Local man enjoys visit aboard ‘Freddy’

Duff, flats, galley, racks, hatches, bulkheads, killicks, GTs, PDEs, degaussing ranges, RHIBs, bridge wings, the dogs, the serpent or tail, wardroom, the XO, HODS, EO, FMF.
The above terms, and more acronyms than I care to remember, were part of the four days I recently spent aboard the Canadian patrol frigate HMCS Fredericton.
The “Freddy,” launched in 1993, displaces 5,000 tons and is 450 feet long and 53 feet at its widest point. She (all ships are shes) is based in Halifax and manned by a crew of about 230 men and women.
If the helicopter is on board, 30 of these are officers.
The Fredericton leaves for a six-month NATO tour this month after a three-month maintenance cycle at the FMF (Flat Maintenance Facility).
With no helicopter on board and some officers away training, there was a berth available in the cabin of my son, Garfield. He is the EO (Engineering Officer) and is a HOD (Head of Department)–one of four on the ship.
A Canadian warship is not designed as a cruise ship. There are no stairs between the four decks, just hatches in the floor and ladders. The flats (hallways) are broken up every few meters by watertight doors.
Certain doors and hatches are always kept shut, and are opened and closed with large locking handles. All lights are turned off in the flats at dusk (except for red lights, the ship is in darkness).
There is little deck outside on which to walk as most outside space is cluttered with weapons and other equipment.
For the crew, 35 of whom are women, there are not many creature comforts. The officers (two are women) live two to a cabin (8’x10’), the petty officers (six to a cabin), and the seamen 18 to a mess (a room with six tiers of three bunks and not much else).
While at sea, all the crew work two watches (shifts) a day (e.g., seven hours on, five hours off, five hours on, and seven hours off every day with no break).
In the MCR (Machinery Control Room), the watch keepers work one in three (one out of every three watches). The two two-hour shifts are called dog watches.
Since I was berthing with Garfield, I ate in the wardroom (the officers’ lounge and dining room) while the seamen ate in the ship’s cafeteria. The captain ate above in his cabin. All ate the same food prepared in the galley (kitchen). The officers were served by ship’s stewards.
By tradition, the captain can only enter the wardroom by invitation or by throwing in his hat first.
I spent most of my time with Garfield in the MCR–an extremely noisy and busy place where all the safety and mechanical systems of the ship are monitored and controlled, including the two General Electric GTs (gas turbine engines used in DC 10s) and the PDE (Propulsion Diesel Engine)–a 20 cylinder monster.
Electricians and stokers keep an eye on all the generators and pumps as well as the water-making tanks.
Fire alarms and suppression devices are monitored as well as fuel consumption. Hull technicians keep an eye on the ship structure and repair when required.
I also visited the operations room–a dark cavern-like room full of computer screens where CSEO’s (Combat System Engineering Officers) track and electronically “kill” planes that are sent out from Halifax to test the “Freddy’s” computer software.
I was on the bridge when the 57mm gun was fired at a floating target on the horizon. The CIWS (Close In Weapon System) also was test fired; it’s a Gatling gun that destroys incoming missiles.
Before either firing, elaborate safety precautions were put in place.
At midnight, I saw the crew deploy the tail or serpent–a 5,000 foot cable with an 800’ passive sonar device at the end. I also visited the galley and the huge fridges and storage lockers that supply the ship over its NATO tour.
Everybody claimed the “Freddy” has the navy’s best cooks.
In Bedford Basin, we ran a series of “degaussing” runs to check the magnetic signature of the ship. Out in the Atlantic, the ship was run at several different speeds, including two hours at 30 knots. This trial was done at 3 a.m., followed by hard turns to port (left) and starboard (right) to check the rudder.
As the ship keeled over on each turn, I barely saved myself from being thrown out of my top rack (bunk) before being plastered against the bulk head (wall) on the next turn (and so it went on for 10 minutes).
When not in the MCR, I was on the bridge–a strangely silent place except for the continual radio chatter and the commands of the OOW (Officer of the Watch), the XO (Executive Officer), and the navigator’s instructions.
When the CO (captain) spoke, it was usually done very quietly but with absolute authority as he has sole responsibility for all the crew and a $500 million ship. Also on the bridge are the helmsmen and throttlemen, as well as two killicks (ordinary seamen) lookouts.
The XO, the ship’s administration officer, and with the Cox’n (the senior enlisted men on board who administers the day-to-day life of the enlisted men), along with the four heads of department, report directly to the captain and make repeated visits to the bridge.
During the sea trials, men from the FMF came and went from the ship by way of the RHIB (rigid hulled inflatable boat)–a 23-foot inboard/outboard cross between an inflatable dinghy and a large skiff. This avoided the ship having to dock–a time-consuming process involving tugs.
Dressed in orange survival suits and lifejackets, they had to clamber down a rope ladder and jump into the RHIB as it motored alongside the moving ship.
This was one experience in which I chose not to participate.
The whole crew–from captain to the ordinary seamen–were very friendly, and were only too willing to talk about their jobs. They were all obviously very proud of their skills and their ship.
On my final day out, 60 miles from shore in a seemingly empty ocean, the CO invited me to steer the ship. The command from the OOW “15° Starboard” held for several minutes, followed by “Midships,” turned the Fredericton 180° back towards Halifax.
Later that day, the “Freddy” fuelled with 160 cubic metres of diesel (160,000 litres) and I flew back to Fort Frances with memories to last a lifetime, and a great appreciation of the men and women who serve in our navy.
By the way, duff is dessert.

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