BATH

After hearing the news that the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. would be scrapping the USS Barry, a Forrest Sherman class destroyer built at Bath Iron Works in 1955, former Bath resident Harry McCaffery got to thinking.

McCaffery, a Morse High School and University of Maine alum, wondered if the city would be willing to move the ship to Bath and restore it, as an ode to the city’s maritime culture.

“The Barry would be a wonderful memorial to the Navy ships built there, and it would be a tourist attraction,” he said in an email.

While McCaffery’s intentions are noble, the odds of that have proved to be unlikely for several reasons, which includes the vessel’s current condition.

According to Brian Sutton, public affairs officer at the Navy Yard, the ship hasn’t been dry docked since it arrived in the yard in 1982 where it sits on the Anacostia River. Also, the ship’s hull “hasn’t been maintained and is partially submerged.”

While talks of restoration and donation were broached, Sutton said they were dropped early on.

“It’s very unlikely because the ship is in such a state of disrepair to keep it operational,” Sutton said on Wednesday. “It’s not a historic ship and it can’t be kept at a historic status.”

Although several groups have reached out about raising funds to move and restore the Barry, Sutton said restoration costs have been estimated at $2 million, while it could cost $10 million for an outside group to remove the ship to another location for restoration.

Up until Labor Day last year, the ship was open for public tours, ceremonies and other community activities in the nation’s capital. The ship had attracted more than 500,000 visitors a year when it first arrived in the yard, but numbers dropped to 10,000 people a year in recent times, said Sutton.

However, the decision to scrap the ship was independent of the decline in tourists and more so about the replacement of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge with a fixed-span structure, which would trap the vessel, said Sutton.

“The Navy was going to make the decision to scrap the Barry anyway, but because of the (bridge) it’s driving a deadline,” he said.

If the ship was left to deteriorate any longer, “we would have a different problem on our hands,” Sutton added.

After a departure ceremony on Oct. 17, Sutton said the vessel will go out for contract to be scrapped and towed away in December or January.

From mere speculation, Bath City Council Chairwoman Mari Eosco said it would be hard to tell whether the city could ever take on restoring a ship unless they had all the information.

Before serving on the council, Eosco recalled another time when the topic of restoring a ship had been brought up to the city which “ultimately … faded out.”

“I’m not going to say no,” she said on Wednesday. “I’m not making promises. The Maine Maritime Museum seems like a natural fit, or maybe BIW and the museum combined.”

However, restoring a vessel of that size seems to be a hefty task for either or even both entities combined.

“We certainly wouldn’t have the capacity to have a whole destroyer here,” said Katie Meyers, the museum’s communications manager. “But we have in the past collected artifacts from different vessels built at BIW that have been decommissioned and scrapped.”

Nathan Lipfort, senior curator at the museum, also agreed that maintaining a vessel in the city would be an immense task.

“To have something that big would be beyond our financial capabilities,” he said. “It would be neat to have, but beyond something we could handle.

“It would be more interesting to us, if we save a ship, to pick something no other museum had,” he added.

Like Eosco, he recalled a group who had hoped to house an original Forrest Sherman in Bath years ago, and another who had wanted to bring a Bath destroyer to the city, but couldn’t raise the funds.

“You’re talking about a 400-foot vessel and it’s a huge amount of expense,” he said.

The response was similar just a few miles down the road at BIW.

“We would evaluate any such request that came to us, but we are primarily a new construction shipyard and there are other yards better equipped for overhaul and repair,” said BIW spokesperson Matt Wickenheiser.

While McCaffery’s dreams may be far from coming true, he spoke fondly of his time in Bath.

McCaffery, who left the city in 1967 and now resides in New Mexico, has been back to visit family and attend high school reunions.

Once in a while, he said he opens Google Earth for a virtual tour of the city.

“The Tavern on the waterfront there (was) where I used to get deep-fried parsnips,” he said, recalling memories of the Kennebec River. “Every now and then, my dad and I would launch a boat out there and cruise down and do some fishing.”

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Barry built at BIW

UP UNTIL LABOR DAY last year, the BIW-built USS Barry was open for public tours, ceremonies and other community activities in the nation’s capital. The ship had attracted more than 500,000 visitors a year when it first arrived in the yard, but numbers dropped to 10,000 people a year in recent times.


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