Friday, 24 March 2017

Shubenacadie Wildlife Park

We try to drag the kids out to the Shubenacadie Wildlife Park once each year, and winter is usually the best time to do it. The weather isn't too warm, so the animals tend to be out and about, rather than hiding in the shade somewhere. 

The various cages and fences at the wildlife park present challenges to the photographer. In the case of the exotic birds, you can at least approach right up to the side of the cage, and I was able to shoot through the openings in the wire mesh of each cage to get the next two images.

Blue-eared Pheasant. It was fairly close to the cage, and far from the wall at the back, so this close-up of its head nicely blurs the background to make it less obvious the bird is in a cage.

Red Golden Pheasant. Someone on my Twitter feed remarked on the resemblance to Donald Trump, and now I can't avoid seeing it every time I look at the photo.
Fortunately, the Peacocks are allowed to roam freely throughout the park, so I didn't have to shoot through any fences. This is the first time I think I have seen one just sitting there, rather than wandering around.

The wolves and foxes add to the challenge in that not only are they behind chain link, but there is an additional railing some meters away from the fence so that you can't put your fingers through the fence (and potentially lose them if the animal is feeling peckish or peavish), which prevents one from getting the camera right up to the fence and shooting through the openings in the chain link. If you are skilled, careful, or at least lucky, you can sometimes shoot through chain link without it showing up in the image. I set my 70-200mm lens to its widest aperture (f/4), providing its narrowest possible depth of field, and as long as the animal was far enough away from the fence I managed to get a few images without the image being noticeably degraded by the fence. 

Arctic Wolf.

Although we were there in January, the snow on the ground itself had mostly melted, or perhaps just hadn't fallen under the trees. I liked the way the snow on the pond contrasted with the remaining colour in the trees and undergrowth in the photo below.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

HMCS ATHABASKAN: Final Week in Commission and Paying Off

HMCS ATHABASKAN's final week was an active one, with two family and/or previous crewmember cruises on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then her final sailpast and paying off ceremony on Friday.

I was otherwise occupied on Wednesday, and would have become very wet indeed had I attempted to document her cruise that day in the rain, but I did manage to time my trip to work on Tuesday with ATHABASKAN's departure for her family cruise. Thankfully, the sun was out on Tuesday and there was a bit of blue sky in the background.

ATHABASKAN backing out on Tuesday before heading out on a family cruise.
Passing the lighthouse on George's Island.
ATHABASKAN heads out under a clear(ish) blue sky.
On her final day in service, ATHABASKAN left the jetty just before noon, and headed down the Halifax shore with her battle ensign flying and her paying off pennant rigged, but not deployed. 

Heading out on her final trip.

Battle ensign flying, and the paying off pennant, not yet deployed, barely visible and hanging down over the port hangar door.
She took the western passage around George's Island before turning to port and heading back up the eastern side of the harbour and proceeding up into Bedford Basin with a gaggle of Sea Kings in tow.

She was pursued by a total of three Sea Kings, a two-ship formation, and this one which I believe was the camera platform.

The other two Sea Kings were the actual "ceremonial" helicopters that appear in most of the official photos.

All three Sea Kings flying together in formation.
The paying off ceremony itself was open to the public, so a bunch of us headed up and entered the Dockyard via the gate at HMCS SCOTIAN. I was therefore able to stake out a spot at the end of the jetty to capture ATHABASKAN's final sailpast from the narrows, taking a salute from Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, Rear-Admiral John Newton, and Commodore Craig Baines in the process. Followed by Navy tugs with fire fighting monitors spraying, ATHABASKAN emerged from the narrows flying her paying off pennant, although even the attached balloons were not enough to keep the pennant completely aloft while the ship was travelling with the wind.

The wind wasn't cooperating, and the paying off pennant was only visible for short periods during the final sailpast. You can see it here, along with multiple balloons, hanging down to the water on the ship's port side.

By the time she cleared the bridge, her paying off pennant was hidden behind the mast, funnel, and hangar.

