NEW YORK — Battleship gray contrasted with brilliant blue skies as a dozen military vessels sailed up the Hudson River on Wednesday to open Fleet Week, with thousands of spectators watching from shore, roof decks and small boats.
To complete the maritime spectacular, two military jet flyovers coincided with the morning "Parade of Ships" — a formation of Naval F-18 Hornets over the majestic Verrazano Narrows Bridge at the mouth of New York Harbor — and a half-hour later, U.S. Marine Corps jets passing directly over the ships.
In a sign of the tense times, the city's latest addition to anti-terrorism security also cruised the waters: the world's most advanced fireboat, which can detect chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents.
The $27 million fireboat, fashioned in part from World Trade Center steel, then docked with some of the military ships near the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on the western shore of midtown Manhattan in preparation for an evening commissioning ceremony.
The ships, carrying 3,000 Navy, Army and Air Force members, first "paraded" north toward the George Washington Bridge near the top of Manhattan, then U-turned — some to piers near the Intrepid, others farther south to Staten Island.
"It's his first Fleet Week!" said Lee Guzofski, holding up 4-month-old son, Leighton, to admire the docked USS Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship launched in 2001 that was the government's command center for recovery operations after Hurricane Katrina.
"I'm here every year," said Guzofski, who owns a video game company and contributes money to the Navy as a "civilian supporter."
On the Iwo Jima, hundreds of uniformed military personnel "manned the rail," standing at attention at the edge of the decks, evenly spaced — rendering honors with three cheers.
On the Intrepid pier, a Navy jazz combo entertained spectators gathered under a former British Airways Concorde supersonic jet on display.
"This is so cool, playing here while everybody's manning the rail," said Navy Musician 2nd Class Matthew Bridges, strumming his electric guitar under the Concorde's Rolls-Royce Olympus engine.
"It's great to see the way this city supports the troops," added the 27-year-old member of the Newport, R.I.-based Navy Band Northeast.
Later Wednesday by the Intrepid, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Fire Commissioner Salvatore J. Cassano were to formally commission The Three Forty Three — the new fireboat — named for the number of FDNY members who died in the Sept. 11 attack.
The fireboat will help bolster counterterrorism at the city's ports, detecting threatening substances and protecting firefighters from them.
"We had to think about the threats that are going to affect New York City and the region for the next 50 years," Fire Chief James Dalton said.
The boat was paid for mostly with grants from the federal Homeland Security Department.
The highlight of the 23rd Fleet Week is Monday's Memorial Day commemoration on the Intrepid's deck.
Former Marine Peter O'Rourke planned to attend but was "a little disappointed" in this year's Fleet Week.
"They used to have many more ships other years," said O'Rourke, 79, who served during the Korean War.
"I come to honor the veterans, but I don't think the government is taking good enough care of guys coming home all messed up who turn to drugs and alcohol," he said. "At the veterans' hospitals, they're just looking at the bottom line."