UPDATE: Stennis departs Port Townsend for warmer waters

By Nicholas Johnson of the Leader
Posted 1/13/15

UPDATED at 5 p.m. Jan. 16

The USS John C. Stennis exited Admiralty Inlet Friday morning, Jan. 16, bound for San Diego, California.

The supercarrier had been at Naval Magazine Indian Island to …

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UPDATE: Stennis departs Port Townsend for warmer waters

Posted

UPDATED at 5 p.m. Jan. 16

The USS John C. Stennis exited Admiralty Inlet Friday morning, Jan. 16, bound for San Diego, California.

The supercarrier had been at Naval Magazine Indian Island to load ordnance, which allowed crew members to visit Port Townsend Jan. 12-15.

UPDATED at 1:30 p.m., Jan. 15

The U.S. Navy on Thursday, Jan. 15 plans to begin bussing sailors from the supercarrier John C. Stennis, docked at Naval Magazine Indian Island, into Port Townsend at 2 p.m.

All sailors are due back on board by 9 p.m.

The aircraft carrier is set to depart for San Diego Friday morning, Jan. 16.

The Stennis is at Indian Island to replenish its ordnance. As of Wednesday, the crew and Indian Island personnel had loaded some 75 percent of the ordnance.

An estimated 500 sailors came into town Tuesday evening, while some 700 came into town Wednesday evening, said LTJG Joshua Kelsey, deputy public affairs officer.

UPDATED NOON Jan. 14

The U.S. Navy today, Wednesday, is starting the bus shuttle an hour earlier to bring sailors from the supercarrier John C. Stennis into Port Townsend from Naval Magazine Indian Island. The first bus is to depart Indian Island at 3 p.m. for town. The last bus out of town is 11:30 p.m.

The Stennis is at Indian Island to replenish its ordnance. As of Tuesday, the crew and Indian Island personnel had loaded about 2 million pounds, or a third of the ordnance.

"The community has made us feel very welcomed and has shown its appreciation for our sailors but I wish you could see the work they are doing on board," LTJG Joshua Kelsey, deputy public affairs officer, told the Leader.

Sailor visits (many of them also have family here from the homeport of Bremerton) are to continue through Thursday evening, Jan. 15.

ORIGINAL STORY

Restaurants staffed up and stayed open later than normal Monday night in anticipation of as many as 1,000 Navy sailors coming ashore to drink beer, eat out and watch Oregon take on Ohio State in the NCAA college football championship game.

But for most, that first night was a bust.

“I can't afford to do that again because that was a total loss,” Silverwater Cafe co-owner Alison Hero said Tuesday after not a single sailor came in Monday evening. “We had made a ton of extra food. We were staffed up as if it were going to be a Wooden Boat Festival weekend. I think our normal clientele stayed home because they thought there would be 1,000 sailors downtown.”

FEWER THAN EXPECTED

As many as 300 sailors made the trip Monday evening from Naval Magazine Indian Island, where the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis docked that afternoon, Deputy Public Affairs Officer LTJG Joshua Kelsey wrote in an email Tuesday.

“As you can imagine, it takes a lot of hard work from a lot of sailors to get the Stennis under way, so a good portion of the crew went to bed early,” Kelsey wrote. “With that said, those who have visited Port Townsend before or went out last night have openly talked about how much they love the town, so we anticipate a much higher turnout tonight [Tuesday] and tomorrow evening [Wednesday].”

A shore patrol of eight sailors were first to arrive at 5:30 p.m. at Pope Marine Park. Those sailors, all in uniform, debriefed in the Pope Marine building before school buses with plain-clothed sailors began arriving intermittently at 6 p.m.

Ensign Daniel Longwell, in charge of the shore patrol Monday night, stayed in the building all night as those sailors on patrol walked about town, keeping an eye on their fellow sailors and abstaining from drinking alcohol.

“A lot of guys will take it easy tonight and hit it hard tomorrow,” Longwell said Monday evening, adding that sailors who remained aboard the ship watched the football game on a large inflatable screen while eating chicken wings and pizza.

The ship, currently home to 2,800 sailors, came from its homeport Naval Base Kitsap in Bremerton on Monday, where it had been docked for the past 16 months for refitting work. The ship's visit not only allows sailors a chance to get out on the town, it's a chance to restock ammunition and conduct some training before heading to San Diego to pick up aircraft and another 2,000 sailors.

Port Townsend Mayor David King said Tuesday he is glad he got to ride along from Bremerton to Indian Island.

“I jumped at the chance,” he said. “It's quite a cool boat. I've been in maritime trades my whole life so of course I went for it.”

King got to tour the ship, have lunch and meet lots of sailors, and he still managed to make it back to Port Townsend for Monday night's city council meeting.

QUIET NIGHT

While some restaurants saw a decent turnout, none were completely overwhelmed.

Sailors packed Sirens Pub and the Pizza Factory, but most had a slower-than-normal night.

“It was a lot busier in than normal,” Pizza Factory employee David Wakefield said Tuesday. “But, it was really calm, too. All the Navy guys were really patient with us and really nice.”

Wakefield said nearly all tables were filled until closing as 9 p.m. He said the restaurant took about 100 orders between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m., which is nearly double the normal number for a Monday night.

Many restaurants said Monday before sailors arrived that they had ordered extra food and brought in extra staff on top of offering specials for sailors, though many closed by 9 p.m. The last bus out of town left at 11:30 p.m. as sailors had to be back on board by midnight and wake up as early as 5 a.m. Tuesday.

Harry Doyle, owner of The Tin Brick, canceled open mic night and brought in two extra people and ordered extra food for sailors looking to watch the football game.

“This is like a hurricane,” he said a couple hours before sailors began arriving Monday. “You know it's coming so you prepare. That doesn't mean it won't be a bad hurricane anyway.”

On Tuesday Doyle reported business was comparable to any normal Monday night, with an estimated 20 sailors coming in all night.

“Thank God for the football game,” said Doyle, adding that without it, he might not have seen as many locals. “It's a tricky thing because you can have a good night, but if you're over staffed, you lose. I talked to some of the Navy people who came in who said they got in [to Indian Island] late, so by the time they got ready to go it wasn't worth the bus trip.”

Buses eventually began dropping people at Quimper Mercantile as it was easier to turn around. Since all sailors were dropped downtown, only a few ventured beyond the Water Street area.

The Uptown Pub reported a few sailors showed up halfway through the football game, but they were packed mostly with locals.

Neither the Pourhouse nor Port Townsend Brewing saw a single sailor.

“It's usually a lot busier,” Pourhouse bartender Sarah P. said at about 8 p.m. Monday, looking around at a mostly empty house. “I guess people got scared off.”

MORE TO COME

Sailors are expected in town each evening this week beginning at about 3:30 p.m. through 9 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15.

It is common for personnel from ships visiting Indian Island, the Navy's primary ordnance storage and handling station on the West Coast, to be bussed into PT for short visits. It is not usual, however, for an aircraft carrier to be in Port Townsend Bay, especially for a visit long enough to send sailors on shore liberty.

This is the first time the Stennis has docked at Indian Island, as far as Laura Brackenridge of the Port Townsend Visitor Information Center is aware.

This is the sixth aircraft carrier visit to Indian Island since 2000. The Navy does not announce exactly when a ship is due to arrive or depart a specific location.

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