THE USS Blue Ridge sailed into Cairns yesterday and its 1000-strong crew are set for a tropical break and ready to give back to the region.
American flags are flying around the city and tourism leaders said the six-day stop-over would bolster the region’s reputation in the US with "1000 advocates" posting photos on Facebook and tweeting about their experiences.
While many are on shore leave after the joint Australian-US Talisman Sabre military exercise, some sailors and marines will be lending a hand to clear debris from areas devastated by cyclone Yasi. The 40-year-old US command warship, which weighs 20,000 tonnes, is 194m long and has 13 levels, docked in port about 7.30am yesterday.
Within hours a steady stream of sailors – changed into their civvies – were on the way to the city, to relax, sightsee or have a beer, with some even splurging on a hotel room to get away from life at sea.
And Cairns businesses were banking on a million-dollar boost for the local economy.
The ship’s commanding officer Capt Dan Grieco said the Japanese-based families of some personnel had met them in Cairns to holiday and many others had booked hotels, Reef tours and planned to see a pub or two.
"They are very excited to come and be out, with the fun of the port," Capt Grieco, who is on his first trip to the city, said.
But there is still time to lend a hand with 30 sailors on a working bee at the Cairns Legacy widow’s home yesterday and others heading to Tully today.
"It’s an opportunity for the crew to give back as well, which they very much enjoy," Capt Grieco said.
US deputy chief of mission Jason Hyland said Cairns was a "much sought after liberty port" for sailors.
The USS Blue Ridge is the "brains" of the Seventh Fleet – the biggest in the US navy – and was charged with command, communications and control of the fleet’s 70 ships.
Tropical Tourism North Queensland chief executive Rob Giason said the stopover was a great opportunity. "It is a great opportunity to have 1000 advocates for tropical North Queensland here on shore leave who will promote our region by posting photos on Facebook, tweeting to their followers and telling family and friends about their wonderful experiences here," he said.
"The 1000 recommendations will help the US market understand what this region is all about."
Cale Hatch, 21, has been on the ship for more than two years and said the travel was the best part of his job, although sharing a berthing with 84 other men was something he was still not used to.
Ashley Laws, also 21 and from Texas, was one of about 120 women on the ship. This is her second trip to Cairns.
She said the ship could be "rocky" and days at sea could be arduous, but now she is on dry land, she planned to relax at Palm Cove and visit a zoo while in the Far North.
"I like the responsibility, it’s good to be part of something bigger than just yourself," she said.
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