Hampton Roads is the world's larges naval base. You cannot live in Hampton Roads without being minutes from a naval installation. The Navy owns 36,000 acres and more than 6,750 buildings in the area. There are some 108,000 Navy and Marine Corps personnel stationed in the area, and the Navy employs more than 41,000 civilians. There are more than 23,000 retired Navy men and women living in Hampton Roads, and approximately 118,300 dependents of active duty, and civilian personnel. The total Hampton Roads Navy community numbers some 318,000 people. There is a large military presence in Hampton Roads, with each branch of the armed forces represented, pumping over $11 billion into the local economy annually.
The southeastern part of the state of Virginia is known as Hampton Roads. In 1983 Hampton Roads became the official name for the region, unifying the Southside (Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Suffolk, Chesapeake and Portsmouth) and the Peninsula (Hampton and Newport News). This area includes the cities of Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton, and Newport News. The Hampton Roads Area is defined as all Navy/Marine Corps Activities in Virginia south of 38 N latitude and east of Interstate-95 (including bisected cities). Hampton Roads history began in 1607 when the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery landed on the south shore of the Chesapeake Bay at Cape Henry, located at the Army's Fort Story. Nearby Jamestown was established by Captain John Smith that same year, the first permanent English settlement in America. Now, Norfolk is home to the world's largest Naval Base.
The term "Hampton Roads" is a centuries-old reference that originated when the region was a struggling British outpost nearly 400 years ago. Designated in the 17th Century as the name of the largest natural harbor where the James, Nansemond and Elizabeth Rivers pour into the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Hampton Roads honors one of the founders of the Virginia Company and a great supporter of the colonization of Virginia, Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton. Signifying the safety of a port, "roads" in nautical terminology means "a place less sheltered than a harbor where ships may ride at anchor."
Since 1983, Hampton Roads has been recognized by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget as a group of communities having economic and social integration. At that time, the two areas that constitute Hampton Roads - South Hampton Roads and the Virginia Peninsula - were combined to form the Metropolitan Statistical Area. Hampton Roads has grown from just over one million residents and the nations 34th largest market in 1983 to the country's 28th largest metro area with over 1.4 million people.
The first British colony in the New World was established at Jamestown in 1607 in the western area of Hampton Roads. As the colonists explored the area, they discovered the Sewell's Point area of Norfolk and in 1620 the first shipyard in Hampton Roads was opened. The shipbuilding industry, the British Navy and merchant ships from around the world made Hampton Roads' ports a center of trade, transportation and military activity. During the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, Hampton Roads area ports proved to be of invaluable strategic importance. During the Civil War, the site of the battle of the Monitor and Merrimack occurred off of the Northwest corner of the city known as Sewell's Point. Established in 1917 on 474 acres of land on Sewell's Point, Norfolk Naval Station and Norfolk Naval Air Station, together with numerous other related facilities in the area, have become the largest naval complex in the world. The complex consists of 36,000 acres of land and 6,750 buildings within a 50 mile radius of the base.
Hampton Roads is a natural tidal basin formed by the confluence of the James and Elizabeth Rivers. The deep draft entrance to Hampton Roads passes between Old Point Comfort and Fort Wool. Not only is Hampton Roads the gateway to the Naval Station, but it also provides access to commercial and Naval activities at Norfolk and Portsmouth on the Elizabeth River, extensive shipbuilding and cargo handling facilities at Newport News, and many smaller facilities and marinas along the James and Elizabeth Rivers.
Hampton Roads is composed of Chesapeake, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Yorktown and Virginia Beach. Also included are the counties of Isle of Wight, James City, Surrey, and York. Each of these entities shares one principal bond: their close association to the water and the harbor called Hampton Roads. The Center of Hampton Roads lies about ninety miles southeast of Richmond. To the north are Washington, DC (185 miles), Baltimore (210 miles) and New York City (330 miles). Norfolk is about eighteen miles from the Atlantic Ocean and is bordered by the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads Harbor. Norfolk serves as the nucleus for the metropolitan area of more than a million people.
There are a number of Naval commands in the Hampton Roads area, including the Naval Station Norfolk; Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth; Fleet Combat Training Center Atlantic, Dam Neck; Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek; and Naval Weapons Station, Yorktown; Naval Air Station, Norfolk; Naval Air Station, Oceana. Located at these installations are hundreds of commands, large and small, afloat and shore.
The Port of Hampton of Roads has become known as the "world's greatest natural harbor". The port is located only 18 miles from open ocean on one of the world's deepest, natural ice-free harbors. Since 1989, Hampton Roads has been the mid-Atlantic leader in U.S. waterborne foreign commerce and is ranked second nationally behind the Port of South Louisiana based on export tonnage. When import and export tonnage are combined, the Port of Hampton Roads ranks as the third largest port in the country (following the ports of New Orleans/South Louisiana and Houston. In 1996, Hampton Roads was ranked ninth among major U.S. ports in vessel port calls with approximately 2,700. In addition, this port is the U.S. leader in coal exports. The coal loading facilities in the Port of Hampton Roads are able to load in excess of 65 million tons annually, giving the port the largest, most efficient and modern coal loading facilities in the world.
