Brace yourself. The U.S. Navy plans to storm Niantic’s Hole-in-the-Wall Beach!
At 4 p.m. on July 6, the USS Carter Hall will send a Landing Craft Air Cushioned (LCAC) bearing four Marine vehicles and capable of carrying as many as 500 Marines ready for battle surging to shore to establish a beachhead at 4:15 p.m.
It’s the kickoff event for OpSail 2012CT and it promises to be very exciting.
“It’s a big craft and it moves pretty fast,” said U.S. Navy Chief Warrant Officer 4 Steve Metham. “It’s going to be noisy and kick up some sand. They’re going to hear this thing blocks away!”
The hovercraft will land gently on a cushion of air, at which point the ramp will come down to allow four Marine vehicles packed with troops to storm the beach. For safety reasons, the beach will be cleared but there will be plenty of places for spectators to watch from McCook Point Park.
“It’s going to be one of the major events of the weekend,” said OpSail 2012CT Vice Chair Kevin Cavanagh.
Once ashore, 200 crew members from the USS Carter Hall will be welcomed with a special dinner in their honor under tents set up at McCook Point. Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman will also be on hand to officially open OpSail 2012CT.
There’ll be lots to see throughout the day, as tall ships including the Brazilian Navy’s sail training vessel Cisne Branco, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Barque Eagle, and the USS Carter Hall will be arriving to anchor off the Niantic coast to prepare for the parade of sail into New London Harbor on July 7.
The Carter Hall is as large as some of the biggest cruise ships, so it’s going to be pretty hard to miss but the LCAC is also a sizeable vessel, measuring 87 feet in length and 47 feet across the beam. It’s capable of speeds upward of 40 knots and can carry a payload of 60-75 tons, which allows it to transport an M-1 tank and the assault elements of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force rapidly from ship to shore.
“OpSail 2012 is a remembrance of the War of 1812,” said East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica. “The Navy has improved their abilities since!”
Being able to host the kickoff of what is being hailed as the biggest tourist event in Connecticut this year is quite an honor for East Lyme and downtown Niantic will be buzzing with activity as Main Street hosts an OpSail Stroll from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday night. If you want to get a closer look at the LCAC, the Navy will be offering tours.
The OpSail celebration will continue in both New London and Niantic throughout the weekend with a concert by the Coast Guard Band at McCook Park just before the fireworks on July 7 and the Navy Band from Rhode Island will give a concert at McCook Park on July 8.