SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


A Brit Bid to Bridge the Gravina Gap?



December 09, 2010
Thursday AM

Ketchikan, Alaska -
Several of my loyal readers (it surprised me too that there were more than two!) have contacted me let me know that the British navy has an aircraft carrier for sale.

jpg Dave Kiffer

Yes, you - for a minimum bid of $5 million pounds ($7,837.334.41!) can win - at auction, the HMS Invincible. Call now and they will throw in a couple of harrier jump jets just for the heck of it.

If you are wondering why I would care - or more appropriately why other folks would know that I care - then you just haven't been paying attention!

I think that an aircraft carrier would solve a variety of Ketchikan's ills.

Unfortunately, not the HMS Invincible. More on that in a moment.

It all goes back to a couple of bored journalists in the early 1990s.

My late, great friend Pete Figueroa was probably the only person to work for every media outlet in the city of Ketchikan, at least twice! He specialized in attending governmental meetings, two or three times a week, depending on whether he was doing print or broadcast journalism. He knew a lot about what was going on in town because he paid attention. He also had really active brain!

One night, he and I were sitting through a lengthy and pointless school board meeting (yes, I realize that pointless and lengthy are redundant when combined with school board meeting).

This was in the early 1990s when the idea of bridge to the airport on Gravina was burbling back up into the community consciousness as it is wont to do every 10 years or so.

So we were sitting there listing to the school superintendent drone on about the latest Blue Ribbon Panel Initiative to boost Vitamin D in school lunches.

Pete scribbled something on a piece of paper and passed it to me.

"Aircraft carrier."

Silly me, I was actually paying attention to the inane speech, so I shot him a quizzical look.

Then it hit me.

"Tongass Narrows, sideways."

I wrote back.

He smiled.

And that was it, maybe the most realistic idea I have ever heard for "bridging" the local gap to Gravina, so to speak.

Really, it was brilliant in is simplicity.

In those days, the US Navy was dealing with a bunch of mothballed ships - mostly in Bremerton - and had no idea how to get rid of them.

It seemed completely logical to suggest that the community offer to take one of them off the Navy's hands and use to "Cross the Narrows."

The more Pete and I talked about, the more it made sense on many levels.

Need more housing in Ketchikan, particularly in the summer? A retired carrier would certainly have a surplus of bunks, perhaps not first class comfort, but the summer workers couldn't complain that much.

Need to build an aquarium? Just flood the bottom couple of decks on the carrier.

Is the community running out of electrical power? One of those nuclear powered carriers could keep us glowing well into the 22nd Century.

Need to expand the airport capacity? The catapult could probably sling Beavers and Otters all the way over Gravina and half way into Clarence Strait.

And, of course, the piece de resistance would be a "hard link" to Gravina. Big carriers are around 1,100 feet long and that would nearly cover the quarter-mile gap of the Narrows at its narrowest.

Natch, when Pete and I started spreading our "brilliant thought" around, folks scoffed.

"How would the other ships get around it?" they smirked.

"Bow thrusters," we replied.

Off course, cruise ships were pana-mini and not pana-max in those days, but I'm sure we could have figured things out somehow. That's the Ketchikan way. "Think Big or Don't Think at All" is our local motto.

So apparently, some locals still remember our great example of thinking outside the box (girder).

Which brings us back to the HMS Invincible.

Although I love how the Brits give their warships cool names to make then seem tough (When was the last time that anyone would have been "frightened" by the name USS Arleigh Burke?), the HMS Invincible would just not meet Ketchikan's needs (unless we were planning to carpet bomb and then invade Prince Rupert).

It is a "light" carrier in the Royal Navy's parlance.

First of all, it's only about 700 feet long, which means you'd need two of them to reach Gravina comfortably.

Second of all, it's primarily designed for Sea Harrier jump jets, which can take off nearly vertically. I have no idea if the HMS Invincible even has a catapult as its other aircraft are Sea King helicopters. At any rate, although several attempts have been made in the past to take off Beavers and Otters "vertically" none have proven successful.

Third, it's not nuclear powered, so even though it generates 97,000 horsepower, the diesel or gas surcharge would be prohibitive to local ratepayers.

Yes, it could still provide space for housing and an aquarium but 2 out of 5 is still a pretty poor return, even in Ketchikan.

Still, there is the price, which is well under the $60-70 million that the State of Alaska still has left of the $220 million it received for "our" bridge. And even though the state seems really, really, really, excited about spending that money for "enhanced" ferry service ($60M would buy a lot of Viagra for the airport ferry), they could save a big chunk of change by seeing if the USN would cut them a deal on a different ship.

Or perhaps, they could work out a two-fer with the Brits and weld two of the light carriers together to span the Narrows.

We'd still miss out on the catapult and the nuke generator, but 3 out of 5 is as close to a sure thing as Ketchikan could ever hope for.

At any rate, you can bid on the HMS Invincible yourself if you like. Bidding ends on January 5. It would make a heck of a stocking stuffer.



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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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