New Jersey poised to enter Caribbean today
Bernie Moran and his son,
Chip, both residents of Haddon Township, watch the USS New Jersey
as it travels through the Panama Canal on Tuesday.
PANAMA CANAL - The Battleship
USS New Jersey inched its way, under tow, through the canal Tuesday,
the second day of a three-day journey, and was to reach the Caribbean
While most of the New Jersey delegation that came to see the
World War II-era ship enter the canal on Monday left Panama City
on Tuesday, a group from South Jersey stayed to catch a final
glimpse of the ship and to tour Panama.
Tuesday morning, they spotted the ship - the most decorated
vessel in Navy history - in Mira Flores Lake near the second
of three sets of locks in the canal. At the first sight of the
ship, the group cheered and the tour bus stopped for picture-taking
along the lake's edge.
"Take it to Camden! And don't run into the mud in that
narrow channel!" Bernie Moran, 59, of Haddon Township, yelled
to the canal tug pulling the "Big J" as he pointed
northward, in the direction of New Jersey.
Moran, a retired Philadelphia Naval Shipyard worker who once
prepared pumps and other machinery used on ships like this one,
embraced his son, Chip, 38, as they said their last goodbye until
the ship arrives in the Delaware River in early November.
"We want to keep alive the history of the shipbuilding
industry in South Jersey and Philadelphia by bringing the battleship
back to where she was built in the 1940s and overhauled in 1968,"
said Moran. He supports a Camden site for a naval museum and
memorial instead of placing the ship in Bayonne in New York Harbor.
The battleship entered the Pedro Miguel Locks Tuesday afternoon
and traversed Gatun Lake before anchoring at dark outside the
final set of locks. The normal transit through the canal is one
day for a ship moving under its own power, but the canal commission
will not allow a ship to be towed at night.
The total rise from the Pacific and drop into the Caribbean
is 85 feet. On Tuesday night, the ship was 85 feet above sea
level. It will be lowered today to sea level. The 50-mile journey
is being made at about 4 to 5 knots an hour.
A canal official said the transit of the "impressive
old girl" has been flawless so far.
"She behaved so well. We were expecting problems, but
they didn't happen," said Sandor Litai, marine traffic control
supervisor for the canal commission. "Too bad progress has
made her into a dinosaur that must be towed."
He said the ship should enter the Atlantic breakwater outside
Cristobal by 3 p.m. today.
Litai said much planning preceded the transit because the
battleship is so wide and was not under power. But he said that
as far as river traffic is concerned, the ship is "just
another vessel." He said other ships are continuing to travel
in both directions while the New Jersey is in the canal. The
commission is charging the state of New Jersey $300,000 for the
tow - the largest amount ever paid for a naval vessel.
For most of the 200 New Jerseyans who came to see the ship
enter the canal, it was the first time they had seen the battleship
"I came because of my dad, and I'm living this through
his eyes," said Chip Moran, also of Haddon Township, during
the tour of the canal and the stone ruins of Old Panama. "This
experience has been great, and to see the pride on the military
veterans' faces yesterday as they watched the ship was really
Chip Moran also is a former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard worker.
Others in the contingent included Camden County Freeholder Patricia
Jones, Camden County Improvement Authority Executive Director
Philip Rowan and Gloucester County College business professor
Frank Fletcher. "I am so filled up every time I've seen
her the past three days, I can almost cry every time," said
Jones, co-founder of the nonprofit alliance that hopes to bring
the ship to the Camden waterfront.
Some in the group were not among the 60 people invited by
Gov. Christie Whitman to be aboard the ship when it entered the
locks Monday. While some were disappointed, others who watched
the ship from an observation tower at the canal said they were
"I would have rather been outside the ship anyway, because
you couldn't get good pictures of it coming in if you were on
board," Fletcher said.
Two couples from Toms River - lawyer Bob Paschon and his wife,
Karen, and Realtor Byron Kotzas and his wife, Mary - were not
lucky enough to be on the ship Monday, but came aboard for a
"We loved it," said Karen Paschon, who teaches high
school in Toms River. "Watching it from the tower was fascinating,
but we feel everyone from New Jersey who came here should have
been able to get on board. There seemed to be room."
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