The Navy might steal the OpSail show

Surely the star of OpSail 2012 in New London is going to be the Cisne Branco, a magnificent sailing tall ship, the pride of the Brazilian navy.

But the USS Carter Hall, a 610-foot Navy dock ship, which can land Marines by the hundreds aboard cool hovercraft, is poised to steal the show.

The Carter Hall will do a little razzle dazzle the night before Saturday's Parade of Sail into New London, landing its captain at a Niantic beach in a big Hummer, which will then drive to ceremonies welcoming the crew members from all the OpSail ships.

That's something the Eagle and the Cisne Branco, as majestic as they may be, can't pull off, dispatching a hovercraft or fielding a helicopter.

After the Saturday morning parade, the Carter Hall will be moored at State Pier, where, from a distance, it will be a powerful backdrop to the city's skyline.

The Carter Hall is not as big as the 1,000-foot long cruise ship Explorer of the Seas, which turned a lot of heads in 2007 when it first squeezed into New London Harbor and tied up at State Pier.

The Explorer of the Seas, one of the world's tallest ships, made some subsequent stops in the city, and each time it created a spectacle.

I complained in a column back in April about a Navy admiral, one chairing the War of 1812 celebrations, when he said that New London's OpSail this year would fall low on a priority list of ports to send Navy ships to.

"You get a bigger bang for the buck in New York or in Boston than you would in New London," the retired admiral said.

Fortunately, wiser heads prevailed. I'd like to think Connecticut's congressional delegation helped bring a big ship to this famous Navy port.

In any case, New London's OpSail is getting a generous Navy contingent, including the show-stopping Carter Hall.

The Carter Hall is big enough to have it's own web site, www.carter-hall.navy.mil/. The ship has 22 officers, 25 chief petty officers, 302 enlisted men and can transport up to 500 Marines.

The captain, Cmdr. Damon K. Amaral, is a native of Coventry, R.I.

The ship, before it arrives in Niantic, will be killing some time in Bristol, R.I. The ship will be open to visitors there July 3-5, and people who want to go aboard can take a 30-minute boat ride to where it will be at anchor.

The boats to the Carter Hall will start running at 12:30 each day from the Bristol Coast Guard Station and leave every half hour until 4 p.m.

The boat rides sound like fun. But in New London you'll be able to just walk up the gangway.

I expect when people see the Carter Hall towering over the other entries in New London's Parade of Sail, the lines at State Pier will be long.

The Carter Hall is not especially pretty. There will be a lot of that at OpSail, anyway. But it's impressive.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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