By Daniel Katzive
Fleet Week kicked off Wednesday with its traditional Parade of Ships. Upper West Siders on the end of Pier i in Riverside Park South (West 70th) got a front-row seat as usual. While the largest ships in the parade don’t come up as far as the Upper West Side, observers on the end of the 700′-long recreational pier, built over the remnants of an old New York Central Railroad structure, still had a good view of the large vessels as they turned into the midtown cruise terminal. And plenty of medium and smaller boats passed right by, with crews in service dress uniforms lining the decks.
About 30 to 40 people gathered at the end of the pier to watch the ships arrive from about 9am, enjoying the pleasant weather and great views. “I had never seen it, very curious about it, it’s been all over the news and it seems like a very New York thing to do, ” said Ruth Springer, taking a break to watch the ships with her husband Jeff on a long walk. Jeff says he had seen Fleet Week ships before but not in over twenty years. “It’s a beautiful day and it’s a great opportunity to see these guys and be down here,” he said. “I live very close and it’s just beautiful looking at the water, it’s calming,” said Susan, though she was a bit disappointed that the larger ships don’t travel all the way up the river.
This year’s flattop is the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship launched in 1987 and the tenth US Navy ship to bear that name. The previous Wasp was an aircraft carrier, but aircraft carriers no longer attend Fleet Week in New York after the last conventionally powered (i.e., non-nuclear) carrier was retired in the early 2000s. However, this current Wasp can launch vertical-takeoff-capable planes as well as helicopters from its flat upper deck.
Another noticeable participant in Wednesday’s procession was the USS Cole, famous for surviving an al-Qaeda attack while docked in Yemen in October 2000. Cole was at the front of the parade and traveled as far up as the George Washington Bridge before turning around and heading south for Florida. The vessel will apparently not be spending fleet week here.
Several locals who stopped by to watch the ships were thinking about relatives who had served in the Navy. Patty Bernson said it was the first time she he had made it down to the pier in time to see the full procession, usually she misses the beginning. She likes to see the parade and tour the ships to honor her father, Roland Bernson, who served in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II and passed away a few years ago in his 90s.
Katrin Hatch, watching the ships with her two small children, was thinking about her grandfather, Kenneth Riley, currently in Arizona and 99 years old. He is also a World War II Navy vet who served on an aircraft carrier and ammunition ship. She had been trying to Facetime him to show him the ships.
Those in town for the rest of the week and weekend who want to visit the ships can take tours.
The USS Wasp is docked near the Intrepid in the West 40s, as is the Boston-based US Coast Guard Cutter Warren Dayampert and several training vessels from the US Naval Academy. The British research vessel HMS Scott, the Italian frigate Virginio Fasan, and the Canadian coastal defense vessel Glace Bay are also docked at the Manhattan cruise terminal. A trip to the Homeport Pier in Stapleton on Staten Island will find the transport ship USNS Newport and the landing ship dock USS Oak Hill.
Ships are available for tours in both locations on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Monday, from 8am to 5pm, as well as on Sunday on Staten Island only.
More locally, the Upper West Side hosts its own annual Memorial Day observance on Monday at 10am to noon at the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on Riverside Drive at West 89th Street.