STRAIT OF MAGELLAN (NNS) -- The future amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) transited the Strait of Magellan Aug. 19-20 on her maiden transit, "America Visits the Americas."
This journey of 365 nautical miles is very rarely transited by U.S. Navy ships because the majority go through the Panama Canal. The Strait, known for its panoramic views of snow-capped mountains, can be both breathtaking and dangerous. As the ship made its way through, the cold weather and rough seas that frequent this region kept the crew on their toes.
"America's forecasting team used all available resources to ensure the safe navigation of the ship and to support sensitive shipboard tilt-rotor flight operations," said Lt. Kyle Franklin, America Meteorology and Oceanic Center officer. "During the transit, we experienced near freezing temperatures combined with rain, sleet and mist."
Officers of the deck and navigation team members on the bridge of America had to pay particular attention throughout the transit to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew. In some instances they collaborated with Chilean navy sailors embarked aboard who were more familiar with maneuvering in the area.
"It was [interesting and eye opening to work] with the Chilean pilots," said Quartermaster 2nd Class Amy Birkholz, quartermaster of the watch during the transit. "One of them showed me how to use visual bearings, such as lights and day markers, to navigate the Strait."
For those aboard, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to transit the southernmost point of continental South America.
"I've never made this cruise, but I've spoken with people who have," said Personnel Specialist 2nd Class Leah Wolfcale, who heard the announcement and went topside to see the view. "It's truly more majestic than I had imagined."
Prior to entering the strait, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Michael Hammer, U.S. ambassador to Chile, embarked on America for a portion of the evolution. The ship anchored off the coast of Punta Arenas for one night and during that time Mabus addressed the Sailors and Marines on board during an all-hands call in the ship's hangar bay.
Capt Robert A. Hall, Jr., America's commanding officer, said this was a very memorable evolution for him because of the professionalism his crew demonstrated and for the opportunity to host such significant dignitaries.
"Transiting the Strait of Magellan was an awesome experience," said Hall. "Fortunately the weather broke long enough for us to see some of the mountains and incredible landscapes that make this part of the world famous. Transits like this remind me of why I love being in the Navy. No other profession offers the opportunity to embark on such a tremendous journey."
America is the first ship of its class, replacing the Tawara-class of amphibious assault ships. As the next generation "big-deck" amphibious ship, America is optimized for aviation, capable of supporting current and future aircraft such as the tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey and F-35B Joint Strike Fighter. The ship is scheduled to be commissioned Oct. 11 in San Francisco.
U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command / U.S. 4th Fleet and U.S. Marine Forces South support U.S. Southern Command's joint and combined military operations by employing maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations in order to maintain access, enhance interoperability and build enduring partnerships in order to enhance regional security and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the Caribbean, Central and South American regions.