Rescue mission: Repairing the Laffey
There was little reason to be concerned.
At 7:15 a.m. Wednesday -- in time for the morning high tide -- the destroyer Laffey was towed clear of her mooring at Patriots Point and gently eased backward into the Cooper River.
Tended by a tiny fleet of tugboats, the ship paused briefly in the river center, turned and began a four-mile tow run north to Detyens Shipyards for four months of repairs and dry dock.
Fears that there might be bursts or leaks below the waterline were overblown. In fact, the only scare for the skeleton crew on board was the sudden bang of a loose door slamming, causing a momentary startle. Otherwise, it was smooth sailing on flat waters.
"Popcorn dry," Joe Lombardi, a marine surveyor and consultant from Ocean Technical Services, reported of conditions below deck.
Fifteen years after her last big repair job, the Laffey now sits tied up pierside at the former Navy shipyard in North Charleston. The veteran World War II vessel probably will move into dry dock early next week, with repairs set to begin soon afterward.
"Beyond expectation," said Dick Trammell, interim executive director at Patriots Point, after all the lines were secured. "No pumps, no leaks, no errors."
The buildup to Wednesday's move was years in the making, after the Laffey suffered long-term exposure and neglect. It sped up this winter when more than 100 leaks appeared in the hull. A last-minute state loan of $9.2 million allowed the Patriots Point Development Authority to get the destroyer its date in the dry dock.
As envisioned, repair crews during the next few months will rebuild the ship's structural beams and hull-plating on the Laffey's lower and bottom portions. If all goes well, and with good maintenance, the fix should keep the Laffey shipshape as a museum piece for another 20 years.
That was good news for Laffey veterans who watched the journey from a tour boat and on Charleston Harbor. One of the veterans, Dan Essing, 85, of Queens, N.Y., dates his Laffey service to her commissioning in Bath, Maine, in early 1944.
During a brief interview, Essing spoke of being assigned to convoy duty in the Atlantic, serving in the D-Day invasion in Normandy and also the deadly times chasing the rising sun in the Pacific.
"Plenty of memories, good ones and bad ones," he recalled. The "bad ones" included times when the ship picked up "survivors from other (tin) cans that got sunk" and seeing soldiers in brown uniforms floating in the English Channel during D-Day.
Though the Laffey's Navy service ran for decades, the ship is most famous for her endurance, surviving repeated kamikaze attacks off Okinawa in 1945. The crew's and ship's stamina earned the Laffey recognition as "The Ship That Would Not Die."
Supporters said Wednesday they would miss seeing the ship for the next few months while she is behind the shipyard gate, but they put their trust in the much-needed repair work.
"We know her heart is beating just as hard as ours are," said Sonny Walker, Laffey Association president, as he watched the Laffey being towed forward.
The Laffey Facts
Wednesday morning the Laffey was towed successfully from Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant to Detyens Shipyards in North Charleston for repairs to her hull. The repairs should take about four months. Afterward, the ship will return to Patriots Point and will be open to visitors.
Bath Iron Works, Maine, commissioned in 1944.
Supported the D-Day landings at Normandy. Later moved to Pacific Theater to join the war with Japan. Off Okinawa in April 1945, the Laffey survived multiple bomber and kamikaze attacks with heavy losses, earning the nickname "The Ship That Would Not Die."
Added to the Patriots Point fleet in 1981
Today, sometime after 7 a.m., the Coast Guard cutter Ingham, another Patriots Point Maritime Museum exhibit, will move to a Coast Guard pier in North Charleston for minor work. Afterward the ship will head to a dry dock for repairs in Jacksonville, Fla., and later, a new home in Key West alongside the cutter Mohawk as part of the Miami-Dade Historical Maritime Museum.
Semper Paratus (Always Ready)
World War II, used in coastal search and rescue, German U-boat patrols and also in the Pacific. It's the only Coast Guard cutter to have received two Presidential Unit Citations. Other service includes missions in the Vietnam War and rescuing boat travelers in the waters between Florida and Cuba during the Mariel boat lift.