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Ship Brings Good Tidings : After overcoming a bit of a language barrier, British sailors give youths a taste of the sea-faring life and a sense of the world beyond Central Los Angeles.

August 07, 1994|GORDON DILLOW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eleven-year-old Lashon Jennings of South-Central isn't exactly sure where Britain is. But after a tour of the HMS Lancaster, she knows that people who come from there speak a language remarkably close to hers.

"I liked the control rooms and the computers," Lashon said as she and nine other children and young adults from Central Los Angeles neighborhoods recently took a tour of the Royal Navy frigate at Long Beach Naval Station. "And (the British sailors) were nice. But they talk a little funny."

Actually, they don't think so. It may come as a shock to Lashon and her friends that the British sailors think she's the one who speaks oddly.

"The accent here is a bit funny, isn't it?" said Leading Marine Engineer Dez (Scouse) Stanley, 24, of Liverpool after he finished showing the youths some shipboard firefighting gear.

But despite being separated by a common language, as British playwright George Bernard Shaw once said of Britain and America, the American kids and the British sailors--some of whom weren't much older than the kids--seemed to enjoy the visit, which was designed to broaden the youths' horizons beyond the sometimes rough neighborhoods where they live.

"These are at-risk kids because of the neighborhoods they live in," said Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Deputy Pat Lyons, who brought three girls from the Lennox Sheriff's Youth Activity League to the ship for the tour. "You do whatever you can to show them that there's more to the world than South-Central L.A."

"It's something I imagine they don't get to see every day," said Russell Merriott, 21, an operator-maintainer from Taunton in Somerset, as he directed the kids through the ship's bridge.

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The visit to the Lancaster was arranged by the British Consulate in Los Angeles and by the Los Angeles FBI office, which invited youths from the Sheriff's Explorers program and the Youth Activity League. The 405-foot Lancaster, launched in 1990, is making a show-the-flag visit to Long Beach Naval Station as part of an eight-month voyage that included working with the U.S. Coast Guard on drug-smuggling interdiction in the Caribbean. The Lancaster is the first British warship to visit the Los Angeles area in four years.

The tour took the local youths--most of whom had never been on a ship before, and certainly not a British warship--from bow to stern and bridge to engine room, with guides from among the ship's 185-man crew. Although women serve on British naval ships, said Cmdr. Mark Sloan, the Lancaster's captain, none has yet been assigned to the Lancaster.

"Everything is pretty interesting," said William Bonilla, 18, of Montebello, a Sheriff's Explorer. "It's the first time I've ever been on a ship. I'm getting some information about maybe joining the Navy--the U.S. Navy."

"It was great, I liked it a lot," Rick Gonzalez, 18, of Lynwood said of the ship tour. "I understood (the British sailors) pretty well. At first I was like, 'What? Excuse me?' but after awhile I understood them OK. It was cool."

By that he means, of course, "jolly good."

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