Lowcountry, Patriots Point bid farewell to old friend

Jack Warland waited on the Ravenel Bridge for five hours Thursday to say goodbye to the Coast Guard cutter Ingham, which left Charleston Harbor to begin a journey to its new home in Florida.

MOUNT PLEASANT -- Jack Warland waited for five hours on the Ravenel Bridge, a Coast Guard flag draped over a railing facing the river, to catch a glimpse Thursday of the cutter Ingham passing Patriots Point on its way out of Charleston Harbor.

"I'm paying my respect to the ship," said Warland, a Vietnam veteran who served on a similar Coast Guard vessel.

The Ingham was an attraction for 20 years at the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum. Now it's heading to a new home at the Miami-Dade Historical Maritime Museum in Key West, Fla.

The Ingham was scheduled to leave Detyens Shipyard, where some leaks were plugged, at 10 a.m. but was

delayed by fog. It finally passed under the bridge at 2:30 p.m.

"I didn't want to come off the bridge because I didn't know if I'd have the energy to get back up there again," Warland said of his decision to wait it out.

At the waterfront pier near the bridge, a small crowd waited to see the ship Thursday morning. They left after an hour when they heard the departure was delayed.

"Any time a boat leaves, it's sad to see, especially if you have prior military experience," said Matt Gleaton of Mount Pleasant, a Navy veteran who works for the town's recreation department.

"It's been at Patriots Point for so many years, and it's being saved," said Bob Thomas of Mount Pleasant, a retired aerosol can plant executive. "It's part of history. We hate to see it go, but we're so glad it's being preserved."

The Ingham helped catch opium smugglers in the 1930s, hunted German U-boats in World War II, carried out dozens of naval gunfire support missions in the Vietnam War, and rescued at least 20 Cuban citizens during the Mariel Boatlift in 1980.

The Ingham is being towed by a 6,500-horsepower tugboat that was chugging along at 10 knots as it passed Sullivan's Island about 3 p.m. At that rate, it should arrive in Florida on Monday or Tuesday, Miami-Dade Historical Maritime Museum Director Bill Verge said.

"She's a great old gal and she's going to be around for a while," Verge said by phone Thursday as he drove back home to meet the ship.

Patriots Point gave away the Ingham because the museum no could longer afford it. It cost the museum $80,000 a year to keep the vessel, Patriots Point Development Authority Executive Director Dick Trammell said.

Some who turned out to see the Ingham wondered what the loss meant for the future of Patriots Point, which is struggling to raise money to repair the other ships there. "I'm worried what they're going to do with the rest of that junk over there," Bill Bellevue of Mount Pleasant, an Air Force veteran who retired from a missile-making plant, said at the town's waterfront park Thursday morning.

Giving the Ingham a new home was the first step in saving the other vessels at Patriots Point, including the Yorktown, said Trammell, who took the reins this spring.

"The Yorktown is not closing," he said. "It's not going to happen. What we're dealing with now is a situation that the current board inherited, basically a 30-year backlog of maintenance. We're playing catchup."

Just this week, the authority voted for the Army Corps of Engineers to come up with a plan and cost estimate to build a cofferdam around the Yorktown, which would keep water off the part of the ship that's not buried in the mud, Trammell said.

The authority also recently hired a development director to come up with more ways to raise money, and Patriots Point owns several hundred acres that could be developed to support the ships, Trammell said. "We're making progress." he said.