EVERETT — Ice cream used to be a problem for Capt. Michael Grogan.
His supply ship had plenty of it to deliver to U.S. naval ships at sea.
The problem, he said, was getting it on board aircraft carriers and destroyers in sometimes sweltering heat before it melted. It wasn’t easy with the only freezer compartment deep inside the ship’s hull.
Homesick sailors should get frozen ice cream, as well as necessary supplies such as jet fuel, more efficiently thanks to a new class of logistics ships. The newest, the USNS Carl Brashear, is making a pit stop in Everett this month before departing for its maiden voyage in the Pacific.
“We take a lot of pride in what we do,” said Grogan, captain of the Brashear. “They take care of us — the least we can do is make sure their ice cream is still cold.”
Take a good look at the Everett waterfront and you’ll see the Brashear as well as the USNS Kiska and USNS Shasta. All three ships are part of the Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force. These ships provide logistical support to Navy ships deployed across the Pacific.
Older ships carried either dry goods or ammunition but not both. The Brashear does it all. The ship can carry fuel for jets and ships’ engines, ammunition, spare parts, potable water, frozen items and dry goods. The 689-foot-long ship carries enough cargo to supply an entire battle group, Grogan said.
The ship is laid out more efficiently than older ships, Grogan said. The main deck has cold rooms for foodstuffs that need to stay cold, plus smaller specialty cargo spaces for ammunition. The main deck also features an area where the crew can stage and tie down whatever items they’re delivering for quicker off-loading.
The Brashear is designed to accommodate two helicopters, which can ferry dry goods to other ships. A bundle of super long elephant trunk hoses dangle from the front of the ship. Those hoses can be stretched over to an aircraft carrier or destroyer for fueling, turning the Brashear into a floating 76 station.
The government listened to crews of older ships when they designed the new class of vessels, he said.
On the bridge, Grogan showed off a state-of-the art system that allows just two people to pilot the ship, rather than relying on crew in the engine room.
However, he said, “I wouldn’t recommend doing that.”
And it’s still the captain who has to parallel park those 45,000 tons of steel when it is time to dock. Last week, the crew loaded tons of supplies into the deep holds of the Brashear. One of the ship’s four giant cranes perched on the dock, swinging pallets on deck. On board, a fleet of yellow forklifts driven by workers handed off shrink-wrapped pallets of cereal variety packs and Skippy’s peanut butter to each other like relay runners.
What do sailors like to eat most?
“From what I’m seeing today, breakfast cereal,” laughed cargo mate Steve Burnette. They also stock a lot of Red Bull energy drinks, chips and soda.
The USNS Carl Brashear is named for Navy’s first African American master deep-sea diver. Brashear’s life was the subject of a 2000 movie “Men of Honor” staring Cuba Gooding Jr.
Brashear, the only enlisted Navy man to have a ship named for him, died in 2006.
The crew’s obvious pride in the ship’s namesake is evident everywhere — from the vintage diving helmet on the main deck, to the “Men of Honor” movie poster in the mess hall. The crew even leaves the ship’s namesake the occasional cup of coffee in the engine room.
The Brashear is not scheduled to return to the U.S. until 2014. The crew of 148 includes a mix of civilian mariners and enlisted U.S. Navy sailors from all over the country. Grogan has a wife and children waiting for him in Columbus, Ohio. The crew swaps out members every four months, and stops at various naval ports abroad to restock its holds.
Life aboard ship is mostly work, work, work from 8 in the morning to 8 at night, Grogan said. Once the workers have some time to themselves, they play cards, watch TV or play video games tournaments against each other in lounges equipped with a few computers and Internet access. The captain’s dorm-size apartment features a flat-screen television and an Xbox.
When the Brashear does reach a U.S. port again, Capt. Grogan expects this new ship will no longer be shoe-polish shiny, despite his crews’ efforts to keep it presentable.
“The seawater and salt air will eat it for lunch.”
Debra Smith: 425-339-3197, firstname.lastname@example.org
USNS Carl Brashear
Length: 689 feet
Beam: 105.6 feet
Draft: 29.9 feet
Displacement: 41,000 long tons
Speed: 20 knots
Civilian: 124 civil service mariners
Military: 11 sailors
Source: Military Sealift Command