When you’re underway on a Navy ship, there is nothing quite like a port visit.
It’s a chance to get a little downtime and de-stress. You can get off the ship and stretch your legs. It’s also a great opportunity to experience another culture in all of its glory.
Port visits are the reason that a lot of people enlist in the military in the first place. “Join the Navy, see the world.” I wanted to take a moment to share some of my favourites from over the years.
To be honest, I haven’t seen a huge number of ports. I’ve deployed three times and had countless smaller underways, but there are a ton of sailors that have more time at sea than me (including my younger brother).
All of my deployments have been from the East coast and destined for the Arabian Gulf. They involved 1 or 2 quick stops in the Mediterranean and then straight through the Suez Canal.
My next ship will be on the West Coast, so I’m excited that I will have the opportunity to experience the Asian and Australian ports in the future.
It’s worth mentioning that you don’t necessarily look for the same things in a port visit that you would for a family vacation. There are normally 2 things that I try to accomplish during a port visit.
First, as a history buff, I like to experience some of my destination’s past. I love touring Roman ruins and old castles.
Second, I like to find some downtime and relax. When you only have a few days in a new country, the options can be pretty overwhelming. After the intense underway schedule of the past weeks, sometimes the best thing to do is lie down on the beach with a cool beverage.
Where family vacations sometimes become an effort to fit everything in, port visits sometimes become a struggle to leave things out.
With all that being said, here’s a list of the places that I’ve pulled into on ships. You’ll see that the list isn’t huge, but there’s a pretty good variety. In the Med, I’ve been to Rota* (Spain), Toulon (France), Augusta Bay (Sicily) (x2), Crete (x2), Malta, Haifa (Israel), and Marmaris (Turkey). In the Indian Ocean/Arabian Gulf, I’ve been to the Seychelles, Jebel Ali/Dubai (x2), and Bahrain (x ~15). On my first ship, we made a month long trip to the Caribbean where we visited Guantanamo Bay and St. Maarten. I also spent three weeks ashore in Djibouti, but that was for mission planning, so it doesn’t actually count. I may have missed one or two, but I think that’s all of them.
To be honest, I’ve enjoyed all of the visits to varying degrees, but 3 stand out above the rest.
3. St. Maarten – This place is really a tropical paradise in the Caribbean. Half the island is owned by the Dutch while the other half is French.We pulled in on the Dutch side, took an absolutely terrifying cab ride (now that I think about it, every cab ride I’ve taken outside of the U.S. has been terrifying) across the hills over to the French side where we had a great wardroom party at a bungalow that was rented out.
I also remember walking along the pier and having to pay $4 for a bottle of water when I could get a beer for $1. St. Maarten is probably most famous for its horrifying airport that requires the planes to make their approach directly over a crowded beach.
2. Malta – Malta is an island in the Mediterranean that has been viewed a vitally located strategically. Therefore, throughout history, it has been conquered by pretty much every great power in the history of Europe and Northern Africa. As a result, there is an enormous amount of history that is easy to explore. For someone with a bachelor’s degree in Medieval European History, this was a dream come true. Mdina is a walled-medieval town where you can walk around and really feel the history. Watching old-fashioned glass blowing there may have been the highlight of the entire trip (with the possible exception of sitting in a Scottish bar and watching a Maltese Elvis impersonator sing Johnny Cash songs).
1. Marmaris, Turkey – This was, without a doubt, my favourite port. The first day, my friend and I wandered though the market. I bought some very high quality leather jackets for the entire family. For dinner, we ate some sort of meat on a stick that was absolutely awesome.
On the second day, we rented a taxi boat out for the entire day. We paid the owner/driver $200 (split between 8 people) to just take us around the awesome bay and show us to some of the islands. We rode around the lagoon all day, jumping in the water whenever we felt like it, and pulling into island restaurants whenever we were hungry. I had also burned several discs the night before to play on the boat’s sound system, including Bon Jovi’s greatest hits (possibly the most powerful tool on earth). Turkey was the perfect combination of local history and relaxation that really makes a good port visit. While I have enjoyed all of my port calls, this was the one that I think back on most fondly. With any luck, my future deployments will take me to even more terrific locations.
*Rota is actually west of the Strait of Gibraltar and therefore, technically, outside the Mediterranean.Opinions expressed here do not represent the Department of defence, or its components.
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