Time grows short for the submarine Clamagore, as the Patriots Point Development Authority continues work on a plan to eventually allow for its disposal off the coast of Florida as a fishing reef and skin-diving attraction.
The best hope for the submarine lies with the former shipmates who served as its crew during its 30 years of service. Clamagore veterans have gathered in Pensacola, Fla., this week to renew friendships, swap tales — and discuss strategy to save the sub, which was launched during World War II and actively served in the Cold War.
The Clamagore Veterans Association maintains that the submarine is in better shape than has been portrayed by Patriots Point officials. They contend there is no immediate danger that it will sink alongside the dock at the naval museum.
“The deterioration is cosmetic only and principal structural integrity remains intact,” wrote retired Navy Capt. D. M. Ulmer in a report titled “The Plight of the Clamagore.”
Capt. Ulmer was the last commanding officer of the submarine, which was retired in 1975. The Clamagore is the only submarine of its type in existence.
Thomas Lufkin, a local member of the Clamagore Association, says an engineering study commissioned by the museum actually found the submarine to be “physically in good shape.” He says that submarine veterans are willing to assist with the restoration work gratis, but have been rebuffed by museum officials.
Mac Burdette, executive director of Patriots Point, says the only solution is for the ship to go into dry dock for repairs that would cost an estimated $3 million. He acknowledges that the ship likely could remain on site without an overhaul for another three years — in the absence of a hurricane.
But he adds: “We do not want the ship to go through another hurricane season. There’s too much at risk.”
Clearly, Patriots Point officials want to avoid any problems like those of the destroyer Laffey. That World War II vessel almost sank at its moorings, and could only be repaired with the help of an emergency state loan. It was particularly embarrassing when the Laffey couldn’t be brought back to the museum after the $11 million refurbishment because the museum lacked sufficient funds.
Nevertheless, Patriots Point officials should keep an open mind about the Clamagore until its alumni finish working out their recommendations to save the vessel.
Mr. Lufkin says that Clamagore veterans may approach North Charleston officials about having the Clamagore serve as an adjunct to the Hunley museum planned there. The Hunley was the first submarine in history to sink an enemy vessel and is being restored at the former Navy Base, near the Waterfront Park.
A fund-raising effort already under way has generated a modest $35,000 so far, but Clamagore veterans remain confident that much more can be raised once a firm restoration plan is readied. Then the campaign, aimed at submariners, past and present, across the world, is expected to gather steam.
The possibility that the ship can still be preserved as a museum vessel is worth the extra time and effort.
As Capt. Ulmer wrote of the Clamagore: “She is an excellent venue for visitors to experience the confines endured by submariners during conduct of successful southwest Pacific campaigns, as well as her active role in the Cold War.”
Included in any rescue proposal should be a temporary plan to secure the vessel in the event of a hurricane.
If achievable, it could buy some time to save this survivor of historic 20th century conflicts.