Thursday, July 29, 2010

Brest, Quimper, and Normandy

(Excerpts from Ship's Librarian, Rich Delbango)

July 25th - Normandy
On Sunday I took the long awaited trip to Normandy and the D-Day battlegrounds. When I first looked at the map of Brest, I saw that Normandy didn't look so far away, a lot closer than any other attraction that I wanted to see in France like Paris. A lot of other people on the ship felt the same way. The Captain's aide, Anderson Smith, who arranges the tours for us, tried to get a Normandy tour from the ship's agent in Brest. Apparently no one else who goes to Brest goes to Normandy. There were no "canned" tours to Normandy available. Not to be daunted, he was able to rent busses for us to take us up there where we would meet a local guide to take us around.
Two days were set up, Saturday and Sunday, for 80 persons each. They sold out quickly. As it turns out Normandy wasn't that close, the tours were scheduled to be 18 hours long! Most of that was traveling time to and from the region. Originally, I planned to go Saturday because I knew such along day would wear me out and I'd be exhausted Monday when we departed.. I reconsidered and booked for Sunday when I realized that almost everything in Brest would probably be closed that day.
The tours were scheduled to leave at 04:00, way before dawn. We left an hour late in a Breton rain with about 3 hours of the driving in the dark. What a lot of driving it was. It took us 5 hours total to arrive in the town of Bayeux, home of William the Conqueror. Unfortunately, we were running late and didn't get time to walk around the town. We met our guide and headed on our tour of the D-Day battle sites.
We passed some sites, such as the British and German cemeteries, without stopping, while our guide regaled us with facts and stories about the invasion. Our first stop was the town of St. Mère Église. This was the town where the U.S 82nd Airborne paratroopers landed the night before the invasion to act as pathfinders for the invasion force. Located here is the Musée Airborne devoted totally to the airborne aspect of the invasion. Moving on, we went to Utah Beach, the westernmost beast of the invasion and the one with least casualties. Little remains of the gun emplacements or any other traces of the war. Only a few monuments dot the site.
Next we went to Pointe du Hoc, a 150' high, jagged cliff that 225 Army Rangers climbed to successfully capture a Nazi gun emplacement, only 90 survived. The landscape is still littered, like the surface of the moon,with bomb and shell craters 20' deep. A very surreal spot.
We finally drove to Omaha Beach which was the bloodiest of all sites in the area. It's easy to see why it was such a killing field. It is a wide beach at the low tide that the invasion took place. There is no place to hide. The Nazis had an unobstructed view of the entire beach from their machine gun nests on the bluff above the beach. We hiked along the beach and up the bluff where there are now stairs. At the top is the largest of the American war cemeteries in France. It is a magnificently beautiful spot, perfectly manicured bushes, trees and grass with row upon row of stone crosses and Stars of David. Over 9,000 Americans were left here. Many more of the dead were sent home at their families' wishes. All of the stones face home to the west. There is a beautiful chapel and a memorial with the names of those missing or never identified. It is an incredibly moving spot that really makes you appreciate the sacrifices made by those men and women (there are 4 here).
After the cemetery it was time to bid adieu to our guide and head back to the ship. We arrived back at 23:00, exhausted, but inspired by the sites of the day.

