Commencement Week for the US Naval Academy in Annapolis Maryland is a major event for both the Graduates and Midshipman at the Academy, and also for the city of Annapolis. Besides the influx of families and friends of the staff, instructors and the Midshipman, it attracts tourists from all over the United States and the rest of the world. Probably the biggest draw and most anticipated event is the flight demonstration performed by the Navy's Blue Angels precision flying squadron.
At the end of World War II, the Chief of Naval Operations, Chester W. Nimitz, ordered the formation of a flight demonstration team to keep the public interested in Naval Aviation. The Blue Angels performed their first flight demonstration less than a year later in June 1946 at their home base, Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, Florida. LCDR Roy "Butch" Voris led the team, flying the Grumman F6F Hellcat.
Two months later, on August 25, 1946, the Blue Angels transitioned to the Grumman F8F Bearcat. The 1947 team, led by LCDR Robert Clarke, introduced the now-famous "Diamond Formation."
By the end of the 1940s, the Blue Angels were flying their first jet aircraft, the Grumman F9F-2 Panther. In response to the demands placed on Naval Aviation in the Korean Conflict, the team reported to the aircraft carrier USS Princeton as the nucleus of Fighter Squadron 191 (VF-191), "Satan’s Kittens," in 1950.
The team reorganized the next year and reported to NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, where they began flying the newer and faster version of the Panther, the F9F-5. The Blue Angels remained in Corpus Christi until the winter of 1954 when they relocated to their present home base at NAS Pensacola, Florida. Here they progressed to the swept wing Grumman F9F-8 Cougar. The ensuing 20 years saw the Blue Angels transition to two more aircraft, the Grumman F11F-1 Tiger (1957) and the McDonnell Douglas F-4J Phantom II (1969).
On November 8, 1986, the Blue Angels completed their 40th anniversary year when they unveiled their present aircraft, the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet, the first dual-role fighter/attack aircraft, which is still serving on the nation’s front lines of defense. In 1992, more than one million people viewed Blue Angels’ performances during a 30-day European deployment to Sweden, Finland, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy, the United Kingdom and Spain. This was the first European deployment in 19 years.
The 2009 show season brought out more than 8 million spectators. Since 1946, the Blue Angels have performed for more than 463 million fans.
LetsGoCruising Charters, our neighbor at Yacht Haven Marina, works out an agreement to charter a boat for the day and get the entire staff and their families and friends out on the water to view the Blue Angels performance. Bringing a boat into Annapolis Harbor for this event is not for the faint of heart or for inexperienced boaters. Even with the event held on a weekday instead of a weekend, the harbor is jam packed, and we often joked that one could almost walk from boat to boat and get across the harbor. This year was no exception, and the crowds were almost as spectacular as the air show. If maneuvering in very close quarters and anchoring one boat right next to the other makes you nervous, than perhaps seeing the show from shore would be your best option.
We were given a brand new sailing catamaran that had just joined the fleet and we would be the first users. The boat had lots and lots of space for the some 14 of us and all of our food, snacks and drinks. We left the dock at noon after loading the provisions and crew on board, and maneuvered the 22-foot-wide cat out of the inside corner slip, out through the close pilings of the docks to the channel and through Annapolis Harbor. Many boats had come in the day before and filled the first-come, first-served moorings in the Harbor. Quite a few more had found their favorite anchorage spots all over the Harbor. The US Coast Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary, Maryland DNR and local law enforcement were out in force to control the crowds and maintain the established security zones. A channel through the Harbor was kept open, as well as the area immediately in front of the Naval Academy grounds.
We meandered through the crowds, weaving in and out of the anchored boats and vessels still looking for a good spot. Just getting the big cat around some of these spots without fouling someone's anchor rode was a fun exercise, but after a short time, we found a hole and dropped our hook. You really need to have a relaxed attitude for events like this, but unfortunately the folks in the boat next to us were just a bit uptight. They were not comfortable with this huge catamaran swinging close to them, and although they did not come out and say anything to us, the remarks could be easily heard on board our boat. So being the polite, considerate boaters that we are, we hauled up the anchor and moved over a bit, even though there was never any danger. Soon after we settled into our new spot, a 45-foot power boat dropped the hook right next to us, closer than we had been to the previous boat. The skipper politely asked if we were okay with where he anchored, and we simply joked that time would tell, and we could both keep an eye on each other. We even suggested that if it became a problem, we could raft up and the other skipper agreed. We did comment that before we would consider that, we would have to know what goodies they had brought with them.
AM WNAV Radio, and it was obvious that the entire Harbor was tuned in. It added a nice touch to the event, as details and information on the planes and pilots were presented as they flew over. Everyone had a great time, and it seemed it was over all too soon. We waited for a while to let the crowd thin out, then pulled up the anchor and headed back to the dock. We followed in a large Coast Guard buoy tender and slowly threaded our way through the still large armada of boats, which included Coast Guard and Navy vessels. By around 4:30 p.m., we had the boat back in the slip, and were packing up and unloading what we had not consumed during the afternoon. It was agreed that the day had been a great success, and we needed to find an excuse to do this again soon, especially since the boss was paying for it.