NEW YORK – To the sound of horns and the calling of orders, the retired aircraft carrier USS Intrepid will slip from her Hudson River berth on Nov. 6 and, like the fabled ships of yesteryear, sail on the morning tide.

Not off to war this time, but just five nautical miles down New York harbor to a drydock in Bayonne, N.J., where the historic World War II vessel will spend two years undergoing what its owners call “refurbishment and restoration.” The ship’s departure marks its first physical movement since being saved from the scrapyard and turned into a floating military museum in 1982.

The Intrepid’s farewell will begin with pomp and ceremony, including speeches, patriotic music and a Navy flyover and a parade of “honor ships,” Bill White, president of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, said Thursday. The voyage to New Jersey will also include a 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 patriotic-themed event was appropriate for a ship that participated in every major battle, survived five Japanese kamikaze suicide attacks and lost 270 crew members, during the last two years of the Pacific war. It later served in the Korean and Vietnam wars and as a recovery ship for NASA astronauts.

After a quarter-century at the same site, the Intrepid needs extensive work, including a completely new paint job, to correct 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 Pier 86, to which the carrier will return in November 2008.

Alpha Delta, the record-setting supersonic Concorde jetliner that became part of the Intrepid museum in 2004, will be temporarily relocated to a public site in New York City, but that arrangement was still being negotiated, according to White and to Alan Proud, a British Airways spokesman.

Some of Intrepid’s 23 aircraft will remain on deck during the two-year renovation – shrink-wrapped in protective covering to fend off the elements – but others will be “outsourced” for refurbishing work elsewhere, said Eric Boehm, Intrepid’s aircraft restoration manager. Inside, exhibits including a replica statue of the Iwo Jima flag-raising, have been wrapped and crated for storage.

As a museum, Intrepid has become a top New York City tourist magnet, drawing 700,000 visitors a year in a city whose own military and naval traditions are all but invisible except during the annual Fleet Week observance.

Intrepid 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 powerful, 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 for 24 years.

Five tugs will then shepherd the Intrepid stern-first down the Hudson past other New York landmarks – the World Trade Center site, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty – en route to the Bayonne Marine Terminal. 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 – buoying the ship by a few extra feet – and timing the move for the autumn high tide, which is 5.6 feet, will allow the powerless carrier to float free, White said.

In days of sail, ships customarily relied on the outgoing tide to give them a start, a practice still used today in the tradition-conscious Navy. The morning tide would assure enough daylight to steer a safe course to open water.

The Intrepid was one of 24 Essex-class carriers, which wrote naval history as the Navy’s “fast carrier force” in sea and air battles against Japan. Launched in 1943, it supported three island invasions and fought in the battles of Truk, the Philippine Sea and Leyte Gulf, and helped sink both of Japan’s two “super-battleships,” Musashi and Yamato.

Only four Essex carriers still exist, including Intrepid, which was doomed to be “turned into razor blades,” as White put it, until rescued by New York real estate magnate Zachary Fisher in 1981.

It opened as a naval, air and space museum the following year, with an ever-growing array of aircraft that range from battered Vietnam-era helicopters to a Soviet-built MiG-21 fighter, a gift from Poland, and the spectral Lockheed A-12 Blackbird, a high-altitude reconnaissance plane that remained top secret even as it flew missions for many years.

An eBay auction of guest access to the Nov. 6 event is expected to raise $600,000 for the project and support of Intrepid’s education programs that will continue during the hiatus, said Mike Onysko, Intrepid’s vice president for marketing.



On the Net:

http://www.intrepidmuseum.org

AP-ES-10-27-06 1606EDT


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.