July 24th - A visit to Quimper
After being underwhelmed with Brest, I decided to go south on Saturday. The seaside tours that the Ship had arranged had fallen through due to lack of interest and I had already decided to switch to my Normandy trip to Sunday. I had read about the Festival de Cornouaille in a town called Quimper in the Fodor's guidebook and it looked interesting. It was touted as a 9 day street celebration of Celtic heritage held in a quaint Breton town. I confirmed on Friday at the Brest tourist office that the festivalwas still going on for the weekend.
Leaving the ship early on Saturday morning, I encountered a Sandy from theChartwell's food service crew who expressed an interest in going along. So about 09:00 the two of us set off to Quimper, some 70 miles to the south. Luckily, we were able to catch the first Ship's bus of the day into downtown Brest which deposited us off right in front of the Gare SNCF(train station). We got a noon train with a 19:00 return for only 20€, giving us a good 6 hours to roam Quimper. The 70 minute ride was very pleasant, traveling on the super-modern SNCF train through the Breton countryside, making 4 stops in some of the smaller towns on the way. We spotted about a half dozen Maritime cadets on board also getting out of Brest for the day.
When we arrived in Quimper, there didn't seem to be much activity around the station. It was already their 4 hour lunch break and most shops in the vicinity were closed. Asking for directions to the fair, we hiked toward the center of the town. After about a 6 block walk along the lovely, florally decorated river quay, we spotted the first stalls of the festival vendors. Luckily, it was early and the festival wasn't too crowded yet and we were able to move through the stalls without having to fight our way through crowds.
There was an interesting variety of locally produced goods at the stalls along the quay: jewelry, artworks, Quimperware (locally produce pottery) and food. We snacked at a crepe stand, bought some edible seaweed spread and some souvenirs. Unlike the rest of the town, the shops along here stayed open instead of closing for their mid-day siesta which was a nice treat.
The fair led off the quay into the winding streets of the old town. There was a central food market in the town with excellent fresh foods; fruits,cheeses, breads, fish, pastries, etc. We got a variety of stuff there and had lunch on the street French peasant style.
Wandering on further we came to the town square where they had a Celtic orchestra accompanying 2 groups of native dancers having a sort of ancient"dance off'. It was amazing to watch.
Heading back, we went to Quimper's cathedral of St Corentin, the 2nd largest cathedral in France. It was magnificent. The festival continued in the courtyard where they were having an "American Idol" style competition of Celtic music. By evening, the clouds that had kept us cool all day began to drizzle on us and it was time to return to Brest.

July 23rd - Exploring Brest
We docked this morning at 09:00 at Brest France. After anchoring last night off the coast, we met the pilot, entered the harbor and pulled in at at the French Navy base. It took an extraordinary amount of time before we could get off due to the fact we couldn't use our own gangway The tides are too high here so the Navy had to move their gangway in with a crane.

We finally got off the ship at 12:30 and headed to town. It was a long walk to get off the base and almost the same distance to town. It wasn't too bad because the weather was cool and cloudy. Certainly a change from Malta.

The town is pleasant enough. I expected worse. A nice complex of medieval buildings at the town entrance and the new constrution not as bad as I was led to expect. The only problem was they are ripping up the entire main street of the city to make a new boulevard with a light rail running down the center.

Captain Stephens and I had a great dinner at a French restaurant with the cooperation of a very patient waiter who spoke some English. After dinner we hit some of the local shops before they closed. Everything in Europe closes so darn early.

The tour to the coastal towns, that I was supposed to take today, was cancelled due to lack of interest. Too bad, it looked good. The Normandy trips for Saturday and Sunday are both still on. They were very popular. Both are full. I decided to go Sunday. Since it won't be back until late, I probably won't be able to post any pics until I get home 2 weeks from tomorrow. I don't know what I'm going to do tomorrow. I may head 60 miles south to Quimper where there is a Celtic festival going on. It looks cool. We will see. Au Revoir for now.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Man Overboard!

Man Overboard!

We’ve been spending the last few days steaming around Majorca doing various drills and maintenance during the days. There is lots of activity and its accompanying noise all day around the ship. At night
we’ve been anchoring in Majorca harbor. We have a magnificent view of the bright city at night. Everyone is craving to get off, but it’s just not possible.

The ship has been a beehive of activity. Yesterday was the man overboard drill. We use a dummy made out of old clothes and a life vest. The maneuver is complicated because the ship can’t just stop.
We have to do a figure 8 turn to come back and get the victim.

Also on deck, some cadets were practicing the valuable art of plugging leaks. They do this on a special jig made of a steel plate with various size holes in it through which is forced sea water from a high pressure fire hose. They shove various objects in until they get the leaks under control. In the process they also get soaked which is a welcome relief in the hot, Mediterranean sun.

