Saturday, 11 March 2017

HMCS ATHABASKAN: Final Week in Commission and Paying Off

HMCS ATHABASKAN's final week was an active one, with two family and/or previous crewmember cruises on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then her final sailpast and paying off ceremony on Friday.

I was otherwise occupied on Wednesday, and would have become very wet indeed had I attempted to document her cruise that day in the rain, but I did manage to time my trip to work on Tuesday with ATHABASKAN's departure for her family cruise. Thankfully, the sun was out on Tuesday and there was a bit of blue sky in the background.

ATHABASKAN backing out on Tuesday before heading out on a family cruise.
Passing the lighthouse on George's Island.
ATHABASKAN heads out under a clear(ish) blue sky.
On her final day in service, ATHABASKAN left the jetty just before noon, and headed down the Halifax shore with her battle ensign flying and her paying off pennant rigged, but not deployed. 

Heading out on her final trip.

Battle ensign flying, and the paying off pennant, not yet deployed, barely visible and hanging down over the port hangar door.
She took the western passage around George's Island before turning to port and heading back up the eastern side of the harbour and proceeding up into Bedford Basin with a gaggle of Sea Kings in tow.

She was pursued by a total of three Sea Kings, a two-ship formation, and this one which I believe was the camera platform.

The other two Sea Kings were the actual "ceremonial" helicopters that appear in most of the official photos.

All three Sea Kings flying together in formation.
The paying off ceremony itself was open to the public, so a bunch of us headed up and entered the Dockyard via the gate at HMCS SCOTIAN. I was therefore able to stake out a spot at the end of the jetty to capture ATHABASKAN's final sailpast from the narrows, taking a salute from Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, Rear-Admiral John Newton, and Commodore Craig Baines in the process. Followed by Navy tugs with fire fighting monitors spraying, ATHABASKAN emerged from the narrows flying her paying off pennant, although even the attached balloons were not enough to keep the pennant completely aloft while the ship was travelling with the wind.

The wind wasn't cooperating, and the paying off pennant was only visible for short periods during the final sailpast. You can see it here, along with multiple balloons, hanging down to the water on the ship's port side.

By the time she cleared the bridge, her paying off pennant was hidden behind the mast, funnel, and hangar.

Here is the end of ATHABASKAN's 386 foot long pennant hanging down past the stern and into the water. 
According to comments left on one of my photos on Facebook, ATHABASKAN was able to open up the throttles slightly to achieve 10 knots after clearing the review platform at the end of our jetty in the Dockyard, and the paying off pennant once again took flight for its entire length.

ATHABASKAN starts her turn to port with her pennant streaming out behind her.

This is probably the best image I captured of ATHABASKAN's paying off pennant, flying for its complete length and not hanging into the water. She is turning to port in this photo, and I believe the pennant was stowed right after this photo.
The pennant was stowed as she turned to port, to avoid fouling the propellers while she approached the jetty. I was concentrating on taking photos so I can't be certain, but it seemed to me that despite the wind pushing her onto the jetty, ATHABASKAN managed to come alongside with no assistance from the three tugs present. That same wind made for a windchill of -8, and felt colder - layered as I was, I wondered how others on the jetty in seemingly lighter clothing managed to stick it out.

ATHABASKAN approaches the jetty.

The last frame I captured where the entire ship fit into a single frame. A sailor stands ready at the jackstaff to raise the ship's jack (Canada's national flag, the Maple Leaf). Her battle ensign and paying off pennant are now stowed, but she still flies what I assume is her call sign from the mast along with a few other flags. On her starboard side, she flies her commissioning pennant Cmdre Baines' (the fleet commander) Broad Pennant from the mast (white flag with red cross and a maple leaf in the upper left corner). Thanks to Brian Wentzell, for catching my mistake.

Cdr Couillard (third from right) keeps close watch from the port bridge wing as ATHABASKAN makes her final jetty approach under her own power.
After coming alongside, tying up, and once the brows were fixed, the ship's jack and ensign were raised and the crew manned the port rail from stem to stern.

Naval Jack flying once again, the crew mans the port rail on the foc'st'le.