Here is the end of ATHABASKAN's 386 foot long pennant hanging down past the stern and into the water. 
According to comments left on one of my photos on Facebook, ATHABASKAN was able to open up the throttles slightly to achieve 10 knots after clearing the review platform at the end of our jetty in the Dockyard, and the paying off pennant once again took flight for its entire length.

ATHABASKAN starts her turn to port with her pennant streaming out behind her.

This is probably the best image I captured of ATHABASKAN's paying off pennant, flying for its complete length and not hanging into the water. She is turning to port in this photo, and I believe the pennant was stowed right after this photo.
The pennant was stowed as she turned to port, to avoid fouling the propellers while she approached the jetty. I was concentrating on taking photos so I can't be certain, but it seemed to me that despite the wind pushing her onto the jetty, ATHABASKAN managed to come alongside with no assistance from the three tugs present. That same wind made for a windchill of -8, and felt colder - layered as I was, I wondered how others on the jetty in seemingly lighter clothing managed to stick it out.

ATHABASKAN approaches the jetty.

The last frame I captured where the entire ship fit into a single frame. A sailor stands ready at the jackstaff to raise the ship's jack (Canada's national flag, the Maple Leaf). Her battle ensign and paying off pennant are now stowed, but she still flies what I assume is her call sign from the mast along with a few other flags. On her starboard side, she flies her commissioning pennant Cmdre Baines' (the fleet commander) Broad Pennant from the mast (white flag with red cross and a maple leaf in the upper left corner). Thanks to Brian Wentzell, for catching my mistake.

Cdr Couillard (third from right) keeps close watch from the port bridge wing as ATHABASKAN makes her final jetty approach under her own power.
After coming alongside, tying up, and once the brows were fixed, the ship's jack and ensign were raised and the crew manned the port rail from stem to stern.

Naval Jack flying once again, the crew mans the port rail on the foc'st'le.

Crew manning the port main-deck rail between the bridge and hangar.
Everyone at the end of the jetty were hustled back to the side of the VIP tent, and the ceremony began: the Stadacona Band played the national anthem, and ATHABASKAN's captain, Commander Jean Couillard addressed the crowd from the port bridge wing.

Stadacona Band.
Stadacona Band.

Cdr Couillard addressed the crowd.
The ceremony was not completely sombre. In addition to suggesting that any lack of finesse on ATHABASKAN's final jetty approach were the result of a power struggle with a Commodore (and former commander) on board, Cdr Couillard was careful to point out that he had taken photos of the ship when he took possession of ATHABASKAN, and he was pretty sure all the dents were there when he got her...and that some of the actual culprits were probably present in the crowd. Cdr Couillard also took time to praise his family for dealing with his frequent and lengthy absences over the last two years, as well as his crew, the latter statement I will paraphrase as "A ship without a crew is merely a grey steel box." and that he was fortunate to have led such a great team.

Her call sign has already been hauled down from the mast.
The ship's cox'n led a cheer of the ship's motto, "We Fight as One".

Caps were removed for reciting the ship's motto.
Cdr Couillard then called down to the engine room to state that he was finished with main engines, to shut down the engines (video link here) for the final time (interestingly, it was stated that she was being put into "extended readiness to sail"), and the ship's crew departed the ship and assembled on the jetty between the ship and the gathered crowd.

The crew departs the ship's foc'st'le.

The ship's crew gathered on the jetty.
As the ship's colours were lowered from the bow and stern and presented to Cdr Couillard, the ship's commissioning pennant Commodore's Broad Pennant was also lowered and the red-and-white striped "port" or "out of routine" flag was hoisted up the mast. Colin Darlington, of RUSI(NS), informs me that "At the end of the paying off (the ceremony), a red and white striped 'port' flag is hoisted. The port flag (which is actually used to indicate the port direction for most signals - there is a starboard flag too) in this case means 'out of routine,' that is, there is no one on board to respond to signals (flag, light) to the ship or otherwise carry out ceremonial actions. The port flag is flown by any ship out of routine; you will see it on Kingston-class ships which have no ship's company (not all of the 12 Kingstons are manned at any time). What indicates that a ship has been paid off and is no longer in active service (that is, she is out of commission) is the absence of the commissioning pennant."

