NEW YORK - To the sound of horns and the calling of orders, the aircraft
carrier USS Intrepid will slip its moorings on its Hudson River berth on Nov. 6 and sail once again on the morning tide.
Not off to war this time, but just five nautical miles down New York harbor
to a dry dock, where the retired World War II veteran will spend two years undergoing what its owners call "refurbishment
and restoration." It will be the ship's first voyage since it was saved from the scrap yard and turned into a museum in 1982.
The Intrepid's departure will begin with pomp and ceremony, including speeches,
patriotic music, a Navy flyover and a parade of "honor ships," Bill White, president of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space
Museum, said Thursday. On the way to its dry dock in New Jersey, it will stop near ground zero to unfurl a huge American flag
as a salute to victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
White said the patriotism-themed event was appropriate for a ship that participated
in every major battle during the last two years of the war in the Pacific, surviving five Japanese kamikaze suicide attacks
and losing 270 crew members. It also served in the Korean and Vietnam wars and as a recovery ship for NASA astronauts.
But now, after a quarter-century on Manhattan's West Side, the Intrepid
is in need of extensive work to fix deterioration from the effect of weather and salt corrosion. The $58 million plan also
calls for more work and living spaces to be opened to the public, and a rebuilding of its pier, where it will return in November
Some of the 23 aircraft exhibited on the ship will remain on the flight
deck, shrink-wrapped in protective covering, and others will be taken elsewhere for their own refurbishing, said Eric Boehm,
Intrepid's aircraft restoration manager. Exhibits inside the ship, including a replica statue of the Iwo Jima flag-raising,
have been crated for storage.
Intrepid has become a top New York City tourist magnet, drawing 700,000
visitors a year in a city where military and naval traditions are all but invisible except during the annual Fleet Week observance.
It also supports a Fallen Heroes Fund that has provided $14 million to aid families of servicemembers killed and wounded in
line of duty, and built a $35 million advanced training facility for disabled veterans.
White said former crew members, some of whom serve as volunteer museum guides,
will cast off lines at 9:15 a.m, the crest of the year's highest tide, and a 6,000-horsepower "tractor tugboat" will pull
the 27,000-ton carrier from the pier where its keel has rested in up to 17 feet of mud.
Five tugs will then shepherd the powerless ship stern-first down the Hudson
past the World Trade Center site, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, to the Bayonne Marine Terminal in New Jersey. The
journey will take eight hours at a pokey 1 to 2 knots.
"One of the biggest challenges was to make sure she was going to float,
after sitting in the mud all those years — quite a Herculean task," White said.
A recent dredging, the draining of 600 tons of water from ballast tanks
and timing the move for the autumn high tide, which is 5.6 feet, will help the mammoth ship float free, White said.
The morning tide also would assure enough daylight for steering a safe course
to open water.
The Intrepid was one of 24 Essex-class carriers, the Navy's "fast carrier
force," in sea and air battles against Japan. Only four Essex carriers survive, including Intrepid.
The aircraft it has displayed range from battered Vietnam-era helicopters
to a Soviet-built MiG-21 fighter, a gift from Poland, and a Lockheed A-12 Blackbird, a predecessor of the SR-71, a member
of the family of high-altitude spy planes that remained top secret even as they set speed records that still stand.
Another iconic aircraft, Alpha Delta, the record-setting supersonic Concorde
airliner that became part of the Intrepid museum in 2004, has been displayed on a barge alongside Intrepid. It will be temporarily
relocated to a public site in New York City, although arrangements are still being negotiated, said White and Alan Proud,
a British Airways spokesman.
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