This morning they lowered the lifeboat to practice lowering and launching the boat. They took it a little away from the ship, then returned and raised it back up. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the electric winch and the boat had to be lifted back up by “cadet power”.

We’re going to steam some more around Majorca this afternoon, then head southwest and west to the Straits of Gibraltar and the open ocean. We should be there by Monday, ready for the voyage north up the Atlantic coast of Europe to Brest. The cool Atlantic waters will bring some relief to the warmth of the Ship.

Richard Delbango
Ship’s Librarian SST 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010


(Excerpts from Ship's Librarian, Rich Delbango)

Thursday, July 22nd
We lost sight of the northeast coast of Spain last night and are taking a diagonal track across the Bay of Biscay directly toward Brest. As I write this, we are some 16 hours away from docking. The ocean is rougher and much cooler here. The ship has chilled down to where I have to wear a light jacket in my cabin and the rest of the ship, except for the library which is a comfortable 78°.

The tours of France have been announced and I am going to register for two. I hope to get on Saturday's 18 hour tour to Normandy. It looks great. We'll be going to the battlegrounds, cemeteries and museums in the historic region. They are repeating it on Sunday, but I think I'd be too exhausted come Monday morning if I took that one. There will be a shorter (4 hour) tour to some of the coastal towns on Friday and Saturday. I'm going to try for that one for Friday. There is another 5 hour hiking tour that looks good, but I think I'll either try to get to the Celtic festival in Quimper (60 mi. south of Brest) or just see what there is to do in Brest.

We're already almost to our last port. After that it is 12 days for the crossing and we're home.

Wednesday, July 21st
We will arrive in Brest, France on Friday morning. We will be docked at the French Naval base there. For those of you who know little about our next port, here is a condensation of the fact sheet that I have written for the cadets and crew.

France's Brittany region is a distinct area on the country's northwest coast. It is a vast plateau of rocky, sandy soil and scrub trees. It has a rugged coastline with many bays, inlets, estuaries, capes and offshore islands dotted by numerous lighthouses. The area is populated by the Bretons, a Celtic people related more to the Irish and Welsh than the Gallic people of rest of France. While French is the official language, Breton, similar to Gaelic, is also spoken. Most names in the region arein Breton. Brittany was contested for centuries by the French and English and as such, there are many medieval castles and cathedrals located throughout the district. There are several cities in the region most notable being Rennes and Nantes, and many small, picturesque towns. Brittany is mainly agricultural, known especially for its apples used to make alcoholic cider. Fishing is also an important industry in a region that has such a long coastline along the Atlantic in the southwest and the English Channel in the north.

Brest is best known as the port of the French Navy's Atlantic fleet. Sited in a natural harbor on the Atlantic at the mouth of the Penfeld River, the city has a rich military history. Seized by the Germans in WWII and made the base of their submarine activities, Brest suffered severe damage by Allied bombing during the war. As such, most of the pre-war historic buildings were destroyed. Brest was re-built with modern, rather sterile, architecture giving it the reputation of "one of France's ugliest cities."

It is not without some charm. Its waterfront does have a few remainin gold buildings and museums as well as beautiful views across the bay of the Plougastel Peninsula. One of the City's oldest monuments is the Tour Tanguy, a 14th century lookout tower. Crossing the Penfeld River by thebridge next to the tower (the longest lift-bridge in Europe) takes one toBrest's medieval castle which houses the Musèe de la Marine, the navalmuseum. Nearby is the Musèe Municipal, an art museum displaying French, Flemish and Italian treasures from the 17th to the 20th centuries. Europe's largest aquarium is located in Brest at the futuristic Ocèanopolis center.
About 65 miles south of the city is the medieval village of Quimper. The village hosts the 9 day Celtic extravaganza, the Festival de Cornouaille, in mid-July. The town is also home to the beautiful, gothic Cathedrale St-Corentin, the 2nd largest cathedral in France. Next to the cathedralis the Musee des Beaux-Arts housing more than 400 works of art fromartists such as Rubens, Corot and Picasso. Quimber is known for its distinctive earthenware pottery.
Further south in what is considered to be the prettiest area of Brittanyis the town of Pont-Aven. It was made famous by the artist Paul Gauguin who established an artist's colony there. Still further south lays the village of Carnac, known for its beaches and the ancient stone monuments. The 6,500 year old monuments are contemporary to Stonehenge in England and are equally impressive.