Magnificent waterways, a pleasant climate and rich natural resources greeted the English settlers whose Jamestown colony put down roots from which sprang what is now recognized as the naval capital of the world. After landing at Cape Henry in April 1607, the colonists sailed up the James River to open England's first permanent colony in the New World. Further exploration opened up the Sewells Point area of Norfolk, and in 1620, the first shipyard in Hampton Roads started operation. The shipbuilding industry, the British Navy, and merchant ships from around the world soon made the Hampton Roads area a center of trade, transportation and military activity.
The Hampton Roads area is been divided into five sub-areas:
- NAVSTA Norfolk
- NAS Norfolk
- CINCLANTFLT Compound
- Craney Island
- St. Juliens Creek Annex
- Deperming Crib
- Golf Anchorages
- NAVPHIBASE Little Creek
- NAS Oceana
- FCTC LANT Dam Neck
- Fentress Field
- Lynnhaven anchorages
- NAVSECGRUACT Northwest
- NAVSHIPYD Norfolk
- NAVHOSP Portsmouth
- RADTRANSFAC Driver Norfolk
- Shipyards at Brambleton, Berkley and Metro
- ANA Shipyard
- Moon Engineering
- Jonathan Corporation
- St. Helena's
- SUPSHIP Newport News
- MARCORESCEN Newport News
- WPNSTA Yorktown
- Cheatham Annex
- York River anchorages
These installations serve as homeports for approximately 127 ships and 29 aircraft squadrons. Together they comprise the Navy in Hampton Roads. Normally a "visit ship" is open to the general public for touring. However, due to recent international developments, security has been heightened around all US Military bases and all scheduling for "visit ships" has been suspended indefinitely.
The entrance to Hampton Roads for all deep draft ships lies between Old Point Comfort and Fort Wool. Not only is Hampton Roads the gateway to the Naval Station, but also provides access to commercial and naval activities at Norfolk and Portsmouth on the Elizabeth River, extensive shipbuilding and cargo handling facilities at Newport News, and many smaller facilities and marinas along the James and Elizabeth Rivers. Therefore, the whole area is extremely busy with marine traffic. The Norfolk area has a large number of berths, anchorages, facilities and services available.
Also known as Chesapeake Light Station, the Chesapeake Light Tower [36.91N 75.71W] marks the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. The tower is located halfway between the northern and southern channels leading into the bay, about 14.5 miles away from Cape Henry. Also known locally as "The Tower", the structure consist of four huge legs extending into the bottom. Built in 1965, it is 120 feet high and stands on 33-inch diameter concrete-filled steel pilings driven 180 feet into the ocean floor. The metal structure looks like an airfield control tower on a short, stubby oil derrick. The light tower stands 37 feet above the helicopter deck. The station was automated in 1989, but is used for military, educational, or other purposes. The 15 second flashing light can be seen up to 24 miles away, and it also has a horn. The tower is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2004.
During Shipboard Electronic Systems Evaluation trials, a ship circles Navy buoy "B" near the Chesapeake Light repeatedly to test the accuracy of naval electronic sensors, such as those used to jam incoming missiles. Technicians ashore at nearby Fort Story monitor the activities. The destroyer Arthur W. Radford was circling the same buoy when it collided with a Saudi Arabian container ship on 04 February 1999. Extensive damage was done to both ships and the Radford's skipper was relieved of command. On 18 January 2001 the Leyte Gulf briefly touched bottom while conducting electronic calibration trials in the vicinity of Navy buoy B.
A series of shipping channels exist in Chesapeake Bay, Hampton Roads and adjacent rivers. The deep draft channels leading to Hampton Roads include Cape Henry Channel and Thimble Shoals Channel. Cape Henry Channel, a 1 nmi long channel which lies north of Cape Henry, has a width of 1,000 ft and a project depth of 50 ft. Chesapeake Channel continues north over an underwater tunnel that is part of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge complex and decreases to 800 feet wide at Chesapeake Channel Lighted Buoys 15 and 16. The 13 nmi long Thimble Shoal Channel lies west of Cape Henry Channel and passes over an underwater tunnel that is part of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge complex. Thimble Shoal Channel is also 1,000 ft wide, with a project depth of 55 ft. The Project is authorized to 55 feet but is maintained, currently to 50 feet on the outbound, 650' wide segment, and to a depth of 45 feet on the inbound 350 wide segment. Just west of the underwater tunnel that connects Fort Wool and Old Point Comfort, the channel becomes Entrance Reach in Hampton Roads. Entrance Reach splits into the Norfolk Harbor Reach and Newport News Channel at the north end of Naval Station Norfolk. Norfolk Harbor Reach turns south through Hampton Roads toward the Port of Norfolk. It then becomes, in turn, Craney Island Reach, Lambert Bend, Port Norfolk Reach and Town Point Reach as it progresses southward to the Elizabeth River and the Norfolk Naval Shipyard at Portsmouth. Newport News Channel proceeds westward from Entrance Reach towards Newport News, VA and the James River.
