A great heave, an elaborate send-off and a ship stuck in the mud
NEW YORK -- If elaborate fanfare were all it took to propel an old aircraft carrier, the USS Intrepid would be across the Hudson River in New Jersey by now. Despite a sendoff that involved two senators, two former mayors and a few admirals, howev...
NEW YORK -- If elaborate fanfare were all it took to propel an old aircraft carrier, the USS Intrepid would be across the Hudson River in New Jersey by now. Despite a sendoff that involved two senators, two former mayors and a few admirals, however, a team of powerful tugboats failed to pull the old ship out of the mud off Manhattan on Monday.
The Intrepid, which has housed a military museum on the West Side of Manhattan for almost 25 years, was scheduled to be towed to Bayonne, N.J., to begin an overhaul that would take up to two years. But after more than an hour of heaving and straining, six big tugs with a total of nearly 30,000 horsepower had moved the 920-foot-long ship just 15 feet in a few lurches that left it wedged into the river bottom.
The tugboat operators scrubbed the mission at 10:30 a.m., sending the museum's managers scrambling to draw up Plan B.
Bill White, the president of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, said he had called the Navy and the Pentagon for help and ordered a team of divers to take a close look at what was gripping the ship's four propellers.
"There's a buildup of mud underneath the vessel," said Jeffrey McAllister, the senior docking pilot for McAllister Towing, the tugboat operator. "We were trying to get it to wiggle."
But the ship "came to a fix," he said, and now "it just is solidly held."
White said he did not know how or when the propellers could be dislodged, or what that feat might cost. The foundation that runs the museum had already spent more than $1.2 million to dredge 16,000 cubic yards of silt from under the ship, he said, and about $250,000 more was to be paid for hauling the ship to Bayonne.
Among the political stars who turned out to say farewell to the Intrepid on Monday were New York's two senators, Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, and former Mayors David Dinkins and Edward Koch.
At 9:20 a.m., at the crest of the high tide that followed the full moon, the Christine McAllister, a tug with 6,140 horsepower, pulled taut a cable hooked to a chain attached to the ship's stern and revved its mighty engines.
Four other McAllister tugs stood by to help guide the Intrepid downriver. But soon they, too, were spewing black smoke as they churned up foam in the brown water of the Hudson, trying to separate the Intrepid from the pier.
After five minutes, with no sign of movement, the retired crewmen lining the ship's rails and the few hundred onlookers gathered on Pier 84 began to realize that something was amiss. The hulking Intrepid, which survived five kamikaze attacks in World War II, looked like a mule resisting the force of several farmhands.
The failure may have been most unsettling to Arnold Fisher, the chairman of the museum and nephew of Zachary Fisher, a New York builder and philanthropist, who saved the Intrepid from the scrapyard in 1981.
"We're not ready to sink her," Fisher said. "I'm extremely disappointed, but they did everything they could out there."