Navy frigate gives visitors an eyeful as it prepares for sovereignty exercise

HMCS Fredericton struts its stuff


Commander Bob Auchterlonie has a warning for visitors trying to navigate the cramped stairwells of the HMCS Fredericton.

"If you're not facing a ladder you'll find a quick way down," he says, as some of the 206 crew members of the Navy frigate scuttle up and down as if they're navigating a typical staircase.

The Fredericton, affectionately known to its crew as "Freddie," was at anchor on Frobisher Bay last week gearing up for Operation Nanook. The sovereignty exercise saw the ship link up with the coast guard, RCMP and other government agencies for drug bust and environmental clean-up exercises in the South Baffin area last week.

The ship's crew is happy to show off the Fredericton's capabilities and invited about 100 Canadian Rangers, reporters, and Iqalummiut to come aboard for a demonstration.

First of all, while the ship is nearly 135 metres long and stands about the height of a three-storey building out of the water, it can move in a hurry.

Speaking over the public address system, Auchterlonie says the Fredericton can get from zero to 30 knots (56 kilometres an hour) in one minute and ten seconds and back to a dead stop in another 40 seconds, needing just 250 metres to screech to a halt.

To generate this power, the ship burns 5,500 litres of diesel per hour at top speed, while generating 1,200 kilowatts of electricity to run the all of the ship's myriad systems.

The crew then shows off Fredericton's maneuvering capabilities, getting up to speed and then making sharp weaving turns, banking the ship about 30 degrees. The landlubber guests hang on to the rails for dear life, but the crew stand casually on the flight deck, feet wide apart, hands crossed behind their backs. They've done this before.

While Halifax-class frigates like the Fredericton are the smallest in the Navy's fleet, they're also the most versatile. Built in the early 1990s primarily for anti-submarine warfare, the frigates have taken on new roles, such as law enforcement on the high seas past Canada's 200-mile territorial limit.

"They're pretty much the workhorse of the Navy right now," says bridge watch keeper Andrew Tunstall.

The crew shows off the Fredericton's flexibility by chucking a dummy nicknamed Oscar over the side. To cries of "Man overboard!" sailors stationed at the ship's bow point back towards poor Oscar, who's floating helplessly in the frigid water.

The ship banks hard around and dispatches a Zodiac with two sailors to fish the dummy out of the water. It's done in four minutes and 17 seconds, Auchterlonie reports.

But for all its rescue capabilities, the Fredericton is still a weapon of war, equipped with missiles, torpedoes, depth charges and machine guns. It's also equipped with a Phalanx anti-missile system that can spray out 1,500 rounds of ammunition in 20 seconds to shoot down certain types of incoming rockets.

Then there is the 57-millimetre cannon that can hurl 121 shells up to 17 kilometres before being reloaded.

"It's deadly accurate," says master seaman Robert Keenan.

Back on the flight deck, Canadian Ranger Jack Maktar of Pond Inlet is battling a case of seasickness. He says he's not used to the slow, rolling movement of a boat as big as the Fredericton.

Nevertheless, Maktar is thoroughly impressed with the ship.

"It's very cool. I love it," he says. "It's probably faster than my boat."

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