ATHABASKAN's Naval Jack is lowered for the final time.

The red-and-white striped "port" or "out of routine" flag now flies from the mast. This is not to be confused with the red and white striped "barbepole brigade" marking on the radar platform to the left, a vestige of markings worn by the Second World War's Escort Group C-3 (and later Escort Group C-5, plus the Fifth Canadian Escort Squadron, and later still all commissioned RCN surface vessels on the East Coast). The barberpole markings are better displayed in photos above, particularly that of Cdr Couillard giving his address.
VAdm Lloyd and RAdm Newton both said a few words, and then it was time for the padres to complete the ceremony.

VAdm Lloyd.

RAdm Newton.
The ceremony wraps up.

VAdm Lloyd departs the jetty after the ceremony.
Cdr Couillard then led his crew off the jetty, and I retreated to the ferry terminal to head home and out of the cold.

ATHABASKAN's crew leaves the jetty after the ceremony.
Athabaskan is no longer in commission, and can no longer be referred to as "HMCS ATHABASKAN" in the present tense, although she may be referred to as "Ex-HMCS ATHABASKAN". I'm not sure what the official etiquette is, but as readers may have noticed in previous posts, I typically refer to naval vessels in the commission of any nation by writing their names all in capital letters (e.g. HMCS ATHABASKAN), while other non-commissioned vessels I refer to by instead italicizing the name (in the particular case of this post, "Athabaskan").

The now paid off Athabaskan, her port flag flying.
All of these photos shown here, plus some additional images, are displayed in a gallery on my Smugmug website.

For those interested in the finer details of paying off ships from Royal Canadian Navy commission, I recommend Colin Darlington's article on the subject on the RUSI(NS) website. Colin was also kind enough to give me some background on the "out of routine" flag, as mentioned above. 

Friday, 3 March 2017

Ships on Ships

Occasionally ship traffic in Halifax differs from the typical container ships, car carriers, and warships. Sometimes, you get a ship carrying another ship, or better yet, a ship carrying a warship. Such was the case this past Monday when Big Lift's Happy River arrived carrying a corvette from the Bahamas.

Happy River carrying HMBS BAHAMAS.
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force employs a number of smaller naval vessels in and around the archipelago state. Two ~200 foot long offshore patrol vessels, HMBS BAHAMAS and NASSAU, are in the process of their mid-life refits. NASSAU was sent to Damen in The Netherlands for her refit, and BAHAMAS was supposedly undergoing her refit in the Bahamas. However, it was BAHAMAS (her hull number of P60 is still barely visible on her transom) that showed up on the deck of Happy River during what I assume was a short stopover. This suggests to me that either the refit was not progressing well in the Bahamas, or it was always planned to complete the refit at the Damen yard.

HMBS BAHAMAS on the deck of Happy River
Halifax Shipping News has suggested that some Damen containers were dropped off in Halifax when the two locally reassembled OSVs Atlantic Griffon and Atlantic Shrike were delivered, and Happy River may have been dropping by to pick them up for the trip back to Damen. Indeed, there was already a Damen-labelled shipping container on Happy River's deck, which helped narrow down HMBS BAHAMAS' identity by giving us the Damen connection (a number of us on social media worked to identify her on Monday morning).

NASSAU is supposed to return to the Bahamas on her own keel once her refit is complete, and presumably BAHAMAS will do the same, although there is a snarky comment in her Wikipedia article suggesting she rarely goes to see, possibly because the RBDF can't afford the fuel. They might be better off waiting until BAHAMAS is also complete her refit and ship them both back on the same heavy-lift vessel.

Happy River carrying HMBS BAHAMAS.

Happy River carrying HMBS BAHAMAS.
Keeping pace with Happy River to help her out when she got into the narrows was Atlantic Willow

Atlantic Willow with Happy River in the background.
Atlantic Willow proceeded slowly up the harbour very close to the Halifax shore, which I greatly appreciated for these two photos. 