The city of Nantes is at the southernmost corner of Brittany. It is the cultural center of the region. There are many historic building, museums and a cathedral here.
Northern Brittany, on the Channel coast, is full of many quaint fishing villages. To the east is the Channel port of St. Malo. Here ferries embark for England on a regular basis. Just east of St. Malo, in the southwest corner of Normandy is the famed Mt. St. Michel. This impressive fortress/monastery sits on a mount that is attached to the mainland at lowtide and becomes an island at high tide. The tides here are among the most extreme in the world, rising some 45' with the tide rushing in with a tidal bore.
Dinan, south of St. Malo is one of the best preserved medieval towns in France. There is a medieval festival held there the 3rd week of July that includes jousting, a market, parades and music.
In the easternmost section of Brittany is Rennes, the capital of the region. It is a mixture of medieval and 18th century architecture due to a fire which destroyed half the City in 1720. Sites here are theParlement de Bretagne, the Musèe de Bretagne and the Musèe de Beaux Arts.
It looks as if we will have a tour of Normandy, arranged by the College, on Saturday. This will be a very long tour, about 18 hours, and will take us to all of the historic landmarks in the neighboring region. Everyone is looking foreword to this. Several other shorter tours of Brittany are also being offered.

Monday, July 19th
As I write this we are passing through the Straits of Gibraltar out of the Mediterranean and out into the Atlantic. Africa is a couple miles off on our port, Europe off our starboard. These are the legendary Pillars of Hercules; Morocco's Atlas Mountains and the Rock of Gibraltar.
We were shrouded in fog for the early part of the day then it slowly lifted into a haze so that both of the Pillars were barely visible as we passed. As we enter the ocean there is a noticeable change. The waves are higher, the air and sea are cooler. The fog was caused by this cooler ocean water hitting the warm Mediterranean.
This is the fourth time that the Ship has gone through the Straits this year and twice last year. These have become very familiar waters for our cadets and crew. This area is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
As we turn north toward France, we've been warned to secure all of our belongings. We've gotten complacent with the Mediterranean's calm waters. It was like we were sailing on a lake for the last few weeks. TheAtlantic and especially the Bay of Biscay can be extremely unpredictable. We will see. On to Brest.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Drills.....and then BBQ

(Excerpts from Ship's Librarian, Rich Delbango)

Sunday, July 18th
We had our last Sunday at Sea in the Mediterranean today and the day was fantastic. It was sunny and warm all day....By the time I got up and out the barbecue had started on the sun deck. Almost everyone had a very restful day. Most of the cadets worked on their sun
tans instead of their studies today. After dinner of steak, potatoes and corn-on-the-cob, I finally reported for work at 18:00, mostly to show the evening's movies.

Next Sunday we'll be in Brest and the next, and last, Sunday at Sea we will be in the mid-Atlantic on the way home.

Adieu to the Mediterranean, it was beautiful.

Saturday, July 17th
We've been spending the last few days steaming around Majorca doing various drills and maintenance during the days. There is lots of activity and its accompanying noise all day around the ship. At night we've been anchoring in Majorca harbor. What a magnificent view of the
bright city we have at night.

The ship has been a beehive of activity. Yesterday was the man overboard drill in which an unwitting cadet was thrown overboard and had to be rescued. Just kidding. We use a dummy made out of old clothes and a life vest. The ship can't just stop. We have to do a figure 8 turn to
come back and get the victim.

Also on deck, some cadets were practicing the valuable art of plugging leaks. They do this on a special jig made of a steel plate with various size holes in it through which is forced sea water from a high pressure fire hose. They shove various objects in until they get the leaks under
control. In the process they also get soaked which may be enjoyable in the hot, Mediterranean sun, but probably not so much if we were sailing in the Arctic.

