The USS Little Rock moored in Montreal’s old port, Sunday, January 21, 2018. The newly commissioned warship will be wintering in Montreal after its journey to Florida was interrupted by heavier-than-usual ice flows in the St. Lawrence. (Graham Hughes/CP) Moored in Montreal’s portlands, USS Little Rock—the latest warship to join the U.S. navy’s fleet—looks like it’s protecting the city. The port, along with the city’s pubs and eateries, are no strangers to a naval presence: sailors from around the world have been known to roam the historic riverfront during much-needed pit stops. Only this time, it’s the ship seeking refuge. Icier-than-usual conditions along the St. Lawrence Seaway have kept the 118-metre vessel tied up until conditions improve—possibly for the remainder of winter.
Its journey started in Buffalo, N.Y., last December, where the littoral combat ship was commissioned in front of more than 8,000 people. Crew members had prepared for the launch for nearly three years, and for some it had been months since they’d seen their families. “Little Rock has everything. She’s sleek; she’s responsive; she’s agile; she’s fast and she’s deadly,” Cmdr. Todd Peters, the ship’s commanding officer, told the crowd. From there, Little Rock’s voyage was straightforward: navigate through the St. Lawrence River, bend around the Maritimes and, at speeds reaching nearly 100 km/h, glide south through the Atlantic for warmer waters and its home in Mayport, Fla.
But those plans were put on ice after a cold snap hit Montreal’s transit area. The conditions posed the risk of the vessel’s propulsion system sucking in ice, disabling it and rendering the vessel what’s known as a “dead ship.” And downriver, some channels become pockets for small, fast-moving icebergs that pose a risk to Little Rock’s thin hull that not even an icebreaker escort could solve. As a result, the 3,084-tonne ship ground to a halt, and since Christmas Eve, has been a permanent fixture in the city. “All options were considered, but out of safety it was determined that the ship should remain in the Port of Montreal,” says Lt.-Cmdr. Courtney Hillson, a spokesperson for the Little Rock.
The 70 crew members live on the ship, Hillson says, and have been biding their time with mission training and certification exercises to “maintain their proficiency in areas such as medical, damage control, navigation and security.” The ship, named after a Second World War precursor, is ready to depart, pending weather improvements—estimated around mid-March, when the ice usually clears for safe passage.
The crew, who identify collectively as “the Warhawgs,” appear to be making the most out of the stopover—even as temperatures have dipped as low as -26 C. Their Facebook page features video of members throwing pots of boiling water overboard and watching as it crystallizes before touching the frozen seaway. The sailors are also able to explore the city in their down time, despite the reputation acquired over the centuries by seamen on shore leave. (A desultory check of Montreal’s famed exotic dance clubs suggests the sailors have thus far been […]