The next time the submarine Clamagore dives, she is never going to resurface.
It's as simple, and sad, as that.
The Cold-War-era sub, which has been on display at Patriots Point since 1981, is slated to become an artificial reef before the end of the year. The state agency's board has contracted with a company that will take the sub to Florida, where it will become an underwater tourist attraction.
But a local group is determined to stop that. The Clamagore Restoration & Maintenance Association wants to save the vessel, preserve it and display it somewhere local - possibly North Charleston.
To these folks, most of them submariners, the thought of losing the Navy's last Guppy III class sub is unfathomable.
"We're trying to save her. We know the money is out there," says Tom Lufkin, chairman of the group. "For some reason, Patriots Point has decided they don't want the sub there."
That would probably be the end of the story, but now the state has gotten involved.
On Tuesday, state Rep. Joe Daning of Goose Creek - along with most of the Charleston County delegation - filed a resolution to stop Patriots Point from disposing of the sub.
If only it were that easy.
Mac Burdette, executive director at Patriots Point, understands how the submariners feel.
Navy men grow attached to their vessels, sub crews perhaps most of all.
Problem is, the Clamagore is in rough shape. Long before Burdette took the helm at Patriots Point, the sub was allowed to deteriorate to the breaking point. That's the curse of being a state agency that gets no state money.
They simply don't have the $3.5 million it would take to save the Clamagore. The maritime museum still owes $8.7 million on a $13.5 renovation of the destroyer Laffey, and is staring down the barrel of a Yorktown renovation that could cost $80 million.
The Clamagore is the odd ship out.
"While we respect their wishes, they have a dream that is, frankly, unattainable," Burdette says. "We just can't save every ship."
This is a common problem for maritime museums. The Navy has sent more than two dozen ships out for display in the past few decades, but it doesn't pay to maintain them. For vessels that were built to last 25 years, a saltwater berth is a death sentence without constant, costly maintenance.
Burdette says he would be happy to turn the Clamagore over to the Restoration and Maintenance Association, but the Navy wouldn't allow it unless the group had the money and plans to take care of it.
Lufkin says he's talked to the Navy, and brass will allow his group to take the sub if it can raise the money to care for it. They've set up a website, savetheclamagore.com, to take donations and display their business plan.
But, Lufkin says, they can't raise money so long as the Clamagore is slated for eternal patrol.
The resolution Daning filed Tuesday would prohibit Patriots Point from doing anything with the Clamagore until July 1, 2015.
That would scuttle the scuttling plans.
Burdette says Patriots Point will certainly comply with the state's wishes, but lawmakers should talk to him before they pass this.
Engineers fear that a hurricane could sink the sub and cause serious environmental problems in Charleston Harbor. It would also cost millions to salvage. That's why the board voted to get rid of the Clamagore after the sub's veteran's organization could not raise the money to save it.
If the state does give the Clamagore a stay of execution, it also should provide Patriots Point with an insurance policy. Otherwise it's just another unfunded mandate. And they don't need that.
Of course, if the state could make that sort of commitment, it could also pony up $3.5 million to restore the Clamagore. It would be better to have something to show for our money than to blow it on a clean-up.
The bottom line here is that Burdette is right - you can't save every ship.
But the Clamagore is the last of its breed, and Lufkin knows that. It's why he and 300 other local people are trying to save it.
If they are going to pull that off, however, they are going to need someone with deep pockets.
Otherwise, the Clamagore is going to disappear into the deep blue.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org
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