We're going to steam some more around Majorca this afternoon, then head southwest and west to the Straits of Gibraltar and the open ocean. We should be there by Monday morning ready for the voyage north up the Atlantic coast of Europe to Brest.

Tomorrow is Sunday at Sea, our last in the Med. We're all praying for good weather for the barbecue and day of rest. So far, the weather has been spectacular. Let's hope it holds for one more day.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Balearic Islands

(Excerpts from Ship's Librarian, Rich Delbango)

The Captain has taken us on a pleasant detour through the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain. We lost sight of land after we left the Straits of Messina the other night and were on the open sea for 2 days. Seeing the lovely hills of Majorca was a pleasant diversion this morning. Everyone has settled back into their routines.....Soon, we'll head southwest toward the Straits of Gibraltar and the open sea. I hope the ocean will be calm. We've been spoiled by the gentle

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Back to Sea

(Excerpts from Ship's Librarian, Rich Delbango)

Monday, July 12th
We left Malta about 09:30 this morning, saying goodbye to a fantastic
port. The history, the culture, the swimming, the food; all in close
proximity to the ship. What more could you want in a port? We had three
days of excellent weather. The Maltese people were warm and welcoming.
With a very low crime rate, I felt safe walking the darkest streets at

I spent the last night on shore at the dock area doing my internet stuff,
buying magazines for the library and enjoying a cold soda. The pier was
crowded for a Sunday night because they were showing the final of the
World Cup on dozens of TVs all along the wharf. The Europeans love their

When we left Malta, we headed northeast, then north to go around Sicily
and east through the Straits of Messina. It's night now and I just took
an evening break and saw the coast of Italy on the starboard and Sicily
off the port side. It is a beautiful sight to behold. Tomorrow we'll be
in the open Mediterranean heading west toward the Atlantic. We'll reach
Brest, France in about 11 days and gain an hour on the way.

Monday, July 12, 2010


(Excerpts from Ship's Librarian, Rich Delbango)

Malta - Day 3
On Sunday I took the shortest of the excursions arranged by the Ship. We started out at the Malta Quarry Museum. Every building on Malta is built from the yellow, natively quarried limestone. This museum, set in a depleted quarry, told the history of the process. We headed south to the southern cliffs of Malta and the Blue Grotto. This was as beautiful as the grotto in Gozo was. Absolutely gorgeous! We finished with a trip to a local fishing village and its colorful and fragrant fish market. I went back to the ship torest up for the last night in Malta. Monday it’s back to sea.
Malta - Day 2
Saturday was more restful for me. I took a trip, also arranged by the College to the Blue Lagoon on the tiny island of Comino. We travelled by an excursion boat filled mostly with young Europeans in Malta for an English immersion summer program. We arrived at the Blue Lagoon and were greeted by a spectacular sight of the clearest, bluest water that I have ever seen. Surrounding it was a rugged, rocky hillside with no sandy beach, just rocks all the way to the water. Perched on these rocks were thousands of daytrippers that you had to practically climb over to get to the water. After finding my own little perch, I cautiously climbed down the rocks to the water. It was spectacular, clean and cool. I stayed in for hours. I swam away from the crowds into several hidden caves. One of these caves opened out into the open sea. It was amazing. I didn’t want to get out.
Malta - Day 1
We docked in the magnificent harbor of the capital, Valleta, about 08:00 on Friday July 9. The entrance into the harbor is breathtaking as you sail past the ancient fortresses at the mouth of the harbor. We docked at the Pinto dock which was a prime location, right at the foot of the city wall, easy to get to the City. The only problem is the City is at the top of the wall and the wall is 100’ – 150’ high!
I wasn’t going to tackle the City on the first day. . I was scheduled to go on a tour of Gozo, the western island. The vans left at 09:30 for the 40 minute trip across the island of Malta to the ferry. The ferry to the island took another 20 minutes. The scenery on both legs of the journey was spectacular. We drove through rolling hills of gold dotted by small towns all built of their yellow sandstone.We were met by a bus on Gozo to continue our journey. The first stop was the ancient ruin of the Ggantija temples. These are among the ancient structures of the prehistoric residents of Gozo that are 1000 years older than the pyramids in Egypt. They are the oldest standing, human structures in the world. They are believed to be temples to the Mother goddess (Mother Nature) because the outline of the temple has the shape of the small Mother deity idols found in many primitive cultures.

