City marine unit flagship will retire to Fla. waters

September 19, 1994|By Michael James | Michael James,Sun Staff Writer

She has quelled mutinies, plucked Communist defectors from the waters and hauled dozens of cars, boats and human bodies from the depths of the Inner Harbor.

But the Cold War is over, and for Baltimore, so is the era of the big, heavily armed police patrol boat. So the Intrepid, the city police marine unit's 50-foot flagship for 27 years, is being decommissioned and soon will be leaving for good.

"It's sad, because she's a good old boat," said marine unit Sgt. Drew Hall. "We found that we were using her less and less. She just wasn't useful to us anymore. The harbor has changed, with the influx of all the marinas and the pleasure boats, and it's just a lot harder to maneuver a 50-foot boat out there."

Looking at the Intrepid from the dock at the marine unit's headquarters on Boston Street, he added, "She's just too big now . . . kind of like a large toy in a little tub."

Purchased new by the city in 1967 for $78,900, the Intrepid was sold Aug. 20 to Georgia boat collector Ron Wassenberg for $26,100 -- a pretty good price, considering the twin engines alone probably are worth at least that much.

Mr. Wassenberg, who put in the highest bid for the vessel, will be picking up the Intrepid tomorrow and piloting it to Tampa, Fla., where it will be moored. He plans to use the boat -- which has a stove, bunks, a dining table and a spacious cabinet where the weapons arsenal used to be -- for pleasure.

"A new boat like that would cost well over $100,000," Mr. Wassenberg said. "Plus, I was interested in the history of the boat. It's got quite a past."

In its heyday, the rugged steel-framed Intrepid was involved in a variety of action along Baltimore's harbor. It was a rescue boat capable of cutting through any storm, a body-recovery vehicle and a show of force when dealing with occasional mutinies on merchant ships.

"It was equipped with a pretty good armory of about six shotguns, metal vests, civil defense helmets, and even Geiger counters and radiological equipment. They were ready for nuclear war," said Police Agent Burton S. Israel, who has piloted the boat for seven years.

The equipment that could have been used to test for fallout in an enemy attack was removed about three years ago, in keeping with the end of the Cold War, Agent Israel said.

John R. Duffy, 68, a retired city police sergeant and one of the first officers in charge of the Intrepid, recalled one mutiny in the mid-1970s when a Filipino crew revolted against a Chinese captain.

"The Coast Guard called and said, 'Duffy, you better get down there. The captain's barricaded in his cabin with a shotgun and he's shooting,' " Mr. Duffy recalled. "I got 20 men together in the Intrepid, and we went out and boarded the vessel. Nobody was dead, but we had to remove the captain."

Occasionally, the Intrepid would scoop up defectors who jumped communist ships, he said. But most of the time, life on the Intrepid -- which patrolled 24 hours a day, 365 days a year -- was not so exciting, said Mr. Duffy, who piloted it from 1970 to 1980.

The boat would haul stolen cars from the sandy bottom with a huge grappling hook, stop speeders for breaking the 6-knot harbor speed limit or assist stranded boaters.

"She was a very capable and able vessel. Sometimes we'd go ashore and lecture the unescorted youngsters about the dangers of walking along the edge of the waterfront," Mr. Duffy said. "It doesn't sound exciting, but it was important, very rewarding work."

Begun in 1860, the city marine unit is one of the oldest divisions of the police force. Charged with patrolling the 50-plus miles of city waterways and shorelines, its duties have varied over the years, changing as often as the harbor itself.

Officers in the last century patrolled in individual rowboats. In 1891, the police force got its first large boat, a 60-foot steamer named the Lannan, after an 1880s police official. The Intrepid is ,, the sixth flagship boat built for the department.

The Intrepid was better suited to the harbor of the 1960s and 1970s, when commercial boat traffic was heavy and pleasure boating much lighter. Capable of doing only about 15 knots, it is no match in speed for the marine unit's 32- and 25-foot boats, which can bounce along at 50 knots.

"We've gone into a different era. It's a much quicker, faster world we live in now. Time is of the essence," said Sergeant Hall, one of the marine unit supervisors.

"It really is the passing of an era," he said. "This will be the last of the large police boats you'll see in Baltimore."

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