The next few months will be much colder than expected for the crew of the USS Little Rock as it rides out frigid temperatures in Montreal, Canada instead of acclimating to the warmer climate of Northeast Florida.
The new littoral combat ship originally was scheduled to arrive at its home port of Mayport Naval Station this month after it was commissioned Dec. 16 in Buffalo, N.Y.
But weather delays have now set back the arrival date until at least mid-March, according to the Navy. It’s been ice-bound in Montreal since arriving in port on Christmas Eve.
“The temperatures in Montreal and throughout the transit area have been colder than normal and included near-record low temperatures,” said Lt. Cmdr. Courtney Hilson, a spokeswoman for Naval Surface Force Atlantic.
She said the crew will continue to train on shore just like it would have while docked at Mayport, but it will have to reschedule any planned training exercises that would have taken place on the ship in open water.
The crew will focus on training, readiness and certifications until it departs for Florida, Hilson said.
She said the Little Rock arrived in Montreal on Dec. 24 and was originally delayed because of a storm that pummeled the Northeast with ice and snow. At that point the ship was expected to continue its voyage through the St. Lawrence Seaway in early January, but it’s been moored in Montreal’s old port ever since.
Ice conditions in the Northeast continued to intensify to the point that it would be unsafe to continue until the weather improves, Hilson said.
Built in Marinette, Wis., the Little Rock completed a series of trials in Lake Michigan before the crew took control and started the journey to Buffalo.
It was commissioned next to the only other Navy vessel named for the city of Little Rock — a Cleveland-class light cruiser that was decommissioned in 1949 and serves as a floating museum.
When the Little Rock finally arrives in Northeast Florida, it will be the third ship in Mayport’s Littoral Combat Ship Squadron Two. The USS Milwaukee and USS Detroit were officially welcomed to the basin in 2016.
The Navy has two varieties of littoral ships — the Freedom class and Independence class — with one type on the West Coast and the other on the East Coast. The Freedom ships are based at Mayport, and the Independence ships are based in San Diego.
The Freedom ships resemble traditional Navy vessels with steel hulls and aluminum superstructures while the Independence ships are built entirely from aluminum and have trimaran hulls.
Both types of littoral ships use steerable jet propulsion instead of propellers and can be used for three separate mission packages — surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare and mine countermeasures.
Hilson said the ship would have been able to make the trip to Mayport as scheduled if it weren’t for record-low temperatures.
She said keeping it in Montreal until warmer weather arrives is a safety measure that will have limited impact on the ship’s operational schedule.
If the icy storm hadn’t hit the Northeast after commissioning, the Little Rock would already be in Florida, she said.
Joe Daraskevich: (904) 359-4308