Sir John Franklin, newest coast guard vessel, officially ‘baptized’

It may have been described as a wet, dull thump, but Roger Girouard is quick to point out the ceremonial smashing of a champagne bottle against the hull of the Canadian Coast Guard’s newest vessel Thursday was an effective, wet, dull thump — and a good omen for the vessel’s life at sea.

The coast guard’s assistant commissioner, on hand for the dedication to service ceremony for the 64-metre CCGS Sir John Franklin, said the tradition of christening a ship is an important step in setting a tone for its career.

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“It’s about baptizing this new entity. I’m a mariner. I’m superstitious and I believe in Neptune and I also believe that ships have souls and that’s why you baptize an entity that is steel and flesh and set it into motion,” he said. “Ships have personality and character and it’s important you set that off on the right course.”

The task of swinging the bottle — wrapped in a fine mesh bag to collect the shards, cork and wrapping — was given to noted marine scientist Verena Tunnicliffe, the ship’s civilian sponsor who managed to break it on the first pass.

According to the coast guard, it’s a tradition for a civilian to sponsor a vessel for its well-being, continued service and to wish it good luck.

“It’s a good omen that it all went well,” said Girouard, adding, with a laugh, that with a bag covering the bottle some of the spectacle is lost with no spraying glass and bubbles. “But good omens are important, sailors are all a little superstitious.

“I’m from the school where Neptune will tease you and if you ignore him, he’ll tease you again. If you ignore him again, he’ll smack you.”

And according to Girouard, the Franklin doesn’t need any of that teasing. “The Franklin had a couple of little curve balls along the way,” he said.

Early in the manufacturing process, there were problems with some welding that had to be dealt with, and then during sea trials this year it struck the Ogden Point breakwater, damaging its rudder, rudder post, propeller, tail shaft and parts of the port stern quarter. “So we wanted to make sure we set the course correctly after that,” said Girouard. “That today went right is a good omen and we are on track, paying attention to Neptune and she’s off to a good start.”

Thursday’s ceremony included an official naming ceremony and a First Nation blessing.

The Sir John Franklin, which was handed over to the coast guard in June by Seaspan Shipyards, is the first newly built large ship in the fleet for 30 years. It is the first large vessel designed and built under the federal government’s national shipbuilding strategy, and the first of three offshore fisheries science vessels being constructed by Seaspan.

The Franklin is considered a major upgrade from the CCGS W.E. Ricker, which it replaces. It was designed specifically to meet the needs of the coast guard and scientists from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The vessel includes high-tech fishing trawls, laboratories and a deployable drop keel. It will serve as a platform for DFO to monitor health of fish stocks and better understand the impacts of climate change.

The Franklin puts to sea Saturday to start sea trials with its crew to allow the 28 sailors to get used to the gear and systems.

There is no date set for its first scientific voyage.

Girouard said the crew and ship are both keen to get on the water. “The crew has been asking when can we go to sea? And the ship was pulling at her lines today so she’s ready to go as well.”

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