The unsung hero of the Navy’s chopper force
Laid down, 28 December 1967, at Pacific Coast Engineering Co., in Alameda, the heroically named Skilak (YFU-79), was just 125-feet long and could plod along at 9 knots. Armed with 3 M2 machine guns to ward off enemy sappers and sampans, she had a crew of a dozen commanded by an NCO. She was based on a commercial off-the-shelf design for logistics boats used on the Alaskan oil pipeline.
Her mission? As an Army Yard Freight Utility Craft, she was used to shuttle cargo and supplies around the RVN in the hard use of the US Army 329th Heavy Boat Co. “U-boat soldiers” for I Corps at Da Nang, which she dutifully pulled off until 1975 when she was evacuated to Guam after the fall of Saigon.
Well in 1986 the Navy picked her up after ten years of afloat storage in the island territory and, as IX-514, stripped her of her guns, updated her electronics and powerplant, installed a helicopter deck and lighting, had her bridge moved forward and then shipped her to Pensacola.
There she served as the Helicopter Landing Trainer (HLT) for over 20 years, getting underway for about 90 days per year to allow approaches, landings and take offs by Navy, Coast Guard and Marine chopper trainees on TH-57 Jet Rangers. And she was good at what she did, setting a record of 346 landings in a single day’s evolution– which isnt bad for a 125-foot long carrier!
On 25 Aug 2006 she completed her 100,000th consecutive accident-free landing.
Baylander (ex-IX-514, ex-YFU-79), veteran of 120,000+ landings, was brought to the Brooklyn Bridge Park Marina in 2014 where she now serves as a museum of sorts in addition to a more sedate role in shuttling NY Harbor School students to access their classes on Governor’s Island as part of the sailing school program.