Canberra conducts first open ocean docking

Published on LEUT Emily Kennedy (author), LSIS Helen Frank (photographer)

 HMAS Canberra's Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) Landing Craft operating in the Well Dock during the ship's first docking down in open ocean.   (photo: LSIS Helen Frank)
HMAS Canberra's Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) Landing Craft operating in the Well Dock during the ship's first docking down in open ocean.

Since commissioning in November last year, Canberra has conducted many landing craft dockings although until now, all have been achieved alongside, within a harbour or a bay.

'Docking down' is when the ship sinks the stern into a position in order to launch or recover the Landing Craft through the stern door. When the stern is in the docked down position, the ship lets 4.2 million litres of water, or the equivalent to four Olympic sized swimming pools, into the well dock.

Once the stern door opens, Canberra’s well dock is open to the elements of the sea and weather conditions outside.

Canberra’s First Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander Michael Nipperess, said the first open water docking was a valuable experience for the dock team and the landing craft crews.

“Our teams were prepared for our first open water docking and boat operations due to the graduated training we have completed and also having done the activity regularly in Jervis Bay, Sydney Harbour or alongside,” said Lieutenant Commander Nipperess.

“To to an average onlooker, operating in the well dock during open ocean conditions is a unique experience and can look quite confronting.

“The landing craft are powerful and as such they are loud – add to that the swell and the sea once the stern door is open and the challenge of a fully operating dock and steel beach – it is quite a unique environment.

“Our team is gaining experience quickly and has performed really well - the skills that come to the fore in terms of line handling in the dock and the superior manoeuvring are a credit to our entire team,” he said.

Landing craft Coxswain, Leading Seaman Cory Bath, who was driving and in charge of one of the vesssels said the open ocean operations helped build confidence.

One of HMAS Canberra's Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) Landing Craft in the Well Dock during the ship's first docking down in open ocean.

One of HMAS Canberra's Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) Landing Craft in the Well Dock during the ship's first docking down in open ocean.

“I think the open ocean docking evolution went very well from the crews’ perspective and helped build the confidence that we need to achieve any challenge that command place in front of us,” said Leading Seaman Bath.

“Docking in the open ocean can be a challenging experience compared to docking in a bay or a harbour where the whole attitude of the craft and ocean react very differently.

“In harbours or bays there is generally less wash behind the ship and little to no sea state to take into account so the whole evolution seems slower and more controllable from the Coxswain’s perspective,” said Leading Seaman Bath.

Integral to the operations are the well dock team who are positioned on the ‘steel beach’ where the water meets the Heavy Vehicle Deck of the ship.

“The team secure and release us from the dock and ensure it is safe to enter or depart the dock via signals, flags and by radio communications,” said Leading Seaman Bath.

“Without the onboard team we could not achieve the aim to deploy or secure the craft safely,” he said.

Canberra’s landing craft can deploy personnel, stores, or equipment ashore, or recover them, when port facilities are inaccessible or do not exist.