On Feb. 20, the fleet pulled in to Callao, Peru, just north of Lima. Their arrival sparked a nine-day celebration that included commemoration of George Washington’s birthday, a holiday the Peruvians felt they should share with their American friends to the north. Peruvian composer, Ce’sar Penizo, paid homage to the fleet by composing a special dance piece entitled “The White Squadron.” Wishing the American sailors to feel at home, a small tugboat roved about the anchored ships, its passengers regaling the White Fleet crews with lively renditions of Cornell football cheers.
Having absorbed an abundance of Peruvian hospitality, the White Fleet reluctantly got up steam to continue its journey northward to California, with an intermediate one-month stopover at Magdalena Bay in Baja California for gunnery practice.
The fleet arrived March 12 for its gunnery exercises at Magdalena Bay while California’s coastal cities were trying everything in their power to get the fleet into their ports. Ulysses S. Grant Jr., a noted citizen of San Diego, went so far as to write Roosevelt to request that the fleet steam directly into San Diego harbor instead of anchoring at Coronado.
The President took this request under consideration and contacted the Navy Department about the possibility. Word came back that, should the fleet attempt anchoring in San Diego harbor, there was a good chance that the ships would remain permanently mired in the mud. Thus, Grant and his fellow San Diegans had to be content with greeting the fleet at Coronado.
When the fleet pulled in on April 14, the sailors were greeted by thousands of enthusiastic residents as the great ships anchored off the Hotel del Coronado. Small boats of all descriptions surrounded the warships, and sailors were pelted with blossoms by “Flower Committees” and filled to capacity with free lemonade by “Fruit Committees.” For the next four days, San Diego celebrated, and the White Fleet sailors were given the royal treatment that ended only with the fleet’s departure for Los Angeles on April 18.
In Los Angeles, the officers and men were feted to such entertainments as a giant Spanish barbecue, thrilled to a breathtaking balloon ascension by a group of daring aeronauts, and cheered a number of prize fights between well-known local pugilists.
Meantime, as the fleet was being pampered and honored by the good citizens of L.A., Santa Cruz, to the north, was gearing up for its welcome to the fleet and attempting to crowd out rival Monterey just across the bay. But when the Santa Cruz town fathers got the word that only part of the fleet would be visiting their community, they were so upset that they threatened to call off the entire reception if they weren’t visited by all the ships. The Navy relented and Santa Cruz got its wish, after the fleet visited Santa Barbara and Monterey.
When the fleet arrived in San Francisco on May 6, the hills surrounding the city by the Bay were packed with thousands of greeters, many brought in by special trains from outlying communities. San Francisco greeted the fleet in its typical warm-hearted and ostentatious fashion by staging a 48-hour ball at the Fairmont Hotel where dinners normally went for $10 per plate. The officers and men of the Great White Fleet were treated to a welcome they would long remember.
During the sailor’s stay in ‘Frisco, the citizens went so far as to pitch tents in Jefferson Square and Portsmouth Square for White Fleet sailors who ran out of hotel money.
While in San Francisco, the battleships Maine and Alabama were replaced by USS Nebraska (BB-14) and USS Wisconsin (BB-9). The reason behind this change was due to Maine’s and Alabama’s voracious appetite for coal. They seemed to eat up more “‘black diamonds” than any other ships in the fleet.
San Francisco was also the last port-of-call for fleet commander Evans, still suffering from gout. He was relieved by Rear Adm. C. M. Thomas. Thomas then commanded some of the ships during visits to ports in Washington State, including Seattle, Bellingham and Tacoma.
Thomas nearly missed movement when that part of the fleet was ready to get underway for the Northwest visits. He was to have been picked up at his hotel lobby by auto and driven to his flagship. As a precaution, two autos were sent to be sure he made it, but a traffic cop noticed that the kerosene tail-lamp on the first car had been blown out, violating a city traffic ordinance.
Putting the first car out of action, the observant police officer noticed that the back-up car also had a blown tail-lamp. Luckily, the driver was able to re-light that lamp, and after some smooth talking, convinced the cop to let the admiral’s car proceed. Thomas made it to his ship, and San Francisco was inspired to change its auto lamp law.
The fleet visit up and down the West Coast was one week shy of three months. That part of the cruise was like a constant party, with everyone, sailor and civilian alike, celebrating this great adventure. On July 7, the fleet, now reassembled under Rear Adm. Charles Sperry, bid farewell to San Francisco and weighed anchor to continue its journey across the Pacific.
On July 16, the fleet arrived in Hawaii. After a six-day layover at Pearl Harbor, where it was feted with luaus and sailing regattas, the great armada got underway for New Zealand, anchoring in Auckland on Aug. 9. The New Zealanders gave the fleet a very warm reception and invited Sperry and his staff to observe tribal ceremonies at a Maori village. At the conclusion of one of the dances, a tribesman bounded from the circle of dancers. Halting before the admiral and his staff, the Maori dancer broke into a broad, toothy smile and explained, “bully!” Even among these rustics in the outback of New Zealand, Roosevelt had made his mark, to the great surprise and amusement of Sperry and his staff.
On Aug. 15, the fleet sailed for Sydney, Australia, where it arrived five days later. The fleet was greeted by more than 250,000 people, who had stayed up all night so as not to miss the ships’ arrival. For the next eight days, there was a non-stop celebration in honor of the Navy visitors.
With all this celebrating, some of the crewmen were beginning to feel the wear and tear. One sailor was found asleep on a bench in one of Sydney’s parks. Not wishing to be disturbed, he posted a sign above his head which read:
"Yes, I am delighted with the Australian people.
“Yes, I think your park is the finest in the world.
“I am very tired and would like to go to sleep.”
Being truly hospitable, Sydney let him sleep.
Melbourne also rolled out the red carpet for the fleet. Nothing was too good for the Yankee sailors, and they were given the key to the city. Melbourne’s hospitality made such an impression that many sailors were reluctant to leave when the ships got underway for Manila on Sept. 18 and arrived Oct. 2.