SWAPPING their giant aircraft carrier for British soil, thousands of American sailors kicked off a four-day invasion of Portsmouth.
On the back of President Obama’s visit to Britain this week, hoards of US sailors came ashore at Portsmouth Naval Base – many visiting the UK for the first time.
Unmistakably American with their shades, khaki ‘pants’ and baseball caps, a long line of excitable sailors flooded onto the city streets in search of food, beer and tourist attractions.
Petty Officer Michael Kramer, 25, from California, said: ‘We’re looking forward to a fun night out in Portsmouth.
‘We just want to find a bar with a good atmosphere and party with local people.’
Some 6,000 sailors from the USS George H W Bush carrier strike force are in town until Tuesday and the bars are fully stocked for a bumper bank holiday weekend.
It is the first foreign run ashore for the crew of the US Navy’s newest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier on its maiden deployment.
The ship – which is five times the size of HMS Ark Royal – is so big it couldn’t even fit into Portsmouth Harbour and anchored off Stokes Bay, Gosport, instead.
As with all US ships, the Bush is alcohol-free. Making up for lost time, many younger sailors headed straight for the bars in Gunwharf Quays.
Petty Officer John Blankenship, 23, from Virginia, joined friends in Tiger Tiger.
He said: ‘Portsmouth seems like a great city at first glance, really different from what we’re used to.
‘I’m looking forward to exploring and then having a decent evening.’
Fellow Petty Officer Maria Hutchinson, 25, from California, added: ‘Everyone has been so friendly so far, they’ve made us feel really welcome.’
Sightseeing is also on the agenda for the sailors.
Ryan Witt, 29, from Indiana, said: ‘I’ve never been to the UK before, it’s very exciting. I’m looking around Portsmouth today, going to take in the sights, then go to see Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath.’
Petty Officer Steven Lilly, 30, from Nevada, said: ‘This is my first time in England so I’m pretty excited to see what you guys have to offer.’
The carrier’s commanding officer, Captain Brian Luther, called the visit a ‘big moment’ for his ship, which has been training with the Royal Navy.
He said: ‘It’s our first overseas port of call and all the crew are very excited.
‘Portsmouth is a naval town that’s used to sailors so everybody is looking forward to having fun.
‘We’ve got a strong, long-standing relationship with the Royal Navy and I had nine officers promoted on HMS Victory this afternoon, which was great.’