By Pat Milton
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
NEW YORK, Nov. 6 -- The legendary World War II aircraft carrier USS Intrepid got stuck in deep Hudson River mud Monday as powerful tugboats fought to pull the floating museum from its Manhattan berth and tow it downriver for a $60 million overhaul.
The mission was scrubbed at around 10:30 a.m. as the tide went down, said Dan Bender, a Coast Guard spokesman.
Officials were not sure Monday when they would try to move the Intrepid again or whether they might try to leave it in place and refurbish it in its berth, Intrepid President Bill White said at a news conference.
The next unusually high tide is Dec. 6, but that will be about a foot lower than Monday's tide, which officials had thought would help float the carrier free of the sticky mud, he said.
After 24 years at the same pier on Manhattan's West Side, the warship that survived five kamikaze attacks began inching backward out of its berth, but the tugs moved it only about 15 feet before its giant propellers jammed in the thick mud. The decommissioned warship no longer has engines of its own.
"We knew it was not going to come out like a cruise ship," said Matt Woods, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum's vice president for facilities.
Six tugboats had strained to move the giant ship.
"We were able to move her 15 feet, and then she came to a halt. We tried to add more power with another tugboat, but we couldn't wiggle her free," said Jeffrey McAllister, the chief pilot of the tugboat operation.
"We were missing our open window. We had to give up because the tides were going down," he added. "She was moving, we were hopeful, she started to creep along, but then she stopped."
Monday's departure was timed to take advantage of the yearly high tide so the tugs could pull the 27,000-ton ship out of the slip where it has rested in up to 17 feet of mud. Removal of 600 tons of water from the Intrepid's ballast tanks gave the ship added buoyancy, and dredges removed 15,000 cubic yards of mud to create a channel from dockside to deeper water.
The planned refurbishment, which is expected to take up to 2 years, will include opening up more interior spaces to the public, upgrading its exhibits and painting the ship from bow to stern. The pier also is to be rebuilt. The city is contributing $17 million, the state $5 million, and the federal government $36 million. Also, $2 million in private funds will be spent.
Elected officials, veterans who served on the Intrepid and others had waited on the flight deck for the beginning of the journey five miles down the river to a dry dock in Bayonne, N.J. Helicopters flew overhead; New York City Police Department blue-and-white powerboats, city fire department boats and a Coast Guard cutter were on hand to accompany the aircraft carrier.
The final mooring lines were cast off at the order of 80-year-old retired Rear Adm. J. Lloyd "Doc" Abbot Jr., who served as Intrepid's skipper from 1960 to '62 and was named honorary commander for the day.
"It was the best job I ever had," Abbot said, standing once again on the ship's deck. "Intrepid had a soul of her own. 'How can a hunk of iron have a soul?' you may ask. But I loved her. She kept me safe and at times I kept her safe."
The Intrepid serves as a living memorial to the armed services, a tourist attraction that draws hundreds of thousands people a year. And if the need arose, it would become an emergency operations center for city and federal authorities. The FBI used it as an operations center after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.