Ship goes ashore for repair, rehab

Cutter: The Roger B. Taney, the last craft from the attack on Pearl Harbor still afloat, is in dry dock for six weeks of cleaning, painting and refurbishing.

March 15, 2003|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The 2,700-ton warship rose slowly out of Curtis Bay, its black belly pebbled by barnacles and pocked with rust. Water sloughed from the propellers, each taller than the helmeted dockworkers. Twenty-four electric winches hauled inch-thick cables until the World War II-era ship was free of the water for the first time in decades.

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Roger B. Taney - the last survivor of the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor still afloat - lumbered forward atop a wooden cradle mounted on a train car with 112 wheels. A tanklike vehicle pulled on a bar hitched to the ship's stern.

Capt. William Cheever, commander of the Coast Guard's shipyard just south of Baltimore, smiled yesterday as he watched the historic ship roll past him - a clam hitching a ride on the keel - on its way to dry dock.

The 327-foot cutter, normally docked as a museum in the Inner Harbor, will be cleaned, painted and repaired during the next six weeks as part of a $400,000 federally funded project to keep the 67-year-old ship well maintained.

"We certainly did take it out for dry-docking at an important time - that's a lot of corrosion right there along the waterline," Cheever said, pointing to a reddish-brown belt of rust running the length of the hull. "That's something that we'll need to address. And those rust pockmarks up there? That's serious stuff."

Shipyard workers will use high-powered water guns to blast away the barnacles, rust and old paint. Then they will inspect the hull, welding sections that need repairs. Finally, they will apply coats of epoxy and paint, said John Kellett, director of the nonprofit Baltimore Maritime Museum, which maintains the Taney and other historic ships docked in the Inner Harbor.

"A ship in service normally gets dry-docked for maintenance every couple years," Kellett said. "It's been more than 20 years for the Taney, and it's important that we keep it in good condition because it means so much historically. The Coast Guard used it not only in World War II, but in Vietnam, the war on drugs during the 1980s and everywhere else."

Built in Philadelphia in 1936, the Taney was named for the former attorney general and secretary of the treasury in President Andrew Jackson's administration who later became chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The ship was tied up at Pier 6 in Honolulu during the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

During that war, the warship - which had two 5-inch guns and four anti-aircraft guns -served as a command post during the invasion of Okinawa, shot down four Japanese aircraft and escorted convoys across the Pacific, Atlantic and Mediterranean.

It bombarded enemy positions during the Vietnam War and intercepted drug traffic in the Caribbean during the 1970s and 1980s. The Taney was taken out of commission in 1986.

Several Coast Guard veterans who served aboard the Taney were on hand yesterday to watch the cutter hauled out of the water.

Capt. Ivan Luke, who served on the ship from 1981 to 1984, recalled the Taney crew rescuing a family with children aboard a 50-foot sailboat that foundered during a storm off Cape Hatteras in 1982. As 25-foot waves tossed the craft, its sails shredded, a team of sailors launched a rescue boat and pulled the family to safety.

"They were grateful to see us, that's for sure," said Luke. "It was dark, the sea was so rough, and the [rescue] boat got damaged banging up against the side of the ship. ... But it's really satisfying when you actually save somebody's life."

Tim Firme, 47, who maintains weapons systems at the Coast Guard station, said he has a lot of emotional attachment to the ship, on which he served from 1981 to 1983.

"The Taney is near and dear to my heart, because she was the first ship I ever served on," Firme said. "She's got a tremendous amount of history behind her, from Pearl Harbor on through the 1980s. It's good to see that we're taking good care of her."

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