We moved on to see the capital of Gozo Victoria Rabat. This is a small, crowded city topped off by The Citadel, a castle at the top of the highest point in the city. After a laborious climb up to the Citadel, we had a more laborious one inside of it up to the tops of its walls. After the climb down and some time for shopping in the City it was off to a great lunch at one of Gozo’s finest hotels.After lunch we heads southwest to the sea and the amazingly beautiful cliffs at a spot called the Azure Lagoon. Here we were taken by boatmen in small, colorfully painted boats through grottos gut naturally through the cliffs by the sea. Out in the open sea, we entered several other caves and saw the Azure window, a rock formation framing a fantastic view of the sea.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Off Malta

(Excerpt from Ship's Librarian, Rich Delbango)

We've been anchored since last night about 13 miles off the coast of Malta, right near two oil platforms. We're pulling into Valleta harbor tomorrow morning about 08:00. I heard there are some webcams of the harbor. Look for us. We should be docked very close to the city because it appears that the harbor is the center of the city. We're at, what I'm told, is one of the deepest anchorages in the world. We are surrounded by ships, mostly empty tankers, that are parked here awaiting orders.

I've got some tours lined up for next 3 days if they all run. The Regiment Office arranged a nice selection. It looks as if you could spend a couple weeks here to see all the sights Malta has to offer. It seems like a very interesting place. There are pre-historic ruins, Roman ruins, fortresses, huge cliffs, quaint fishing villages, Medieval and Renaissance palaces, and churches. LOTS of churches. I think they have one for every 1,000 inhabitants of this country. From the travel video I ran last night, Valetta looks a lot like Venice without the canals.

Link to webcam at Grand Harbour, Valletta

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

(Excerpts from Ship's Librarian, Rich Delbango)

July 6th, Malta Bound
The Mediterranean is beautiful. Calm and peaceful. It's been sunny for the last four days and getting hot. It's going to be scorching in Malta. Meanwhile we're just sailing along.

The Regiment Office is arranging some tours for us. They should be good..There is plenty to do and see on these islands.

July 4th, Happy Independence Day
Happy Independence Day everyone. What a difference this year's 4th is from last. Last year we were heading home at this time. This year we still have over a month to go. Last year it poured on our celebration. This year the weather has been gorgeous. The best thing is that this year it luckily corresponded with our Sunday at Sea and that means relaxation for most of us and barbecue for all.

There were no classes today. The only cadets working were those on watch or with extra duty jobs. The hardest working people on board today were the Chartwell's Food Service people who toiled all day getting the barbecue set up and cooking for over 500 hungry sailors. Thanks to Henry and his crew who did such a great job as usual. Burgers, franks and chicken for lunch; steaks and shrimp for dinner. Between meals, we had some fireworks as cadets shot off some expired flares and smoke marker grenades. Not the Macy's fireworks, but it would have to do.

We are somewhere in the mid-Mediterranean Sea, heading east. We will probably sail between Corsica and Sardinia to do maneuvers before heading to Malta. Everyone is getting anxious to get to land, especially to swim.

July 2nd, Refueling
We anchored last night, after I went to bed, only yards from the town of Gibraltar. After dropping anchor about 02:00, the bunker barge (really a small tankership) arrived. They tied up alongside, hooked up their giant fuel hose to us and began pumping over 1,000 tons of low sulphur ships oil into our tanks. I don't know what the gallon count is, but it is a heck of a lot.

The weather is warm and hazy, with some light intermittent drizzle. The Mediterranean is calm. Since we have a week to get to Malta, it is going to be a slow, meandering journey...Meanwhile, the cadets are keeping busy drilling and painting the ship. Last night they were practicing lowering the lifeboats right outside the Officer's Mess at dinner time.