For Blue Angels groupies like Debbie Randall and her daughter Torri Randle, who have seen the daredevil Navy aviators perform many times, the moment never gets old.
“Oh, I hear them!” Debbie said yesterday, grabbing Torri’s shoulder.
The high-up hissing sound drew the gaze of the Randles and every passenger on the commercial tour boat “Raven” to the cloudless blue sky above Baltimore.
“There’s your angels, baby!” Debbie Randle said, as the sound swelled to a thundering roar and one of the blue-and-yellow F-18’s streaked across the sky trailing a plume of white behind.
The mother and daughter from Fredericksburg, Va., had come to Baltimore specifically to see the Blue Angels, who performed over the weekend as part of the Maryland Fleet Week & Air Show taking place at the Inner Harbor and elsewhere on the city’s waterfront.
Randle had tried to book a single weekend at a Harborview condo (“I told the woman my daughter is a special needs child who loves the Blue Angels!”), but the deal fell through and they wound up at the Royal Sonesta hotel.
The $57 three-hour boat tour they joined, taking passengers out to a prime view-spot in the harbor just off Fort McHenry, turned out to be perfect for the Randles and Torri’s caregiver Joyce Harrington.
For them, the fun started even before the boat left the dock and the crew played pop tunes and “God Bless the USA.” Torri, sporting a Blue Angels souvenir tee shirt, knew the lyrics and sang along to nearly every song.
Promoting the Navy
The display of billions of dollars worth of U.S. Navy might, skill and technology was expected to draw 500,000 visitors to the the week-long event ending today. Along with the airshows Saturday and Sunday, there were ship tours, meet-and-greets with pilots and other activities.
There was a guided-missile cruiser, an amphibious transport dock and a guided-missile destroyer. Elsewhere in Baltimore a number of other events, including the Baltimore Running Festival, made for a festive weekend across the city, not just at the shiny waterfront.
For Fleet Week organizers, the $4 billion-plus destroyer USS Zumwalt, docked at Locust Point, was clearly the trophy vessel. The odd-shaped, fez-topped warship, designed to confuse enemy radar and escape detection, was commissioned on Saturday in an invitation-only VIP ceremony. A city police boat guarded it Sunday.
For one visitor though, it was a supply ship, also sporting sophisticated design, that grabbed his attention.
The 338-foot-long USNS Carson City – essentially a giant aluminum-clad catamaran designed to rapidly transport 600 tons of cargo and hundreds of troops – was docked at Pier 5.
For Homer Shen, my father, the Carson City made him think of the decommissioned U.S. Navy transport ship that brought him from Shanghai to San Fransisco almost 70 years ago.
“It was the USS General M.C. Meigs. The Navy transferred it to the American President Lines,” Shen said, looking at the huge, shiny, modern descendant of the Meigs.
He doesn’t remember too much about the trip in 1947 other than that the boat was pitching and rolling so much his glass of scotch slid back and forth on the bar. But rough seas didn’t stop him from downing his drink.
“Not too many people could do it,” he recalled. “A lot of people were throwing up, right there in front of you.”
I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have done it, though I joined him yesterday.
On the calm waters of Baltimore’s harbor, marveling at the Blue Angels along with our new acquaintances Debbie and Torri, I had a pale ale and Dad knocked back a scotch on the rocks – once again with no problem.