By Daniel Katzive
A small but enthusiastic crowd turned out at the end of Pier i in Riverside Park South on Wednesday morning to observe the arrival of ships participating in Fleet Week. This annual Memorial Day weekend tradition had been suspended during the past two years due to Covid-19, but 2022 brings a return to a full schedule.
The largest vessel to join us this year is the USS Bataan, also known as LHD-5, an amphibious assault ship based in Norfolk, Virginia. The Bataan has a flat deck for landing helicopters and planes capable of vertical take off, but this is not a full aircraft carrier.
At 843’ long, the Bataan is nearly as long as the Intrepid, the familiar retired World War II carrier serving as a museum at Pier 86, but far smaller than the modern aircraft carriers serving the U.S. Navy today which are over 1,000 feet long.
Longer-tenured New Yorkers may remember a time when the carrier John F. Kennedy used to visit and participate in Fleet Week. The Kennedy was conventionally (oil) fueled and was retired in 2007 and the US aircraft carrier fleet is now all nuclear-powered. These nuclear powered ships do not visit New York City, which is usually attributed to a 1983 City Council resolution declaring the City a nuclear free zone.
Another large vessel visiting this week is the HMS Protector, a red-hulled British Ice Patrol Ship, tasked with patrolling the waters of the Antarctic and Southern Atlantic.
These larger vessels made sharp turns into the passenger boat terminal at 48th Street and did not venture further up the river. However, several shallower-draft vessels did proceed north, making a big loop up past Riverside Park towards the George Washington Bridge, giving the crowd at Pier i a good show before returning to their berths around Pier 88 or Staten Island. These included a pair of Coast Guard Cutters, several Navy patrol boats up from the Naval Academy in Annapolis, and, most notably, the USS Milwaukee, a littoral combat ship based in Mayport, Florida and launched in 2013.
The ships can be visited for tours daily between 8am and 5pm beginning Thursday, but excluding Sunday. The larger ships are at the Passenger Ship Terminal at 48th Street, but to visit the Coast Guard Cutters and the USS Milwaukee will require a trip to Staten Island.
Fleet Week runs through the upcoming long weekend and the navy estimates that nearly 3,000 sailors, Marines, Coast Guard personnel and members of the Royal Navy will participate this year. They will filter through the city as they have in the past, and West Siders will no doubt give them a warm neighborhood welcome, take some photos, and help with directions when asked.
For more information on Fleet Week click here.