Tag Archives: patriots point

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.

Clagamore, down for the count

We’ve talked about the GUPPY’d Gato-class “fleet boat” USS Clamagore (SS-343) a few times in the past as she is not only historically significant, long being one of the best-preserved of her type still in American waters, but that the latter distinction has been slipping steadily in the past decade.

The sub is reportedly now at risk of capsizing due to deterioration of the hull. What do you expect from being in saltwater for 75 years?

Well, according to The Post and Courier, she is taking on water and the Patriot’s Point museum is most likely going to get their wish and be able to reef her in the coming months.

From behind the paywall, the big nugget:

The leak can’t be repaired right now, for several reasons, the museum director said, making it “very, very unlikely” the ship will ever be reopened to the public.

Of course, the cost to reef her is estimated to be $2.7M with an “M” so she may just be towed off and broken up.

Museum ships hanging out their shingles again. Others may hang it up

Sadly, as a side effect of the worldwide economic crisis sparked by the COVID 19 response and the extended shutdowns in some areas, it is estimated that one in eight museums currently closed will never reopen.

While not quite a descent into the Dark Ages just yet, that is still a big blow if you think about it. For instance, the Historic Naval Ships Association (HNSA) counts nearly 200 vessels in their “fleet,” which simple math would lead you to deduce that at least 16 will no longer be viable at the end of this crisis, a figure that in reality could be much higher as some museums have numerous ships.

For sure, with everyone sheltering in place, there are no visitors, the key to any museum’s survival. Ships located in states/countries with very strict lockdown seemingly extended forever are surely under the gun.

Last month the Mystic Seaport Museum closed and laid off 199 employees, with no date on the horizon to reopen. At the USS New Jersey (BB62) Museum, with the termination of visitors, and withheld funds from the State of New Jersey, ship managers are almost out of money to maintain the historic Iowa-class battlewagon, the only one that fought in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War.

Everett, Washington’s Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum, originally established by Paul Allen, announced, “The current global situation is making it difficult for us to serve our mission and we will spend the months ahead reassessing if, how, and when to reopen.”

How long can large, aging ships located in areas like New York City (USS Intrepid) and San Diego (USS Midway) survive if everything stays shut down in those areas with no expected relaxation of the lockdown rules in the near future?

With all that being said, many vessels have taken advantage of the past couple of months to restore compartments and areas that have long been neglected due to offering 364 days of yearly access to the public.

For instance, check out the USS Alabama/USS Drum‘s social media pages which have detailed an extensive before-and-after restoration of several areas of both the battleship and submarine. They even removed the 30+ planes from the Aircraft Pavilion for deep scrubbing.

USS Alabama’s recently restored sickbay

The Alabama Battleship Memorial Park will open to the public on Saturday morning, May 23, at 8:00 a.m., with new social distancing and hygiene standards in place. The Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum, home of the USS Razorback (SS-394), opened on May 22. 

The South Carolina Military Museum in Columbia is reopening June 1. Likewise, the USS North Carolina Museum is opening on Tuesday, and Patriot’s Point in South Carolina is reopening Friday.

Hopefully they are the first of many.

The cost of keeping Yorktown in business

The Post and Courier has an excellent article on what it costs to keep a large maritime museum with floating relics in operation.

Built around USS Yorktown (CV/CVA/CVS-10), one of 24 Essex-class fleet carriers built during World War II,  Patriot’s Point has gone through a lot of ups and downs since it was established in 1976, near the bustling NAVSTA and Naval Shipyard in Charleston. At it’s peak in 1989, the museum included not only Yorktown but the WW II destroyer USS Laffey, Cold War era submarine USS Clamagore, nuclear-powered merchant ship NS Savannah and the Treasury-class cutter USCGC Ingham.

Since then, both Savannah and Ingham have been towed to Baltimore and Key West, respectively, Clamagore is set to be sink as a reef in a couple years, and both Laffey and Yorktown have received millions in repairs and need millions more.

The Navy pulled out of Charleston in 1993. Of the 450 acres of state land the park started with 40 years ago, there has been some leased to Charleston Harbor Marina and Beach Club, the College of Charleston, the Patriots Point Links gold club, more to the Medal of Honor Society for a museum, and now a portion along the river in a 99-year lease to a developer.

The hopes: generate $6 million a year to keep the park open, and raise $60 million to refurb Yorktown.

If not…

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