Fate of submarine Clamagore to be decided
MOUNT Pleasant — For more than 30 years, the submarine Clamagore has served as a tourist attraction at Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.
But the last surviving vessel of its type may soon go underwater one last time.
“She needs a lot of work,” said Mac Burdette, executive director of Patriots Point. “The ballasts are paper thin and the hull is in better shape, but we don’t have the money to fix it.”
He estimates the cost to repair the 1945- commissioned submarine at $5 million to $6 million, money the state agency doesn’t have and most likely won’t come from the state since Patriots Point still owes more than $8 million on the last ship the state saved from sinking into Charleston Harbor.
That leaves two options, Burdette said Friday.
One is to see what has to be done for it to become an artificial reef off Florida, he said. The other is to see if anyone else wants it.
Asked if there was any consideration for a third option about repairing it, Burdette said, “I can’t see us going to the General Assembly and asking for money. There are other more important areas to spend that money.”
The state loaned Patriots Point $9.2 million in 2009 to repair the destroyer Laffey, which sprouted so many leaks it was close to sinking in the harbor before it was hauled up the Cooper River for refurbishment that same year.
Shiny as new, it returned to Patriots Point in January and took over the Clamagore’s berth parallel to the World War II-era aircraft carrier Yorktown.
The 322-foot-long submarine was moved to the south end of the carrier in January and has been off limits to visitors since then. Once a new gangway is installed, it should reopen by Fourth of July festivities, Burdette said.
Unlike the Laffey and Yorktown, the Clamagore never saw combat. But Burdette said visitors enjoy going inside the submarine to imagine what the living conditions were like in the cramped quarters.
The Clamagore, named for a fish, called Charleston its home base until 1959 and came to Patriots Point in 1981 as a museum piece. It was decommissioned in 1975 and is the nation’s last remaining GUPPY type III diesel-powered submarine. GUPPY stands for Greater Underwater Propulsion Program.
Word of its possible demise brought sadness to former sailors of the ship.
“It pains us to think it is going to be towed away and maybe made into a reef,” said George Bass, treasurer and past president of the USS Clamagore SS343 Veterans Association. “We would hate to see it go.”
The group, which once boasted several hundred members, meets every other year in Mount Pleasant for its reunions. Last year 102 attended.
Bass, 85, of Salisbury, N.C., served on the submarine from 1948 to 1957 and is keenly aware of the Clamagore’s state of disrepair.
“It’s in terrible condition,” he said.
He also knows that Patriots Point doesn’t have the money to repair it. He has asked congressmen and senators, even media mogul Ted Turner and other well-heeled businessmen for the money, to no avail.
“They all say Patriots Point took it and they should take care of it, but they will never get the funds,” he said. “They will have a hard time paying off the loan on the Laffey.”
Bass believes they are now fighting a losing battle.
“I guess they will tow it out and make a reef out of it,” he said with resignation.
“That would be sad,” fellow Clamagore veteran Michael Burk, 62, of Ohio said. “As everybody gets old, though, I don’t know who is going to take it.”
Burdette said the board will decide on the Clamagore’s fate in about three months, but it could take up to a year for it to move, especially if it becomes a reef.
The sub still has batteries and possibly some fuel that would have to be removed, Bass said.
“It would have to be cleaned up,” the former submarine electrician said.
The Patriots Point board also approved the agency’s $9.6 million spending plan for the new fiscal year starting July 1, including $425,000 for advertising, an increase of $250,000 over the current outlay.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524.