Navy ships from around the world converged in humble Hampton Roads today for OpSail 2012, and I was smack in the middle of it all. Along with a handful of other journalists, Peter and I boarded the Esbern Snare, a Danish support frigate. We’d heard we would have to climb a “Jacob’s ladder” to get from the launch boat to the frigate. I worried about slipping and falling into the bay, but thankfully that didn’t happen. In fact, the launch boat matched the speed of the frigate, so it was a cake walk to cross over. Plus there were handsome Danish officers waiting to welcome us with firm handshakes and warm smiles.
After we boarded, the captain of the Esbern Snare welcomed us and offered us tasty Danish coffee. Then we divided up into small groups and took a tour of the ship. Our guide, Officer Anders Jessings, showed us his cabin, the bridge, the library, helicopter pad, and more. Of course, we spent a lot of time on deck, where periodically the sailors would line in formation to pay their respects to passing ships or military installations. We enjoyed amazing views of the harbor and the other ships as we sailed along under a brilliant blue sky.
Once the tour ended, Anders invited us to dine in the Officer’s Mess, where the hospitable Danes laid out a lovely lunch of smoked salmon with dill, a curried herring salad (yum), Danish bleu cheese, shrimp, beets, eggs, and amazing pickles! Of course, the Røggebrood (dark, moist rye bread) was the perfect accompaniment. Afterwards we had lots of free time to go on deck and watch the world slide peacefully by.
Once we got near Downtown things became quite interesting. Each Naval vessel made a U-turn in the narrow space between Norfolk and Portsmouth and then headed back upriver to dock. Some ships required lots of help from tug boats to dock, but the Danish Royal Navy positioned the Esbern Snare right next to their pier like they’d done it before. After crossing the Atlantic, an eight-day journey, the sailors were excited about spending a few days in Norfolk and environs.
Harborfest festivities have already begun. There’s another parade of sail on Friday featuring the tall ships, and of course there will be fireworks, music, food, and a few cold beverages if you’re so inclined.
As we were leaving the Esbern Snare, the ship was preparing to host a cocktail party—for the local Danish community perhaps and likely a few NATO dignitaries. Peter and I have been to a couple of these shipboard parties on Dutch ships that have visited in the past, and they are a blast. I dropped a couple hints to Anders about sneaking Peter and me into the cocktail party, but he smiled and said he didn’t think he could do that.
I may get to sample some more of the Esbern Snare’s delicious food this weekend. I’ve been invited to judge a cooking contest among the chefs of the visiting ships. Mmmm. Can’t wait. Stay tuned for more OpSail updates!