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USS America navigates Strait of Magellan on way to San Francisco commissioning

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The USS America -- the nation’s newest warship -- has made its way through a dangerous and unpredictable sea route as it heads to San Francisco for its October commissioning.

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Navy officials say America steamed through the Strait of Magellan earlier this week as she continues on her maiden voyage from Pascagoula, Mississippi to California.

The strait -- a challenging passage for ships because of the frequent wild weather, strong winds and powerful currents that are generated by the forces of two oceans colliding at the southernmost tip of South America -- is rarely used by U.S. Navy ships. Instead, most Navy ships travel through the Panama Canal.

The Navy issued a statement Thursday announcing the completion of journey, describing the two-day passage of some 365 nautical miles as "both breathtaking and dangerous.”

"America's forecasting team used all available resources to ensure the safe navigation of the ship and to support sensitive shipboard tilt-rotor flight operations," said Lt. Kyle Franklin, meteorology and oceanic center officer on board the ship.. "During the transit, we experienced near freezing temperatures combined with rain, sleet and mist."

As the ship made its way through the cold weather and rough seas, officers of the deck, navigation team members on the bridge and crew members remained on their toes. America’s crew also had the help of Chilean navy personnel on board who are more familiar with navigating through the area.

With snow-capped mountains rising from the narrow waterways of the strait, the ship’s commanding officer, Capt. Robert Hall, Jr., noted the beauty of the area.'

“Transiting the Strait of Magellan was an awesome experience," Hall said in a statement. "Fortunately the weather broke long enough for us to see some of the mountains and incredible landscapes that make this part of the world famous. Transits like this remind me of why I love being in the Navy. No other profession offers the opportunity to embark on such a tremendous journey."

After taking nearly five years to build, America underwent her sea trials last fall. She set out on her maiden voyage on July 11.

The ship has been “showing the flag,” making several stops as it makes it way along the coast of South America, including Trinidad and Tobago, Colombia and Brazil.

Measuring 844 feet long, the America’s mission will be to serve as the flagship of an expeditionary strike group of amphibious ready group. The ship will be able to send Marines into battle and put them ashore with helicopters and V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, supported by fighter jets and helicopter gunships.

Her sponsor, Lynn Pace, describes America as “a sort of mini-aircraft carrier.” Pace, wife of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps General Peter Pace, christened the ship in October of 2012.

America is scheduled to be commissioned in San Francisco on Oct. 11 during the city’s Fleet Week.

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