While the Covid-19 pandemic has made the majority of professions even more challenging, one has to spare a thought for United States Navy personnel who are being forced to stay out at sea for months on end without a single port visit. Early on in the pandemic, the threat to maritime vessels became very real with major outbreaks occurring onboard cruise ships as well as the USS Theodore Roosevelt, anuclear-powered aircraft carrier. It was forced to dock in Guam and was sidelined for two months. The U.S. Navy is taking no chances of a repeat occurrence and several of its warships have broken records for the number of consecutive days spent at sea. The Navy aims to have its ships deploy for around seven months through its Optimized Fleet Response Plan but several exceeded that in 2020 due to the pandemic, with their deployments lasting nine months.
At the start of October, the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer USS Stout arrived in the port of Rota, Spain, after spending a record 215 consecutive days at sea. The ship certainly looked like it had not seen land for a while, appearing battered and rusty in photographs taken upon its arrival. It covered 60,000 miles in an astonishing deployment that started in early March and finished on October 03. That is longer than an unofficial 207 day record claimed by the captain of the USS Vella Gulf this year as well as confirmed existing records that were also set by the USS San Jacinto and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in 2020.
Before 2020 and these strange times, the USS Theodore Roosevelt held the record when it operated for 160 consecutive days without visiting a port in support of Operating Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2002. Previously, the record was held by the Dwight D. Eisenhower during the hostage crisis in Iran in 1980 when it was at sea for 152 days. While the USS Stout was out at sea, its crew had to carry out all essential maintenance and repairs far away from land, an extremely challenging task. The Navy had to take steps to protect the mental health of the crew as port calls are eagerly anticipated under normal circumstances. According to a Navy press release, "the ship conducted morale events like swim calls and steel beach picnics" and "to allow the crew time to relax and reenergize, they had a rest & reset period at sea". Even though the Stout's crew are record breakers, this is probably a feat none of them will want to repeat any time soon.