USS Washington Christening: A time-honored tradition in the U.S. Navy

This Saturday, March 5, in Newport News, Virginia, the U.S. Navy will celebrate the time-honored tradition of a ship's christening as USS Washington Sponsor, Elisabeth Mabus, breaks a ceremonial bottle of sparkling American wine across the bow of the USS Washington (SSN 787). In her capacity as Sponsor, Mabus, the eldest daughter of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, will be considered a permanent crewmember of the USS Washington and will serve as an advocate for the USS Washington, her crew, and their families throughout the life of the vessel.

Dating back thousands of years, a ship's christening has long been considered an important milestone in the lifecycle of a seagoing vessel. As early as the 3rd millennium BC, Babylonian history tells of pouring "three saris of Bitumen" over the side of a christened ship and "sacrificing oxen to the Gods" to ensure the safety of ships and their crew. Egyptians, Greeks and Romans also called upon their Gods for protection of their vessels and sailors, and countries the world over have shared in various traditions of a ship's christening. The first recorded history of the christening of an American warship is that of the USS Constitution, also known as "Old Iron Sides," in October of 1797. Her sponsor, Captain James Sever, is said to have remarked, "At fifteen minutes after twelve, she commenced a movement into the water with such steadiness, majesty and exactness as to fill every heart with sensations of joy and delight," and crushed a bottle of Madeira across her bow, a tradition long held sacred in the christening ceremony.

The USS Washington is the 14th in a planned line of 28 Virginia-class fast attack submarines, and upon her launch she will be the most technologically advanced submarine in the ocean. Measuring 7,800 tons, 377 feet in length, and 34 feet at the beam, Washington will operate at greater than 25 knots when submerged and will carry 38 full-sized weapons including heavyweight torpedoes, Tomahawk Land-Attack Missiles and mines.

Virginia-class submarines are designed specifically to operate in the littorals while maintaining the capacity for open ocean submarine warfare. From her superior sonar capabilities to the inclusion of the Photonics Mast, a series of high-resolution, color cameras integrated into two non-hull-penetrating masts that replace the traditional periscope of earlier submarines, these newest fast-attack submarines represent exciting advancements in the design, capability, and intelligence of the United States Navy submarine force.

As the first submarine ever to be named after the state of Washington, the USS Washington has generated much interest and publicity in our area and has been adopted by local Bremerton - Olympic Peninsula Council of the Navy League of the United States. The local chapter has been heavily involved with the publicity and support of the USS Washington as early as the announcement of her naming in 2013. Local delegates have attended Naming and Keel Laying Ceremonies and will also be present at this weekend's Christening in Virginia. Rear Admiral (ret.) Mike Sharp who serves as the Chairman of the Commission Committee attended, as did Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent.

Northwest Military News article By Jodi Ubelhor-Strauch