On Wednesday, May 20, a small flotilla of US Navy and Coast Guard ships will steam under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge to mark the beginning of a week-long, city-wide celebration of our country’s Sea Services. The ships will be coming from different commands and homeports, but many of them have strong historic and contemporary connections to New York and the nautical history of this region.
The ships will be berthed along Manhattan’s West Side (at Piers 86 and 92) and at The Sullivans Pier in Stapleton, Staten Island. All will be open for public visiting hours (see here), but if you want to get a waterside view of them, join our Fleet Week Harbor Tours, May 22-25, with Classic Harbor Line.
USCGC Sturgeon Bay (WTGC 109) – Staten Island
This little Coast Guard cutter actually makes it home right here on New York Harbor, at the base in Bayonne, NJ. At this time of year, the Sturgeon Bay is responsible for ensuring safe navigation and security for the commercial and recreational vessels that ply the harbor, but her busiest times are actually during the winter months, when she works as an icebreaker, clearing a path through the frozen Hudson River as far north as Albany. This winter was especially brutal, and the Hudson is a major artery for barges carrying home heating oil, making this icebreaking tug’s mission absolutely essential – so much so that The New York Times ran a feature on the ship. She is one of nine Bay-class icebreaking tugs in the Coast Guard fleet, and is named for an arm of Lake Michigan near Green Bay, WI.
USS Barry (DDG-52) – Staten Island
This guided missile destroyer is based out of Norfolk, VA, and it was just the second of the venerable Arleigh Burke-class destroyers to be built, entering service in 1992. Named in honor of Commodore John Barry, the first commissioned officer in the US Navy and a hero of the Revolutionary War, it is the fourth ship to bear his name. The Irish-born Barry not only served with distinction in the War of Independence, but he was instrumental in guiding the growth and development of the Navy in the early republic. In January 1798, he wrote a letter to the War Department urging the creation of three publicly-owned naval bases and shipyards. This recommendation was then taken up by Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Stoddert, who decided to double Barry’s request, purchasing six shipyards – the last of these was the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In honor of this prescient recommendation, and the rich Irish history of the neighborhoods surrounding the Yard, Commodore Barry Park was named in his honor in 1951.
USCGC Spencer (WMEC 905) – Pier 92
Homeported in Boston, this 270-foot Medium Endurance Cutter Has been in Coast Guard Service since 1986. This is the second cutter to bear the name of President John Tyler’s little-remembered Secretary of the Treasury, John C. Spencer; the first was built right here in New York, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Built alongside her sister ship Alexander Hamilton in 1937, the original Spencer protected Allied convoys in the Atlantic and participated in amphibious invasions in the Pacific. While the Hamilton was sunk by a U-boat just a few weeks into the war, Spencer got her revenge, sinking a German sub in April 1943. After the war, Spencer served at the Coast Guard station on Governors Island. The second Spencer has its own decorated career, serving in a variety of search and rescue, counter-narcotics, and border patrol roles, spending much of her time at sea in the Caribbean. At Fleet Week 20 years ago, Spencer welcomed aboard crew members of her predecessor ship.
USS San Antonio (LPD-17) – Pier 92
Entering service in 2006, this amphibious transport dock is the lead ship of her namesake class and one of the backbones of the so-called “Gator Navy,” the amphibious ships that deliver the air, sea, and land forces of the US Marine Corps to shore. Though the Norfolk-based ship does not have any close ties to the region, another San Antonio-class ship does – the USS New York (LPD-21) was commissioned in NYC in 2009, and portions of her hull were forged from steel salvaged from the World Trade Center. The predecessors to these ships were the Raleigh– and Austin-class LPDs, the first of which were built at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
USS Stout (DDG-55) – Staten Island
Named for Rear Admiral Herald Stout, a celebrated destroyer captain in World War II, like the Barry, this is another Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, which makes up the backbone of the US surface fleet. Entering service in 1994, the Stout is homeported in Norfolk.
US Naval Academy Yard Patrol Craft – Pier 86
These small ships are used teach basic seafaring skills and navigation to midshipmen at the Annapolis Naval Academy, as well as other Naval training facilities. If you miss your chance to tour these craft, you can always head on over to The Water Table in Greenpoint, where a World War II-era YP has been converted into dinner boat that makes weekend trips around Manhattan.
Turnstile Tours is offering Fleet Week Harbor Tours May 22-25 in partnership with Classic Harbor Line and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at BLDG 92. These tours depart from Chelsea Piers and will highlight the World War II history of the harbor and the contemporary ships visiting for Fleet Week. Advance ticket purchase is recommended, and this tour is offered free to all World War II-era veterans and defense workers. Turnstile offers several tours that highlight New York’s waterfront, past and present, including weekly tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Brooklyn Army Terminal.