In 1969 and 1970 US Army Corps of Engineers' (COE) dredging of the channels to a depth of 45 feet was completed in the Hampton Roads area and the Thimble Shoal Channel. The depths and channel configurations were maintained accordingly until the COE was authorized under a project entitled "Norfolk Harbor and Channels, Virginia" to dredge channels in the Hampton Roads area and Thimble Shoal Channel to a depth of 55 feet, in two phases. During phase I, which was completed December 15, 1988, the COE dredged 650 feet of the outbound-side of the 1,000-foot wide channels at Thimble Shoal, Entrance Reach, Newport News, and Norfolk Harbor Reach to a depth of 50 feet and the remaining 350 feet on the inbound-side were maintained at 45 feet. The Entrance Reach Channel was also reduced in width from 1,500 feet to 1,000 feet. The COE commenced phase II, dredging the 650-foot channel width to the 55-foot depth and the 350-foot side to the 50-foot depth, in fiscal year 1991.
None of the harbors in the Hampton Roads area are safe havens during sustained hurricane force winds. Evasion at sea is the recommended course of action for all seaworthy vessels when Norfolk is directly threatened with destructive force winds of 50 knots or greater. However, if winds are less than hurricane strength, Hampton Roads harbors will normally provide shelter for most pierside ships. Ships with large sail areas and especially aircraft carriers should usually evade at sea when threatened by greater than 50 knots sustained winds.
Due to the Hampton Roads geographical location and the large number of ships that may have to sortie, additional time is required to prepare ships to sortie and complete a sortie with ample sea room to maneuver before the arrival of destructive winds. The most serious threat of storm damage comes from tropical cyclones in which winds of destructive force are sustained for long periods of time. The annual hurricane season for the Hampton Roads Area is from 1 June through 30 November. Storms of non-tropical origin (gales, thunderstorms, tornadoes), while of shorter duration and generally localized in nature, can also disrupt operations and endanger life and property.
The use of harbor pilots is not required for U.S. Navy vessels, but they are generally used for docking and undocking evolutions. Although pilots are not used in the channels, U.S. Navy vessels going to/from NAVSTA Norfolk normally embark and debark pilots off Cape Henry. U.S. Navy harbor pilots at Amphibious Base, Little Creek embark and debark approximately 1 nmi north of the "LC" Buoy, which is located approximately 1.1 nmi north of the entrance to Little Creek.
The southern Chesapeake Bay/Hampton Roads area has several designated anchorages. Anchorages in, or close to Hampton Roads, include four Naval explosives anchorages and two general use anchorages that lie just west of Entrance Reach, and several general use anchorages. A commercial explosives anchorage is located between Thimble Shoals Channel and Willoughby Spit. Vessels from Amphibious Base, Little Creek use the Naval Anchorage, which is located in Lynnhaven Roads, just northeast of the entrance to Little Creek. Holding is said to be fair on a mud bottom during calm to moderate winds and sea states. LST Class ships have experienced anchor dragging during storm force winds in the anchorage.
In addition to the anchorages mentioned in the previous paragraphs, there are 42 designated hurricane anchorages located in central and southern Chesapeake Bay. None of the local harbor authorities recommend using any of the 42 designated hurricane anchorages during the passage of a strong tropical cyclone. The water level in Chesapeake Bay lowers during strong northerly winds, and the drop has been sufficient to cause large ships moored to the anchorages to pound on the bottom as they pitched up and down on the waves in the Bay. Any ship experiencing difficulties, such as dragging anchor, during a storm's passage would be on its own, because no tug boat assistance would be able to reach the vessel until the storm had passed. The hurricane anchorages should not be used, especially by large vessels, during the passage of a strong tropical cyclone.
Another problem is said to occur when modern vessels such as Arleigh Burke Class Aegis destroyers are anchored. Local harbor authorities state that the rudders are not fully effective at slow speeds, making it difficult to control yawing if the ship was required to steam to the anchor to prevent dragging in a strong wind.
In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD would realign US Army Surface Deployment and Distribution Command -Transportation Engineering Agency facility in Newport News, VA, by relocating US Army Surface Deployment and Distribution Command - Transportation Engineering Agency to Scott Air Force Base, IL, and consolidating it with the Air Force Air Mobility Command Headquarters and Transportation Command Headquarters at Scott AFB, IL. Collocation of TRANSCOM and Service components would (1) collocate activities with common functions and facilitate large-scale transformation proposed by the TRANSCOM Commander, and (2) reduce personnel to realize long-term savings. The realignment would also terminate leased space operations in the National Capital Region (143,540 GSF in Alexandria, VA) and near Norfolk, VA (40,013 GSF in Newport News, VA). Assuming no economic recovery, this recommendation could result in a maximum potential reduction of 1,133 jobs (484 direct jobs and 649 indirect jobs) in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk- Newport News, VA-NC Metropolitan Statistical Area (0.1 percent).