Museum Ship News: You Win Some, You Lose Some

In Lake Charles, Louisiana, the Gearing-class destroyer USS Orleck (DD-886) has been hanging out since 2010. Awarded four battlestars in Korea, Orleck was transferred to Turkey in 1982, from whence she was saved in 2000 and became a floating exhibit in Orange, Texas for a decade before moving to Lake Chuck.

I visited her a few years back and thought, sadly, throughout the tour that her days were numbered. She was in bad shape and, with few visitors, money to turn that around was slim. Then came Hurricane Laura in 2020 which tore the tin can from her moorings and sent her tossed up the Calcasieu River.

With that, I figured it was the beginning of the end. After a 20-year run as a museum ship, her last chapter was being written. 

However, in a surprise to many, she was saved and now, after a much-needed drydocking and repair session at the Gulf Copper Central Yard in Port Arthur, she is being towed around the Florida Keys to Jacksonville and is expected to arrive there around the first of April, then open as a museum downtown this summer.

Orleck, fresh out of the dry dock, being towed to her new home in Jacksonville

She is not out of harm’s way just yet.

Her refit and move cost $2.5 million, which included $1 million from the state of Florida and the rest in the form of donations and loans, the latter of which can be bad if Orleck doesn’t pull in the crowds.

You lose some…

As with Orleck, we’ve talked several times in the past few years about the submarine USS Clamagore (SS-343), a Balao-class 311-foot “fleet boat” of the type that crushed the Japanese merchant fleet during WWII. Commissioned on 28 June 1945– just narrowly too late for the war– her Naval service was nonetheless rich, being converted to a GUPPY II snorkel boat in 1947 and later GUPPY III in 1962– one of only a handful to get the latter upgrade.

Decommissioned in 1973, the boat was still in pretty good shape when she was donated at age 36 to become a museum ship at Patriot’s Point, South Carolina where she has been since 1981, near the WWII carrier USS Yorktown and the Sumner-class tin can USS Laffey (DD-724).

However, it is not 1981 anymore and the old girl, which has been rusting away in brackish water at the mouth of the Cooper River with what I think everyone will admit is poor maintenance, is reportedly past the point of no return. Needing to use their limited funds to help preserve Yorktown and Laffey for a little longer

Patriots Point Executive Director, Dr. Rorie Cartier, explained that while the situation is not ideal, limited funds would likely be better spent elsewhere: 

“Unfortunately, we cannot financially sustain the maintenance of three historic vessels. The USS Yorktown and USS Laffey also need repair, and we are fighting a never-ending battle against the corrosion that comes from being submerged in saltwater.”

In addition to the damage salt water does to the historic vessels, Cartier said that pollution from the eroding vessel poses a threat to the water in which it sits.

“There are increased environmental risks the longer the submarine remains at Patriots Point,” Cartier said. “Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are present throughout much of the vessel and exceed levels allowed by the EPA. There are also more than 500 lead batteries, weighing nearly one-and-a-half tons each, that need to be removed.”

As far back as 2017— a half-decade ago at this point– the Palm Beach County Commissioners voted to use $1 million in funds to jump-start a project to sink Clamagore about a mile off the coast of Florida’s Juno Beach. At the time, Patriot’s Point said $6 million would be needed to refurb the old girl to keep her.

Now, even the thoughts of reefing the sub have come and gone.

Clagamore is set to be scrapped at a cost of $2 million while Patriots Point staff will remove artifacts — such as sonar equipment, torpedo hatches, and the periscope — for display on Yorktown and at other institutions.

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