November 11, 1999
USS New Jersey comes home today
By CAROL COMEGNO and ARON PILHOFER
SHAWN SULLIVAN/Courier-Post Spectators aboard the Cape May ferry watch as the USS New Jersey travels the last leg of its 5,800-mile journey from Washington state to Philadelphia.
The USS New Jersey arrives in Philadelphia today - fittingly, on Veterans Day - for a temporary stay at the shipyard where it was built during World War II.
An armada of boats and thousands of war veterans and other spectators on both sides of the Delaware River are expected to greet the New Jersey as it is towed upriver throughout the morning and into early afternoon.
The aging World War II warship - one of four of the largest battleships ever built by the United States - is to arrive at the shipyard about 2 p.m., ending a two-month voyage of 5,800 miles that began Sept. 12 in Bremerton, Wash. Onlookers face a windy day, with rains possible in the morning.
Many boaters who plan to watch from the river also face choppy waters and high winds. The National Weather Service issued a small craft warning for today.
The battleship will remain at the now-closed Philadelphia Naval Shipyard - just a short haul across the Delaware River from the Camden Waterfront, where many in South Jersey hope it will be permanently berthed as a museum and memorial. The North Jersey city of Bayonne also wants the vessel. The Navy will decide by January which city will be the ship's final home.
Greeted by a small fleet of well-wishers, the battleship left the ocean Wednesday afternoon and entered the Delaware Bay to begin the last 86 miles of its journey.
Coast Guard cutters kept about two dozen pleasure craft at a safe distance as the tug Sea Victory slowly towed the ship toward the Delaware River.
On Wednesday, just as the battleship passed the Cape Henlopen sea buoy 10 miles south of Cape May, the pollution control ship Lynne Frink fired a column of water into the air, honoring the battleship's arrival.
As the New Jersey passed the Harbor of Refuge Lighthouse near Lewes, Del., it drew an even bigger crowd. Aircraft circled overhead. Packed with 1,000 onlookers, the ferry Cape May joined the flotilla.
At 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, for the first time in three decades, the giant dreadnought came within sight of the New Jersey shoreline. It was towed to a position off Cape May at the mouth of the Delaware Bay.
As the sun began to set and a steady wind blew, preparations were made to bring the ship upriver. Other tugs joined the tow and two Delaware Bay river pilots climbed aboard the battleship, while other marine personnel boarded the Sea Victory.
One of them was Capt. Allan H. Anderson of Crowley Marine Services. He stood on the deck of the Sea Victory, the tug that has brought the ship from the West Coast, after dark and gazed behind him at the battleship in tow.
"The stars are out. It's a beautiful evening with westerly winds and just a little ripple on the water," he said. "We're just enjoying the cruise up and taking it easy. All we have to do is less than 4 knots to get there on time."
Today's docking process at the shipyard is expected to begin about 2:30 p.m., with the ship backed into position alongside Pier 4 by 3:30 p.m. and secured by 4:30 p.m.
Once docked, the ship will remain off limits to the public. No visits or tours will be permitted until the Navy decides on the ship's final home.
During the tow upriver, recreational boats must stay outside a safety zone of 150 feet to either side, 1,500 feet ahead and 300 feet behind the ship. The zone will be expanded to more than half a mile - 3,000 feet on all sides - once docking begins, Coast Guard officials said.
Small craft warnings were posted for today by the National Weather Service for the Delaware Bay and river, with winds of up to 25 mph as a cold front moves through the area, dropping temperatures into the 50s.
Winds may cause problems for smaller vessels planning to greet the World War II ship today as it is pulled and pushed up the river. The Coast Guard has advised smaller vessels in the 16-to 20-foot range to avoid the water.
"It can cause problems for some boaters," Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Joseph Hartline said.
He also cautioned that the 52-degree water could endanger anyone falling overboard, especially without a life jacket.
"It's up to the owner of the vessel to use prudent judgment about whether to venture out. I would not go out in a 16-foot boat," he said.
Celebrations that include bands, banners, and gun salutes are planned today in Pennsville, National Park and on the west side of the river in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
"It's here, and it's a great day for New Jersey and for the battleship. Welcome home," said state Sen. John Matheussen, R-Gloucester.
Coast Guard Flotilla 13-1 auxiliary member Phil Walmsley, 42, of Winslow, will use his private boat today to help the Coast Guard keep a safety zone around the ship as it proceeds upriver.
"I am so pumped at being out there tomorrow," Walmsley said, "and more so because my late dad worked on the New Jersey as a pipefitter in the 1940s. I was on it in 1969 when it came back to the yard for retrofitting, but I don't remember it well because I was too young."
On the open ocean, one tug was able to steer the ship, decommissioned in 1991 and no longer operating under its own power. But pulling a "dead" ship the size of the New Jersey up a river requires more delicate maneuvering. That's why three additional tugboats were added to help guide it upriver.
Most of the preparations for the trip upriver have already been made, said Todd Busch, manager of contracts and emergency services at the Seattle-based Crowley Marine Services.
The battleship originally was to arrive last weekend, but bad weather and engine trouble aboard the Sea Victory tug caused the delay.
The first leg of the trip from Washington went smoothly. But just after the New Jersey emerged from the Panama Canal, the Sea Victory broke down and a slower, less powerful tug was brought in as a temporary replacement. The Sea Victory was repaired, but strong head winds and rough seas caused further delay.
The battleship served in every major conflict from World War II through just before the Gulf War. It was decommissioned for the last time in 1991 after a career spanning five decades.