MANCHESTER — Before the Navy christens a new combat vessel in honor of the Queen City, Cmdr. Emily Bassett wanted a better understanding of her ship's namesake.
Bassett and Cmdr. Kurt Braeckel visited New Hampshire's largest city on a recognizance mission Saturday, getting a first-hand look at Manchester's Millyard, while learning some of the centuries-old city's history.
"We wanted to get the feel of the city," Bassett said during a stop at the Millyard Museum. "We're here to build relationships with the city and to get to know the culture."
Bassett will be at the helm as the commanding officer once the USS Manchester is commissioned into duty next fall. At the moment, the vessel remains a work in progress at a shipyard in Mobile, Ala., where work on the keel began last summer in a ceremony with U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, official sponsor of the ship.
The Manchester will be part of the Navy's Independence Class, measuring 418 feet in length and 103 feet wide with a streamlined crew of about 50.
The trimaran hull was designed to minimize the amount of water displaced, allowing it to go faster and reach waters where only much smaller vessels could go in the past.
"This ship almost hovers. You wouldn't call it a hovercraft, but it goes so fast that it's almost flying so you're not displacing near the amount of water which is really what slows the ship down," Bassett said. "She can go fast — up to 40 knots — much faster than many of the ships we have today, and she can go into 25 percent more of the world given her shallow draft."
Next up is the christening, which is a significant moment in the process because it officially renames what is now LCU (Littoral Combat Ship) 14 to PCU (Pre-Commissioned Unit) Manchester." Once construction is completed, the vessel will receive the last of her designating Naval initials as the USS (United States Ship) Manchester when it is officially commissioned next fall.
"She'll be in official service at that point," said Braeckel, the executive officer on Bassett's crew-in-waiting.
Braeckel and Bassett drove up for the day from Newport, R.I., where they are enrolled in a training course in the various new technologies that the Navy has combined to create a ship that is faster and can reach more locations than its predecessors. It also takes much fewer personnel.
Another part of the visit was scouting locations for the commissioning ceremony. Bassett and Braeckel are working on a list of three recommendations to forward to the Secretary of the Navy, who gets the final say. Manchester is out: Despite major advances in Naval construction, the ship is way too big to navigate the inland waterways.
But Portsmouth is a strong possibility and likely to top the list of recommendations, Bassett and Braeckell said. It is less than an hour away and sits just across the Piscataqua River from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.
Bassett said they spoke about a potential Portsmouth ceremony during a meeting with Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas, who loved the idea of getting the ceremony that close to his city.
Gatsas liked that Bassett and Braeckel took the time to visit the city and learn more about it.
"I was very impressed with what they wanted to know about the community," Gatsas said.
Bassett, a Seattle native and 1999 graduate of Boston University, said she had been to New Hampshire before, but never Manchester. It was also the first visit for Braeckel, who said he was struck by the size of the Millyard and both commented on the picturesque image of the massive brick structures lining the banks of the Merrimack River.
"It is beautiful," Bassett said. "I don't think any postcard could have told me that without really coming to see it."