If you saw the last scene in Close Encounters then you know exactly what it felt like to board the United States Aircraft Carrier Abraham Lincoln, as Jeff and I did on February 1, 1997. If you didn't catch the movie, then simply picture yourself stepping through a portal from your own familiar world into an alien universe where nothing is familiar and nothing makes any sense at all.
All you can do is come with us and hope for the best.
Jeff and I began our adventure by climbing a series of surprisingly narrow, rickety, steep ladders onto the clammy interior of the Hanger Deck. It was dark - my eyes never really adjusted to it. At any other time this cavern would have been jammed wall to wall with F-18 fighter jets, helicopters and other flying machines, bit in our honour - I gathered - the American Navy had instead removed the planes and set up card tables with Lincoln Baseball Caps, Belt Buckles and T-Shirts...all for sale.
This Carrier's anchor weighs 30 tons. In a pinch, you could take Robin Reid's Bobcat loader, chain it to Larry Bader's John Deere excavator and throw that over the side...same thing. Add seven more Bobcats and you've got the big boat's rudder.
The flight deck of the ship is 4.5 acres. If you go and stand in the middle of Portlock Park on Salt Spring Island and look all around you at everything but the tennis bubble and the parking lot, your looking at less than half the area of the Abraham Lincoln. The average lot size on Salt Spring is about the same size - you might keep that in mind if you are looking for property. Or if you're on a boat leaving Ganges Harbour, take a good look at the last island, the Second Sister, as you go by. Nice island, but the Lincoln is bigger.
To be honest, I was a little let down by our visit. Jeff was expecting to have lunch with the carrier's commanding officer Jay Jay and get his picture taken in the cockpit of an F-18 but that was somehow skipped. I wanted to get a haircut in the Barber Shop and find one of the Gift Shops in the on-board mall, then check out the Newspaper office before finding the much touted TV Station...maybe even catch a show in the Theatre. But alas it wasn't to be: no lunch, not barbers, no shopping mall, no DJ's and no Planes Of Abraham.
So we took Jeff to see the bombs.
The bomb technician was an eloquent young man with an obvious affection for the explosive devices lying on the deck at his feet. As he described the characteristics of each one, he would give the bomb a friendly pat. I kept expecting a wet tongue to slide out of one of these deadly things and lick the sailor's hand while he was fondling it.
The Bomb Guy had three favourites: the one with the fins that you could move by remote control and make fly though towns, around buildings, under bridges and right to the unlucky house you wanted to blow up; the one that when it hit a wall would bore through as much as six feet of concrete to find and kill the occupants; and number one on the young man's list...the bomb that was so heavy that the jets could take off with it, but couldn't come back and land with it. "This sucker's go to find somebody," he told us with a wide grin, giving his number one pick it's nose pat.
These people can get a plane in the air, from the lower Hanger Deck to the Aircraft Elevator to the Flight Deck, in four minutes. That is less than half the time it will take you to make your Kraft Dinner tonight, if you don't mind it a bit soggy.
Out of a possible 5,500 crew members on board we met six... okay seven - if you count the officer who caught us out of bounds and yelled at us like a very angry Uncle Sam.
We did have a great ride on one of the four Aircraft Elevators that stick out from the ship's side like giant pause buttons; and we also got to climb to the Bridge and look down in shock and awe at the floating city of Abraham 206 feet below.
According to our local real estate friend Russ a really expensive waterfront property on Salt Spring (1997) goes for $200,000 an acre. Sounds a bit rich for you? Consider one of the alternatives - an Aircraft Carrier (with not one, but four elevators). Raw cost $777 Million per acre no frills: mind you this comes with 5.500 caretakers, Jet Planes, Helicopters, Elevators and a Barbershop.
After Jeff and I were asked firmly to leave the U.S.S. Abraham I was happy to get home to Salt Spring and to smaller and better things. I needed to clear my head, pump out the Carrier bilge water that was already beginning to stagnate and dampen my spirit. It's working..
I've almost forgotten how much hamburger meat the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln consumes in one day.