With two tugboats pushing her through the Cooper River, the decommissioned destroyer Laffey floated out of emergency repairs and into a new limbo Monday afternoon.
Dick Trammell, executive director at the ship's keeper, Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, said the ship now rests atop a new, thicker hull. It has some new internal walls and some new framework, and experts who helped preserve the Confederate submarine Hunley weighed in with long-term protective coatings for the ship's interior and exterior.
A dehumidification system will keep the rust down on the inside, and a process using electrical currents will work to do the same on the outside. Trammell said divers will inspect the Laffey annually.
But the questions of when the ship will return to Patriots Point and where the attraction will exhibit it remain unanswered.
The Laffey moved Monday from Detyens Shipyards to the State Ports Authority's Pier November near Veterans Terminal, a donated temporary home.
Patriots Point turned over custody of the Laffey's neighbor, the cutter Ingham, to a Coast Guard museum in Florida the day after the Laffey moved to dry dock. That left the Laffey's and the Ingham's old parking spaces open.
Those spots both prove vulnerable to storm waves and require moving piers to bring a vessel in and out for work. Trammell said the Laffey most likely will move to the starboard side of the museum's main attraction, the aircraft carrier Yorktown, though that means dredging and new infrastructure to moor it there.
And that, in turn, means more money.
"Until all the engineering studies are in and we've weighed all of the costs, the decision cannot be made," Trammell said. "The ship itself probably will be ready before we're ready to bring it back."
Dubbed "The Ship that Would Not Die" for withstanding World War II kamikaze attacks, Laffey seemed primed to sink into Charleston Harbor over the summer. It had sprung more than 100 leaks in late 2008, and marine surveyors feared a good gust could destroy what remained of the fragile hull.
Patriots Point lobbied for help to save the ship and secured a $9.2 million state loan just in time for storm season. The Laffey limped to Detyens Shipyards in August.
Trammell said the work at Detyens cost about $7.8 million, not including the preparation work outside of the shipyard. He said the project's total cost has not been tallied.
Patriots Point's board of directors, while moving forward in developing a master plan for the attraction, recently began discussing whether to cut loose additional warships to save on expenses. The group included the Laffey in those discussions and still must repay the state money it spent fixing the ship.
The agency had banked on $20 million in federal funding that fell through and must repay the $9.2 million loan by December of 2011.
The work remaining to be performed on the Laffey amounts to little more than cleaning, painting and restoring the small touches that turn her into a museum. Four members of the Laffey Association, a group of veterans who served onboard, rode with their ship out of Detyens Monday.
"She's all shiny and looks really beautiful. She just needs to be painted now," said association president Sonny Walker, in town from Maryland. "That'll be our job."