All aboard a flight deck
If you think manoeuvring a 60 foot narrow boat can be a challenge imagine steering this…
Moored in San Diego Harbor is the USS Midway*, a truly enormous aircraft carrier that over her long career saw service in the sub-Arctic, off Vietnam, was home-berthed in Japan and was flagship in 1991 in the Persian Gulf. It’s a well-known visitor attraction, in 2012 being the first US Navy ship museum to host a million visitors per annum.
Midway was built in 1945, retired in 1992 and made a museum in 2004. During her nearly fifty years of service she was transformed from a straight deck carrier with piston engined propeller driven aircraft to having an angled flight deck, steam catapults, a mirror landing system and modern jet planes!
On the last Sunday in November the Cleddau crew, accompanied by Cal Guy Snr and Cal Gal, drove southbound to San Diego, heading for Downtown. The route into the city went past Balboa Park and the world famous San Diego Zoo, headed towards the skyscrapers, then switch-backed down past tall and graceful buildings, down, down towards the waterfront and North Harbor Drive.
There ahead were the sails of the Star of India , the world’s oldest active sailing ship.
Next was the streamlined nose of the Legend of the Seas , a fleet of taxis lined up nearby on the dockside ready to meet her passengers.
The signs for USS Midway, now permanently berthed at Navy Pier, are prominent; visitors can pull into the expansive parking lot alongside the vessel – but before heading up Midway’s gangplank they should take a look at the view behind…
At 1001 feet long the Midway is – seriously long! The ship is so vast it is hard to see from one end to the other.
Visitors enter onto the hanger deck.
It’s a huge cavernous space where aircraft from the forties and fifties are on display. Here too are found the essentials of any visitor attraction: the heads (restrooms), the souvenir shop, the cafe, a Starbucks counter – and an array of flight simulator rides.
“Do you live on your boat?” “Aren’t you ever cold?” Narrow boaters will have been asked such questions a myriad of times. So how does a ship afloat attend to the needs of 4,500 crew members? Thorough exploration of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th decks below the hangar deck make you realise that this ship is a floating city. You see the galley where catering on a mass scale occurred. (The ship’s crew included 225 cooks). There are ward rooms for the Officers, for the Chief Petty Officers and for the sailors. Tablecloths, crockery and silverware distinguished the officers’ wardroom from the more utilitarian facilities found in the other ranks’ messes. When you see the film projector in the officers’ wardroom you recall that this ship was in service fifty years ago…
The little washing machine onboard nb Cleddau is Boatwif’s pride and joy. Without it she would not tolerate any cruise longer than ten days. See the amount of dirty washing handled on board Midway every hour! Ironing was done by machines, one member of the laundry crew manning three machines at a time. To keep crew smart and healthy a tailor repaired and adjusted uniforms, a barber trimmed hair, there’s a hospital for sick crew
(there were 5 physicians) and a dental surgery and dental laboratory to give care to oral hygiene. The Post Office handled mail while spiritual and moral welfare was provided by the chaplain’s department.
You know how narrow boaters fret about their battery power and where to refill their fuel tank. You’d need a pretty long dipstick for this ship which has a 3.4 million US gallon capacity and 260 US gallons of fuel were needed for every mile…
A power plant challenge helps explain how power had to be produced and directed on demand to provide for the “hotel” needs of the ship, for propulsion, for CIC (Command Information Control), and for the catapults that fired the aircraft off the flight deck.
Deep below decks are the engine rooms where massive machinery of bewildering complexity can be viewed.
Back up on Hanger Deck you can see the Ready Rooms, where the various fixed wing and helicopter aircrew waited to be briefed for their tasks.
The ship now is manned by hundreds of volunteers, those wearing yellow caps being docents, who provide tours and presentations in various areas of the ship. From high up on the superstructure there are wide views over the magnificent harbour: across the water on North Island is berthed the USS Ronald Reagan, the latest US carrier, still under fit out. Also on North Island is the Marine Corps training station and the Naval Air Station. Further along, south beyond the impressive Coronado Bridge, is a huge area of naval dockyard. The very specific roles and responsibilities of those working up on the forecastle were explained by a docent. Presumably each of Midway’s past 40 skippers was equipped with longer legs than Cal Gal’s… For those who like to be at the helm here is the steering position.
Back on the flight deck aircraft enthusiasts can gaze up at or climb into more than 20 aircraft and listen to how the deck crew dealt with aircraft returning to the flight deck after their various missions.
Whether military history buff or aircraft addict, big ship enthusiast or a fan of life afloat a visit to San Diego’s USS Midway provides much to see and lots to think about.
Late afternoon departure time came from “America’s Living Symbol of Freedom”. Thanksgiving break had drawn to an end – it was time to head back up the freeways and check the backpacks were ready for school next day…
*For a detailed history of Midway go to the Wikipedia entry .