NEWPORT NEWS — With the second swing of the ceremonial bottle and resulting shower of sparking wine, Elisabeth Mabus officially christened the submarine SSN 787 as the Washington during a ceremony Saturday afternoon at the shipyard.
Mabus is the sponsor of the 14th Virginia-class submarine being built by Newport News Shipbuilding and Connecticut-based General Dynamics Electric Boat.
She also happens to be the daughter of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who emotionally spoke of the impact that his first-born will have on the 120-man crew that will operate the Washington when it is officially commissioned next year.
"In addition to a name, every ship has a sponsor," Ray Mabus said. "And that sponsor imbues the ship with her personality, her energy, her drive. The sponsor stays in touch with the ship throughout the ship's life. Every time a new captain takes command, one of the first things they do is call the sponsor.
"And I will admit that I'm not an objective observer here, but I think the USS (sic) Washington has an absolutely amazing sponsor in my wonderful daughter, Elisabeth Mabus."
Elisabeth Mabus, who has worked for ballot initiatives and political campaigns as well as the Department of Health and Human Services, first dipped the bottle in water from Washington's Puget Sound to further seal the submarine's connection to its namesake. The bottle also was covered in an aluminum case made at the shipyard.
She will continue to be involved with getting to know the crew and ship itself as construction wraps up; the Washington is 96 percent complete.
"I've considered myself a part of the Navy family since (Ray Mabus) was sworn in seven years ago, but this is my piece now," Elisabeth Mabus said. "I'm excited that long after he leaves office I'm going to get to be a part of the ship's life for 30, 35 years."
The crew, the approximately 4,000 shipbuilders working on the Washington and all others involved were lauded by several speakers, including Reps. Robert C. "Bobby'' Scott, D-Newport News, and Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, and Newport News Shipbuilding President Matt Mulherin.
Dels. Marcia S. "Cia" Price, D-Newport News, and David E. Yancey, R-Newport News, along with Newport News Mayor McKinley Price and Hampton Mayor George Wallace, were also in attendance.
"It's difficult to adequately describe the work that goes on here," Mulherin told the crowd. "It's technical, it's precise, it's big and, in many cases, it's secret. United States Navy submarines are the most complex ships on the planet, and I am very proud to say, our shipbuilders from Newport News and Electric Boat are building them ahead of schedule and on budget. ...
"To Cmdr. (Jason) Schneider and crew, congratulations on a historic milestone on the life of your boat," Mulherin continued. "We look forward to continuing to work side-by-side to bring this incredible submarine to life. To the shipbuilders, keep up the great work and strong performance for which you have become known, and always remember that with each weld, each piece of pipe and each and every inch of steel, you are not just building the world's greatest ships, you're also building history."
Ray Mabus cemented Mulherin's comments with compliments of his own.
"Thousands and thousands of extraordinarily skilled shipbuilders have constructed the USS Washington, adding to the growing fleet, bringing life to the most advanced submarines in the world," he said. "No one builds warships better than America. No one."
Hammond can be reached by phone at 757-247-4951.