‘Speak softly, and carry a big stick.’
That famous saying of turn-of-the-century president Theodore Roosevelt is summed up perfectly in the ship that bears his name.
Itself nicknamed the ‘Big Stick’, the 1,092ft floating fortress is the ultimate expression of American power.
She’s powered by two nuclear reactors and could stay at sea for years on end.
As our visitors’ boat sails slowly towards the massive hull, dozens of aircraft perched upon the top deck come into sharp relief.
There are Hornet fighters, electronic warfare Growlers, Hawkeye command-and-control planes as well as an assortment of helicopters.
During mission time one fighter can be launched every 30 seconds, tossed into the air by steam-powered catapults.
The aircraft are guided by a huge team of flight-deck operators, sometimes called ‘skittles’ because of their bright-coloured shirts and helmets.
Life on board follows a strict routine sleep, meals and duty.
But work for the more than 5,000 men and women who serve aboard is far from what most people would consider routine.
There are a lot of communications and things happening at once. We look a bit like chickens with our heads cut offAviation handler Alexis Caisse
Aviation handler Alexis Caisse, from California, works in the carrier’s flight control room, plotting the locations of fighter jets on the ship using tokens on a surprisingly low-tech tabletop.
‘It can get really hectic in here really fast,’ she says.
‘There are a lot of communications and things happening at once.
‘We look a bit like chickens with our heads cut off.’
On the navigation bridge, Leading Chief Petty Officer Peter Van Nimwegen is on anti-terrorism watch, keeping a careful eye on any nearby boats and making sure none comes too close to the carrier.
‘Worse-case scenario, we have a few gun mounts for the protection of the ship,’ he says.
Yes, even anchored off Stokes Bay and with half the crew away enjoying shore leave, those on board are in a state of constant readiness.
Battle-ready soldiers keep a close eye on us visitors and those machine-gun mounts are manned by teams of three wearing bullet-proof vests and kevlar helmets.
When they do get some much-cherished downtime, crew members watch the latest Hollywood movies or play bingo broadcast throughout the ship.
They can also play basketball on deck or work out in one of the ship’s seven gym areas.
Some of them even make their way to the fo’c’sle, where the carrier’s two 30,000lb anchors and chains are kept.
Church services are held here, in sight of murals of ‘gods of the sea’ including Neptune and Poppeye.
‘This is my favourite part of the ship,’ says Lieutenant Junior Grade Courtney Callaghan, from Texas.
‘There’s just so much love here. So much has gone into making it what it is.’