy racks…..let’s see if I can do this justice……..
You berth in crew areas….Eric is part of AIMD so my rack was in one of the AIMD berthing areas with about 75 other racks. There is not much space…racks are stacked three high and the guy in the middle rack has the best deal to ease of ingress and egress. The top rack is kinda high and while there is step built into the middle rack, I’m not sure what contortions you’d go through to get into your rack. The advantage of the top rack is that there is extra space above, so if you are like Kat and somewhat claustrophobic you have more space. Naturally I had the bottom rack, and I discovered that I am not nearly as young or agile as I used to be. The rack is about 26”-28” deep and about 6’8” or so long, but only about 22” or 24” in height so you need to crawl in without sitting up. And to make things a little more comfortable, there are lockers at the head that project about 20”….this forms a nice area for your head, but once you are into the rack you think “hey wait a minute….I got into this by flopping down and then inching my way into this…..how do I get outta here in the AM because I’ll have to exit feet first and then somehow extricate my head….”. Each rack has some curtains that slide to darken the area so you can sleep….but once again you cannot sit up so you do a lot of wiggling and the like to close the curtains. Turning in this limited space is interesting as there is very little space to spare….but I guess you get pretty used to it after awhile. Lights out are pretty early and the overheads switch to red….not much light so you appreciate the small flashlight you were told to bring. Each rack has a small fluorescent light that I tended to constantly hit with my shoulders if I turned…..and because the ship never really sleeps there is always some noise as people move about…not to mention the constant ventilation noise….all in all it made for a pretty sleepless night for me, but I’m sure part of that was the excitement. And oh by the way, the captain had set severe weather condition 2 as we were in some nice wind and seas, but the pitch and roll of the ship was pretty slow so no seasickness with me….did make walking a straight line impossible though. The ship’s movement felt really good while in the rack though, not so much with the roll as the pitch, but I could see that in really rough water it would an interesting experience to say the least.
Day Two starts in the next bog post.