Rising sun reflections from a building on the Halifax waterfront illuminated Atlantic Willow's port side.
This is not the first time heavy lift vessels have carried warships in and out of Halifax Harbour. After her fire on her maiden trans-atlantic attempt while in RCN commission, HMCS CHICOUTIMI was towed back to the UK, and eventually made her way to Canada with the help of Eide Transporter - a ship that is essentially a self-propelled seagoing drydock. 

Eide Transporter bringing HMCS CHICOUTIMI to Halifax in February 2005.
CHICOUTIMI was towed out of Eide Transporter's well, and taken to the Dockyard for a lengthy inspection. 

CHICOUTIMI in the foreground, with Eide Transporter hull-down in the background to allow CHICOUTIMI to float out.
It was later decided to refit CHICOUTIMI on the West Coast, and another semi-submersible heavy lift vessel, this time Dockwise Tern, was hired to take her there.

Fast forward to April 2009, when CHICOUTIMI was again deck cargo, this time on Dockwise Tern.
Fast forward again to early 2017, and CHICOUTIMI has just recently started sea trials, after more time had to be spent after her refit fixing substandard welds.

Saturday, 25 February 2017


The Royal Canadian Navy has announced in the last month or so that HMCS ATHABASKAN will be paid off from service on March 10. Commissioned on September 30, 1972, this will give her just shy of 45 years of service. The four IROQUOIS class destroyers were a great leap forward when they were introduced in the early 1970's and received mid-life refits to provide Area Air Warfare (AAW) capability in the early 1990s. HURON was paid off in 2005 (and later sunk for target practice during an exercise) after being laid up for a few years, and ALGONQUIN was paid off in 2015 after making contact in 2013 with HMCS PROTECTEUR during a towing exercise which resulted in her port hangar getting shredded. IROQUOIS was also paid off in 2015 after worrying cracks and rust were discovered in critical locations. IROQUOIS and ALGONQUIN are both currently in Liverpool, NS, for breaking up.

ATHABASKAN is now the last of the four ships in service.

ATHABASKAN in her original configuration as an anti-submarine destroyer. Photo courtesy of Corvus Publishing Group / Canada's Navy.
After the previous RCN classes of anti-submarine destroyers (other navies classified similar ships as frigates), the IROQUOIS class introduced a number of new concepts to the RCN (indeed, some were new to the navies of the world) including all gas turbine propulsion (in a COGOG arrangement), air defence missiles, and a hangar for two large anti-submarine helicopters. They were proper destroyers. I will borrow some text from my summary on the Hazegray and Underway website:

"These four ships were the first warships in the world to depend entirely on gas turbine propulsion (COGOG). Economical cruising power was provided by two efficient cruise gas turbines, while high speeds of up to 29 knots or greater could be reached with two boost turbines. When commissioned, they were excellent ASW platforms, and were the first Canadian destroyers to carry two helicopters. Based upon the hull design of the cancelled 1960s era General Purpose frigates, they were instantly recognizable due to their infamous 'playboy bunny' funnels. Command facilities were included in the ships. This class of ship influenced the design of the USN's SPRUANCE class destroyers. 

As built, they were armed with a quick-firing OTO Melara 5"/54 forward, which provided them with good anti-surface and naval gunfire support capability, as well as close-ranged anti-aircraft defence. Point anti-aircraft defence was provided by NATO Sea Sparrow missiles, launched via a one-of-a-kind twin quad launcher situated just forward of the bridge. No other ships, in any navy, used this system. The missiles would be trained outboard of the launcher (in the deckhouse forward of the bridge) on launcher arms port and starboard, with four missiles to an arm. The arms would be brought back inboard for reloading. Anti-submarine capability was provided by two Mk.32 triple torpedo launchers, port and starboard, in addition to helicopter launched torpedoes. As well, a single Mk.NC 10 Limbo ASW mortar was provided in a well in the quarterdeck, aft of the helicopter deck.

