Stennis Raises New Mast with Tradition

Story Number: NNS050504-03Release Date: 5/4/2005 11:24:00 AM
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By Journalist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Gabriel Owens, USS John C. Stennis Public Affairs

BREMERTON, Wash. (NNS) -- USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) conducted a traditional stepping of the mast ceremony in conjunction with the installation of a new mast April 27.

The aircraft carrier's mast is being replaced while undergoing a massive overhaul at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. According to Dave McPherson, mast project supervisor, the main reason for the replacement of the mast is the additional weight of new antennas.

"With 10 ship [alterations] going into the mast, the structural weight limit was exceeded for the old mast," he said. "So the construction of a new mast was essential for Stennis."

Mast stepping is as old as sailing ships and is the moment when a ship's mast is set into a notch or step in the keel. The Greeks, Romans and Phoenicians all marked this event by placing coins in the step, under the mast. These may have been to pay for a re-masting if needed, to help Sailors lost at sea enter the mythological underworld or just for good luck. The good luck tradition has become U.S. Navy tradition, as well.

The Stennis ceremony slightly altered from the traditional mast stepping ceremonies, as current regulations disallow coins to be used. Instead, Stennis Commanding Officer, Capt. David Buss, and McPherson placed a plaque made from a piece of the old mast into the step.

"This new mast is a first, a one-of-a-kind," said Buss. "As a ship's captain, you get a little nervous when you hear these words [regarding a piece of equipment on your ship], but the engineering that went into the new mast is just a technological marvel."

Stennis' new mast is nearly 125,000 pounds and 116 feet tall, while the old mast was around 71,000 lbs and 105 feet tall.

The new mast's structure is also a first-of-its-kind in terms of material. A new type of steel alloy was used, making the mast stiffer and thicker than its predecessor, thus allowing it to hold more weight, according to McPherson. He noted several different workshops in Puget Sound for their diligent efforts in getting the new mast up, particularly in the area of design.

"From the cradle to the grave, the design team has been there every step of the way," McPherson said.

"The amount of work put into this project from the shipyard workers, contractors and ship's company is phenomenal," said Buss. "We saw great unity and teamwork that helped put this project ahead of schedule."

The new mast is expected to be completely installed and operational before Stennis completes the dry-dock availability this fall.

For related news, visit the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) Navy NewsStand page at

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