No small task getting Kitty Hawk into dry dock
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Pull the plug, drain the tub and there it is: 86,000 tons of U.S. Navy power, out of water and resting its bare keel on a series of enormous concrete blocks.
If only getting the USS Kitty Hawk into dry dock was that easy.
Officials say Tuesday’s process of moving the aircraft carrier from its normal pier to Dry Dock 6, where it will undergo maintenance and repairs, was months in the planning.
“It is an unbelievably complicated procedure,” Lt. Brook Dewalt, the ship’s public affairs officer, said earlier this week. “To move something this big and put it in a very precise location is extremely difficult.”
Early Tuesday morning, the ship went “dead stick,” meaning its main propulsion plant was taken off-line. A small fleet of tugboats and barges surrounded the Kitty Hawk, pulled it away from its normal pier and maneuvered it over to the dry dock.
A few anxious hours later, the ship was being pushed, pulled and nudged into the dry dock, which still was full of water.
“The thing about moving a ship this big is that any small movement is going to have a big effect, and it’s going to take a little bit of time to correct,” said Lt. Lance Coverdill, one in a team of Ship Repair Facility monitors on hand as the ship was being moved.
“We got pretty lucky with the weather, too.”
For the past week, Yokosuka has seen a steady period of rain and wind; even a relatively light breeze would have made the move much harder, Coverdill said.
As it was, Tuesday’s move happened under cloudy, but mostly dry skies.
By around 11 a.m., the ship was fully enclosed by the dry dock, the sill was closed and the water was being pumped out into the harbor.
Moments before, divers plunged into the dock’s murky, oil-stained water to ensure the ship was in place above the concrete blocks on which it would rest.
More than 200 concrete blocks were specially manufactured in Sasebo, Japan, and shipped to Yokosuka via barges, said Yoshi Suzuki, an SRF worker. Preparations began in March, with tests on filling and emptying the dry-dock area, he said.
To ensure that the ship rested properly once the water was removed, hundreds of minute measurements and calculations were made of both the ship and the dry dock, which was constructed in 1940.
On Tuesday, most Kitty Hawk sailors were given the day off; fewer extraneous sailors meant less chance of an accident, officials said. A few sailors watched the proceedings from the pier, as it’s relatively novel to see an aircraft carrier out of the water.
The Kitty Hawk went through its last dry-dock period from January through March 1998. That yard period, when the ship was stationed in San Diego, was part of a larger, 15-month, $110 million overhaul.
In July 1998, the Kitty Hawk took over from the USS Independence in Yokosuka.
Prior to 1998, the ship also spent five years in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyards as part of the Navy’s Service Life Extension Program.
Navy officials say that yard period added 20 years of service to the life of the ship. This year, the Kitty Hawk marked its 42nd year in service, the longest tenure of any active Navy ship.