As part of the Seattle Seafair, you could sign up to ride on a military vessel. Rich and I were lucky to have been chosen to ride on the largest ship, the USS Bonhomme Richard (means “Good man Richard” in French), an amphibious assault ship named in honor of John Paul Jones’ famous frigate, which sunk after successfully securing the surrender of the British frigate, the HMS Serapis.

The Bonhomme Richard we boarded, along with several hundred people, including Sea Scouts and ROTC cadets, is 844-feet in length, 106-feet wide, and can carry 1,800 troops along with a crew of 1,200 officers, sailors, and marines. In its well and top decks, it can carry three Landing Craft Air Cushions (LCAC), several M-1 Abrams tanks and Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV), and a dozen or more Harrier jets, and assorted helicopters. It’s amazing how many different types of helicopters existing from two-seater attack helicopters (very cool) to behemoth cargo helicopters that can carry up to 37 troops along with equipment and supplies.

We were one of the first passengers to get on the ship, which afforded us the opportunity to ask lots of questions and walk around and see the many aircrafts before the ship left port.

When the ship “pushed off” around 10:30, several tugboats pulled it off the dock and guided it past container shipping facilities where several men on top of a huge crane were taking pictures of the ship… at the same time people on board were snapping their pictures.

Once in open water, we zipped along until we were opposite Bainbridge Island. I tracked our route via my magical Windows Phone!

Around noon, they started to serve lunch, which was quite a production and took several hours. We were towards the back of the line and as we approached the food, an officer shouted out that there was no line if you wanted chicken. I told Rich, he was going to have to skip getting a hamburger or hotdog…

The barbequed chicken was delicious! The only drawback was the “chicken line” only offered baked beans and potato chips, instead of salads and other goodies. Although, after gobbling the chicken, the “hamburger and hotdog line” dwindled down to a few people, presenting an opportunity for Rich to get a hotdog, at least ten cookies, potatoes salad, and an apple!

After lunch, the two LCACs were launched. They resemble giant black beanbags with a flat deck, two huge fans at the back, and mechanical equipment along the edges. The drivers sit in a small cab with four windshield wipers that whap back-and-forth as the LCAC kicks up sprays of water.

Even though, they look awkward, LCACs can go up to 45 miles per hour. While in the well deck of a ship, tanks and other vehicles, along with equipment and troops – up to 75 tons — can be loaded onto a LCAC. The giant air cushion then flops out of the ship and zooms to land, dropping off its cargo and then returning to the ship to carry more.

Joining the Bonhomme Richard was a destroyer, Coast Guard ship, and several small Naval vessels. To further ensure the safety of the ship, there were several armed sailors, stationed strategically around the ship. It was kind of’ creepy, seeing fully-armed sailor walking the decks.

As the ship headed back to downtown Seattle, the sailors and marines were told to line up around the upper deck. It was very cool to see them. And as we approached downtown, they saluted their host city.

It was an amazing day! We can’t wait to sign up again next year! 

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