Recently I had the good fortune to be invited to Sydney to tour of the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), the HMAS Canberra. Tours aren’t uncommon – organised open days attract thousands of visitors, snaking single file through the ship for around an hour. This opportunity though, to join an extended small-group private tour conducted personally by the ship’s captain, Commanding Officer Chris Smith, didn’t take much deliberation.
Here’s what I learned.
The Canberra is big. At 230 meters (757 feet), it’s the kind of big thing that can’t be photographed if you’re standing anywhere near it.
It’s not terribly fuel efficient. At full throttle the Canberra burns two litres of diesel per second. This might seem like a lot (because it is), but luckily the primary fuel tank is the size of an olympic swimming pool, and the diesel/electric hybrid ship can (unlike, say, a Prius) cruise half way around the planet without refueling. It also has another, smaller tank for aviation fuel, but that only holds around a thousand tonnes.
Captain Smith kindly allowed us to deviate from the usual tour itinerary, to see what exactly uses so much fuel. Collecting our complementary ear-plugs we descended to the engine room, and found these…
…and this thing.
These and a few other gadgets produce enough electricity to power a city the size of Darwin (pop. 140,000). Such energy is needed to, among other things, run the Canberra’s regional hospital-sized hospital; for the catering staff to prepare 4,000 meals a day and store enough food for a month; for the on-board desalination plant to produce 150 tonnes of fresh water daily… and propel the 28,000 tonne ship to wherever she needs to go.
We suggested that Captain Smith indulge us with a quick spin around Sydney Harbour, but he politely declined. I guess he didn’t want to risk losing his parking spot, and I can only assume parking’s a bitch.
It’s probably not insured for theft. Well I really have no idea, but even if someone did manage to get hold of the keys (if there are keys), I imagine there wouldn’t be too many people in the world who’d know how to start this thing, let alone make off with it.
It’s hot and it’s loud. Well, it wasn’t particularly loud on this day, but very hot inside. The ship wasn’t actually running (it must be deafening in full flight, considering we were issued ear plugs to visit the engine room of a ship running only auxiliary power). While docked, the Canberra is now supported by external power, which is inadequate for the ship’s air-conditioning system. Moored at Sydney’s Garden Island alongside some of Australia’s most expensive residences, the Canberra has been the subject of noise complaints (and continued displeasure about the wall of grey steel which has recently replaced the locals’ multi-million dollar views). There have been no reports (or denials) that this influenced Russell Crowe (wealthy person of note), to list his 30 million dollar apartment next door for sale in November 2016. Of course, while the sheer size of the HMAS Canberra is acknowledged (difficult not too really), it has also been pointed out that Garden Island has been a major naval base for 150 years, long before the neighbours moved in.
Canberra looks like an aircraft carrier… it’s not.
The Canberra-class is a Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ship, used to transport helicopters and amphibious assault vehicles of all shapes and sizes. At the front of the vessel, the ramp (referred to as the ‘ski jump’) is the only part of the ship which serves no actual purpose as the Australian miltary doesn’t use those kind of planes.
The RAN made enquiries about having the ski jump removed but the quote for that renovation was tens of millions, so it was decided to just leave it there. Most of the vehicles aboard the Canberra are kept and launched from below anyway.
So, there you have it… or more accurately, a small part of it. So, if you happen to like a lot of storage space and have your own deep-water port (and a spare US$1.5 billion), you might want to pick one up (naturally you’ll need another spare billion or two handy to keep it running).
The HMAS Canberra is still a new ship and has yet to be deployed for purposes of war, which is considered a good thing by all concerned. The Canberra’s primary role is that of regional peacekeeping and disaster relief. In February 2016 she and her crew assisted with aid and rebuilding efforts in Fiji after Cyclone Winston and in November 2016 departed for New Zealand after the Kaikoura earthquake. To date, the HMAS Canberra and her crew have been a welcome sight in every port, except of course some of the neighbours back home in Sydney (but hey, I guess you can’t please everyone – after all, it is a bloody big ship).
Big thanks to Captain Chris Smith and his crew for their time and generous hospitality. Great day out!