The fleets have come ashore and gone back to sea once again, much like the waves they sail upon. But while in port, they made waves on land, as they took to the streets in their dress whites and made us landlubbers proud to be New Yorkers. While docked, they enticed us with a chance to see what it’s like to live a current-day life of work and travel on the high seas.
Held almost every year since 1984, Fleet Week New York is considered a celebration of the “sea services,” allowing New Yorkers and those from the tri-state area to meet and tour with men and women in the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines as they give you a close-up look at their ships and their ship’s capabilities. This year, more than six-thousand service men and women participated. This year’s event also marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812.
Admittedly, I’m not what you’d describe as a “military junkie,” but watching the Tall Ships sail into port, seeing sailors from Japan, Spain, Mexico, the United Kingdom and other destinations around the world, hearing the military bands play music, not to mention a constant stream of salutes, and I was soon getting into the patriotic spirit of the festivities.
Although many ships were docked in Manhattan ports, our family visit took us to ships docked in Brooklyn, which included among others, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, a Mexican sailing ship, a Japanese destroyer, and a schooner from the Spanish Armada. Guided-missile destroyers and multi-purpose amphibious assault ships were also on hand.
The Spanish ship, for example, was the Juan Sebastian de Elcano, the oldest tall ship still sailing worldwide and the second biggest sailing ship in the world, with more than 250 sailors on board when the ship is at sea. (The Spanish sailor who gave us our free tour told us that Italy is home to the biggest.) The ship transports visitors back in time. It’s currently used mostly for practice/training maneuvers. We looked through port holes, saw the dining hall (where it appeared they’d been celebrating the night before), learned about where the captains and officers stayed as opposed to the other sailors and civilians, and “steered” the beautiful, old ship’s wheel. When we arrived at the kitchen, they were busy cooking, and my daughter said, ”It smells like popcorn.” We’d brought a friend of hers along on the tour, who immediately asked, “Do they sell popcorn on board?” Sorry kids, no such luck. But once back on land, the food options at Pier 6 allowed for a snack.
The Japanese warship, the Shirane, allowed for a fantastically organized tour that included weaponry including rapid fire guns, anti-submarine rocket launchers and torpedoes. The easy-to-follow guides also gave us a chance to see Japanese “police tape”, what Japanese “Navy curry,” looked like, and to climb in and out of rescue helicopters that take off and land from the ship. You could pose for pictures wearing official head and eye gear, and the sailor’s polite bows and salutes made us all smile. They also posted signs and pictures allowing tourists to see the rescue efforts they made last year immediately following the Japanese earthquake/tsunami, and expressing gratitude to the United States for their relief help through “Operation Tomodachi.”
Throughout the week, service members participated in events and activities as diverse as barbeques at the Staten Island Yacht club, military band performances in Times Square, a memorial ceremony at the grave of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and mentoring inner-city school children.
As the week came to a close, Sailors, Marines and Coastguardsmen paid respect to those who had fallen before them—a tribute played out in a run ending at the Ground Zero site.
Fleet Week New York 2012 may have wrapped, but other “Fleet Weeks” may be coming soon to a port near you as the celebration continues. Stops during 2012 include New Orleans, San Diego, San Francisco and more. So don’t hesitate to take part and get your sea legs.