Rag prevents Battleship Texas from sinking

LA PORTE, TX A rag and a backup pump kept the storied battleship Texas from sinking in its mooring at San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site over the weekend, according to state park officials.

"This worrisome incident, which we fortunately succeeded in bringing under control, underscores the importance of moving forward rapidly with plans to place the Texas in a dry-berth," said Carter Smith, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department executive director. "I'm just glad our folks at the park showed a lot of resourcefulness in preventing the situation from getting out of hand."

The 1914-vintage battleship, a veteran of both world wars, is the last of its kind. She's been moored at the San Jacinto Battleground since 1948. Her hull was last repaired in the late 1980s and has since become dangerously weakened from years of exposure to the brackish water of the Houston Ship Channel.

Last Thursday, according to park manager Andy Smith, a park employee leaving for the day noticed that the ship appeared to be sitting a bit lower in the water than normal. When he returned to work the next morning, the ship was noticeably lower. In fact, the lower portion of the collar of one of the monopiles attached to the vessel was about a foot under water, meaning the ship had sunk some two to three feet overnight.

When park staff checked below deck, they discovered a previously unknown leak on the starboard side of the ship, near the waterline in the vicinity of frame 80. Water also was found building up in the aft steering compartment of the ship.

A pump in that compartment had burned out, according to the park manager, causing the ship to take on more water than normal. That, in turn, pulled a seam separation below the water line, in effect causing another leak. The broken pump was replaced with a backup, and other pumps were employed.

By the end of the day Saturday, some 105,000 gallons of water had been pumped from the ship, which rose to its normal level. As a temporary fix, a rag was stuffed in the starboard leak, which is now above the waterline.

"Currently, a rag and pumps are keeping her afloat," said Justin Rhodes, regional director of the area that includes the San Jacinto site. "The sooner we get her out of the water, the better."

In 2007, as part of Proposition 4, voters approved a bond package that included $25 million to dry-berth the battleship. The Battleship Texas Foundation will be providing another $4 million. And last March, the Legislative Budget Board approved the sale of bonds "contingent on the ship being dry berthed in its current location."

Plans are in progress to dry-berth the ship. TPWD recently selected an engineering firm to design the dry berth and is currently negotiating design fees. After that, the team will develop a project plan and construction schedule. Current plans are to complete the dry-berth by 2014, the centennial of the ship's commissioning.

"Given what happened recently, we are eager to proceed with this project," Carter Smith said. "We're not going to let the passage of time do what two world wars could not do, which is scuttle the Battleship Texas."

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