Updated 11:30 pm, 04-24-12
Today was a very important day in the restoration of the battleship, the returning of the mast.
Mark Carlson and I arrived just after 9 a.m., and a small crowd had already gathered in the shipyard. Mostly veterans that had helped restore the ship a few local sightseers and a few Iowans that had stopped bye while attending a conference in the bay area.
Becky Beach, the USS Iowa Project fundraiser, came in from Des Moines for the event. She went to the top of the tower where the mast would attach to the ship and placed several coins including an Iowa Quarter and a gold coin directly under the mast. I joked with her about someone stealing the coins but she said they will be melted and mixed in with the metal as it is welded. She says it is an old naval tradition.
There was a hive of activity surrounding the mast decking. Contractors were busy reinforcing the welds and making final adjustments to the steel. The deck had to fit perfectly on the tower of the USS Iowa.
The goal of the Pacific Battleship Center was to have the deck lifted around 9:30 but that did not happen because of some last minute adjustments and correction with the mast. To keep the people interested the volunteers gave tours of the bow of the ship. That is the front and houses turrets one and two of the 16″guns. I used the time as an opportunity to get any last minute video or photos that I may need to tell the story later.
Eventually Mark and I started doing interviews with veterans when the mast is ready signal was given on the two-way radio. We quickly moved into place to capture the event.
It was really well orchestrated with a crane on a barge was moved into place with a tug boat to lift the decking. Then it was slowly moved down the ship to where the crane would move into place to be lifted up and on the tower.
Once the mast was in place you could feel a collective sigh of relief from organizers. This was the last major piece to be put on the battleship before it is finished. With the mast in place most of the scaffolding can now be removed revealing its for grandeur.
The whole process went off without incident.
Mark Carlson and I have been given the opportunity to document the restoration of the USS Iowa Battleship.
We traveled to Richmond CA Sunday, just north of San Francisco, where the mighty ship is docked. The Pacific Battleship Center attained the ship in late 2011. Since then there has been a buzz of activity getting the ship ready to be a floating museum over the 4th of July in Los Angeles.
The ship has been in mothballs for over 20 years. The Teak Wood on the main deck is all but rotten and rust has invaded deeper than any enemy bomb ever had. Both paid and volunteers have put in many hours restoring the vessel by repairing the wood sand blasting and painting the steel.
Fundraising is essential for the completion of the project. Leaders have thought of every possible way of raising cash including offering weekend tours at $10 per person. Sunday over 400 people toured the ship even though they were only allowed on a portion of the deck and the inside is strictly off limits for now. Most visitors we spoke with came because this was as close as they could ever get to a battle ship.
On Tuesday the mast will be raised in a ceremony to add another 60 feet of height. It was taken off in 2001 by the navy so it could clear an area bridge. Officials tell us this would compare to a topping off ceremony you would see with a building. An Iowa quarter will be put under the base of the mast and be melted in as it is welded in place, another Naval tradition.
Personally both Mark and I are thrilled to be able to cover this as a story. Like most people I have never had the opportunity to see a battleship not to mention being able to tour one. We were able to see the inside of the ship and it is incredible. The navy may have let the deck go but it spent millions maintaining the interior with large dehumidifiers. That is as much as I can talk about that part of the ship now although I can say the narrow passages of the USS Iowa were not meant for someone of my height and girth.
I will continue to gather and update the blog as I cover this mighty ship.