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Anchors Aweigh! Historic warship heads to Florida museum

LAKE CHARLES, La. — The Gearing-class destroyer Orleck has made its home in Lake Charles for the past decade but will soon make a 16-hour trip to Port Arthur, Texas, then trek for a week to Jacksonville, Florida, to join the Jacksonville Naval Museum.

The Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association intends to have the Orleck as its main attraction for museum-goers and ship enthusiasts everywhere.

The ship came to Lake Charles in May of 2010, and was open to the public by April of 2011.

"We're very excited about it, about the effort to save the ship," said Ron Williams with the USS Orleck Naval Museum. "I'm sad to see the ship leave Lake Charles and Louisiana, but in order to save it ... we're happy in that regard that we're able to do that. It's a positive story ... in the fact we can continue the odyssey and save it for future generations.

"The important thing to know is we plan (to have) the ship remain open for tours and visits through March 1," he said. "I encourage people to come out and see the ship before we have to close it to finish doing what we need to do."

A Soviet trawler equipped with antennae and other electronic gear, is watched by the destroyer Orleck in international waters off the North Vietnamese coast in the Gulf of Tonkin 18 January 1968. (U.S.Information Agency)
A Soviet trawler equipped with antennae and other electronic gear, is watched by the destroyer Orleck in international waters off the North Vietnamese coast in the Gulf of Tonkin 18 January 1968. (U.S.Information Agency)

Orleck will remain open to the public through March 1. After that, only museum members and volunteers will be allowed on certain areas of the ships.

Marine surveyors and members of the Coast Guard have visited the ship to prepare for repairs.

Most of the work will be done externally to ensure the safety of everything inside the ship while it is being moved.

Orleck will be towed to Port Arthur where it will be dry-docked for a good cleaning, some hull repairs, other minor repairs, a fresh coat of haze gray paint and whatever other superficial needs necessary to be berthed in Jacksonville. The ship is being prepared internally by volunteers that are packaging artifacts and securing documents among other things.

According to the Jacksonville Naval Museum website, the Coast Guard will require the ship to be water tight for sea. The issues lie in covering the cost for river pilots and the tug boats on both phases of the tow.

A GoFundMe was set up. By helping with the tow package, it frees up funds for additional work in the yards.

The Naval Museum’s website also stated that if the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association does not take possession of Orleck, all donations raised from the GoFundMe for the tow will be used to save historical items such as documents, equipment and displays from the ship for use by other museum ships.

"We will, by act of donation, donate the ship to the other organization," Williams said. "It'll be good for the support of the ship, going there, especially the resources they have as a naval town."

The Orleck website will remain active after the transfer.

The destroyer Orleck in South China Sea during WESTPAC cruise, July 1965. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)
The destroyer Orleck in South China Sea during WESTPAC cruise, July 1965. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

Challenges of keeping this historic ship in Lake Charles include the costs of dredging, the exposure to storms in its current location, and the fact it has no permanent dock on the lakefront.

"It's hard to raise money for the ship if you don't have a permanent dock to raise against — to say 'this is where it's gonna go'," Williams said.

If everything goes according to plan, the projection is Orleck will be in Jacksonville’s Naval Museum by late April.

"You plan, and you execute, but if you have issues you adjust," said Williams when asked about the uncertainty of this timeline. Such instances as bad weather could cause the date to be pushed back.

"Please continue to support the ship ... by making donations to take care of the operation expenses. Although we're a nonprofit and we have volunteers, we have things we need to cover as we go through this insurance and supplies to get ready for dry-dock," implored Williams.

He encourages people to contact about volunteer opportunities, questions about the ship, or applying for membership.

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