The Boatswain’s Mates of USS Nimitz (CVN 68) are making history, as they become the first team of Sailors to remove the anchor and chain of an aircraft carrier rather than contracting the work out to civilians.
Fifty-seven links, each weighing 350-pounds, make up just one 90-foot shot of chain that weighs a total of 20,500 pounds. Twelve shots of chain collectively hold a 60,000-pound anchor. Considering the average person weighs less than 200 pounds, it’s safe to say the task of removing Nimitz’ anchors and chain is no small feat.
“This is the first time something like this has been done,” said Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Jacob Brill, petty officer in charge in the ships foc’sle for the lowering of the anchor. “Usually this is a job for the contractors. They would normally be in the foc’sle and down on the barge and they would be the ones doing all the sandblasting.”
The Deck Department had the daunting task of removing the 60,000-pound anchors from both starboard and port sides of the ship in order to perform preventitive maintenance and ensure the ship is ready to return to the fleet sometime next year.
“We pay out the anchors down onto a barge that has two tug boats attached to either side to ensure it is in the right spot,” said Brill. The anchor has to lay a certain direction so that there is no risk of it falling over.
The process of laying down the anchor happens very slowly and with many more precautions than what many Deck Sailors are used to.
“Working with the anchor is intense,” said Seaman Jordan Fondon. “You can get a lot more injuries doing this than compared to when you’re going around doing small maintenance.”
After the anchor was removed it was time to slowly and monotonously lower the anchor chain, one shot at a time.
“Each shot weighs 20,500 pounds, so there is absolutley no way to be able to man-handle it. The tug boats were a neccesity for positioning the barge,” said Brill. “We do one shot, then stop, tie it off, detach it, make sure it’s secure, move the barge the other way, and lay down another shot.”
Once the anchor chain is removed, the work to preserve it can be started. The detachable links must be taken apart, greased, reassembled and then sanded. Once this is done, the Sailors can check to make sure they have not been worn down and there is not too much movement in between them.
“It’s for the overall preservation of the anchor and chain, and to make sure it’s not getting rusted up,” said Brill. “Whenever we anchor out at sea the anchor is sitting on the ocean floor getting dirty and soaking in salt water. Once it goes back into the chain locker it just sits and allows rust to bulid up.”
There was very minimal contractor involvement, which originally worried some of the Sailors in Deck Department, who have been talking about and planning the evolution well before coming to the yards.
“When you’re doing it, you’re stressing because you’re scared to mess up and don’t want anyone to get hurt,” said Fondon. “I feel confident, but not complacent. The more you do it, the less stressed you get. But I think that anxiety and worry will always be there.”
Despite the stress brought on by this new task to many of the Sailors involved, the chance to get to do something so important with very little help from outside workers was appreciated.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Brill. “This is a real big pride thing. Boatswain’s Mates are a very proud rate to begin with, but to be able to actually be the very first carrier to do this type of thing is a big deal to us. It’s a lot of fun and good training.”
Sailors new to Deck’s Sea and Anchor Detail receive training almost every week in order to ensure that they know the proper procedures to raise and lower the anchor safely. This maintenance allows them to learn even more.
“There is no better training than hands on,” said Brill. “To be able to see it and get in there and work with it all is the best way to learn something, and that’s what we are getting the oppurtunity to do.”
This process is not only helping Nimitz be prepared to answer the nation’s call of duty, but is also benefiting junior Sailors currently serving on Nimitz and will continue the cycle of training.
“There is a chance I’ll be here for the next maintenance period, so now I’ll be able to train others on how to properly do this with the chain,” said Fondon. “I got to learn, and I can pass it on to them. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to train other Sailors.”
The excitement the Boatswain’s Mate’s have about removing the anchor and chain is being reflected by their work ethic as they continue to fix for the fight.
“It’s moving along pretty well right now. They didn’t expect us to have the detachable links off for another week, and we had them done yesterday,” said Brill. “We are expected to be done by June, but I think we’ll be done with it well before then.”
Story and photos by MC3 Holly Herline