At the time, much was made of the fact that these ships tied together, in a viable package, an Italian gun, American missiles and torpedoes, Canadian sonar, and a Dutch radar and fire control system.

During the Gulf War of 1990/91, ATHABASKAN was sent to the Persian Gulf along with two other ships. She was quickly upgraded with a new mine-avoidance sonar, along with a Phalanx 20mm CIWS (mounted over the Limbo mortar well) and shoulder launched Blowpipe and Javelin missiles. When USS PRINCETON was disabled after hitting a mine in the northern Gulf, ATHABASKAN escorted a tug to her rescue and escorted both ships back out through the minefield.

In the late 1980s / early 1990s, these ships were modified under the TRUMP program. This refit program saw the installation of new anti-aircraft missiles, main gun, radars, fire control system, and the addition of a CIWS gun system."

Looking out over ATHABASKAN's modernized foc'st'le, with the new 76mm gun and a 32-cell Mk.32 vertical launch system taking the place of the original 127mm gun.
The TRUMP refit changed the appearance of these ships, but if you look at them the right way their impressive lines are still apparent.
ATHABASKAN was on display, and open for tours, during the RCN's centennial in 2010.
Although too late to photograph any of these ships in their original configuration, I have captured a large number of images of ATHABASKAN since the mid-1990s. I will show some of my favourites here.

A scan from film, this is one of my earliest images of ATHABASKAN. She had not yet been fitted with the SATCOM domes either side of the funnel at this point. This was probably taken in the 1990s.

Another, later, scan from film, this time from the early 2000s.The starboard SATCOM dome is now present.

ATHABASKAN was the review ship for the Tall Ships Parade of Sail in 2004. She is shown here saluting Pride of Baltimore II.
Part of the TRUMP refit was the addition of modern Command and Control facilities, and the IROQUOIS class were prized for their ability to lead a task group. Although this ability has been retrofitted to the HALIFAX class frigates during their FELEX mid-life refits, the latter's reduced accommodation space makes the ships rather cramped when fulfilling this role compared to the older destroyers. For ATHABASKAN, this led to leading roles in disaster relief missions to the US after Hurricane Katrina (Operation Unison) and Haiti after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake (Operation Hestia). 

ATHABASKAN was one of four ships sent south to help with Hurricane Katrina recovery in 2006 (Operation Unison). 

A Sea King escorts ATHABASKAN out of the harbour for Op Unison.

ATHABASKAN leading out the Operation Unison task group.
ATHABASKAN leading out a separate task group in 2009.
A Sea King hovers over the deck of ATHABASKAN.
After ATHABASKAN's last refit in St. Catharines, ON, she was towed to Halifax and broke her tow, sustaining some hull punctures during her recovery. Possibly due to the additional repairs required, her reduced remaining lifespan, or a combination of the two, ATHABASKAN was not fully reassembled after this refit. When she returned to service in 2013 for sea trials, she was missing her long range air search radar and fire control directors (and with them her ability to fire her long range air defence missiles) and torpedo tubes, in my opinion removing most of the capability that made her a destroyer. The variable depth sonar (VDS) had been removed prior to the last refit. She still retained her command and control facilities, however, and was still useful to lead task groups including the RCN contingent during the 2016 Cutlass Fury exercise.

Departing for Cutlass Fury.

At sunrise.

Rising sun reflecting on the hull and superstructure.
Against the rising sun.

The missing VDS is apparent in this photo.

Although all four ships had their cruise engines replaced in the 1990s, ATHABASKAN has tended in recent years to produce lots of smoke while the engines are fired up (although I have seen a photo from the 1970s recently where she was doing the same thing - so maybe she just has bad habits).

For the last photo, we will pretend this is an appropriate sunset (it's actually a misty sunrise).
ATHABASKAN is the only one of her sisters that gets to pay off on a high note (knock on wood) and go straight to being paid off from active service - her sisterships all paid off after an inactive period alongside. ATHABASKAN is still at sea as I write this, mere weeks before her retirement.

The impressive appearance of these ships will be missed by this photographer.