Crew manning the port main-deck rail between the bridge and hangar.
Everyone at the end of the jetty were hustled back to the side of the VIP tent, and the ceremony began: the Stadacona Band played the national anthem, and ATHABASKAN's captain, Commander Jean Couillard addressed the crowd from the port bridge wing.

Stadacona Band.
Stadacona Band.

Cdr Couillard addressed the crowd.
The ceremony was not completely sombre. In addition to suggesting that any lack of finesse on ATHABASKAN's final jetty approach were the result of a power struggle with a Commodore (and former commander) on board, Cdr Couillard was careful to point out that he had taken photos of the ship when he took possession of ATHABASKAN, and he was pretty sure all the dents were there when he got her...and that some of the actual culprits were probably present in the crowd. Cdr Couillard also took time to praise his family for dealing with his frequent and lengthy absences over the last two years, as well as his crew, the latter statement I will paraphrase as "A ship without a crew is merely a grey steel box." and that he was fortunate to have led such a great team.

Her call sign has already been hauled down from the mast.
The ship's cox'n led a cheer of the ship's motto, "We Fight as One".

Caps were removed for reciting the ship's motto.
Cdr Couillard then called down to the engine room to state that he was finished with main engines, to shut down the engines (video link here) for the final time (interestingly, it was stated that she was being put into "extended readiness to sail"), and the ship's crew departed the ship and assembled on the jetty between the ship and the gathered crowd.

The crew departs the ship's foc'st'le.

The ship's crew gathered on the jetty.
As the ship's colours were lowered from the bow and stern and presented to Cdr Couillard, the ship's commissioning pennant Commodore's Broad Pennant was also lowered and the red-and-white striped "port" or "out of routine" flag was hoisted up the mast. Colin Darlington, of RUSI(NS), informs me that "At the end of the paying off (the ceremony), a red and white striped 'port' flag is hoisted. The port flag (which is actually used to indicate the port direction for most signals - there is a starboard flag too) in this case means 'out of routine,' that is, there is no one on board to respond to signals (flag, light) to the ship or otherwise carry out ceremonial actions. The port flag is flown by any ship out of routine; you will see it on Kingston-class ships which have no ship's company (not all of the 12 Kingstons are manned at any time). What indicates that a ship has been paid off and is no longer in active service (that is, she is out of commission) is the absence of the commissioning pennant."

ATHABASKAN's Naval Jack is lowered for the final time.

The red-and-white striped "port" or "out of routine" flag now flies from the mast. This is not to be confused with the red and white striped "barbepole brigade" marking on the radar platform to the left, a vestige of markings worn by the Second World War's Escort Group C-3 (and later Escort Group C-5, plus the Fifth Canadian Escort Squadron, and later still all commissioned RCN surface vessels on the East Coast). The barberpole markings are better displayed in photos above, particularly that of Cdr Couillard giving his address.
VAdm Lloyd and RAdm Newton both said a few words, and then it was time for the padres to complete the ceremony.

VAdm Lloyd.

RAdm Newton.
The ceremony wraps up.

VAdm Lloyd departs the jetty after the ceremony.
Cdr Couillard then led his crew off the jetty, and I retreated to the ferry terminal to head home and out of the cold.

ATHABASKAN's crew leaves the jetty after the ceremony.
Athabaskan is no longer in commission, and can no longer be referred to as "HMCS ATHABASKAN" in the present tense, although she may be referred to as "Ex-HMCS ATHABASKAN". I'm not sure what the official etiquette is, but as readers may have noticed in previous posts, I typically refer to naval vessels in the commission of any nation by writing their names all in capital letters (e.g. HMCS ATHABASKAN), while other non-commissioned vessels I refer to by instead italicizing the name (in the particular case of this post, "Athabaskan").

The now paid off Athabaskan, her port flag flying.
All of these photos shown here, plus some additional images, are displayed in a gallery on my Smugmug website.

For those interested in the finer details of paying off ships from Royal Canadian Navy commission, I recommend Colin Darlington's article on the subject on the RUSI(NS) website. Colin was also kind enough to give me some background on the "out of routine" flag, as mentioned above. 

1 comment: