Mighty Mo has new glow as ship prepares to leave Hawaii drydock
By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer
The battleship Missouri this week will be reborn after a three-month drydocking — its first since 1992 — and a top-to-bottom $15.5 million paint job.
The 887-foot "Mighty Mo," America's last battleship, is expected to leave drydock at Pearl Harbor at noon on Thursday for the 2-mile return to pier Foxtrot 5 at Ford Island and repositioning bow to bow with the sunken battleship USS Arizona.
The year 2010 brings a lot of renewal for the ship turned museum and memorial — a new look, a new rate structure, a new enclosure for events on the fantail, new onboard restrooms, mooring chains instead of ropes to keep the big ship in place, greater access on the second deck and a new enclosed entryway.
Michael Carr, the Missouri's president and chief operating officer, is just glad that the drydocking is nearly over. Last week, officials estimated the work was 90 percent to 95 percent completed.
"For me, every day was an education," said Carr, whose background is in the visitor and banking fields. "I'll be very happy when we get reopened and get back to doing what we do best — which is welcoming visitors."
On the morning of Oct. 14, those casting a glance in the vicinity of the Arizona Memorial saw something not seen since for 11 years — the Missouri uncoupled from its mooring.
With the drydocking, the Missouri, the site of Japan's unconditional surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, in Tokyo Bay, will be nearly as pristine for the 65th anniversary of the end of the war this year.
According to shipyard workers, the drydocking of the Missouri was the first for a battleship at Pearl Harbor since World War II.
"All the workers that we've had out here — I've had a lot of them say how proud they are to be working on a national monument like the Missouri," said Roger Kubischta, president and general manager of BAE Systems Hawai'i Shipyards, which has the contract to overhaul the battleship.
"It's a big thing and everybody's glad the work is here in Hawai'i and being done where it's stationed," Kubischta added.
Because of the time between drydockings, BAE workers used a more aggressive sandblasting to strip the hull instead of hydro-blasting it with water — the method usually used with Navy ships that are drydocked every five to seven years, Kubischta said.
That produced 900 tons of sand. To keep the sand confined, barrier material was stretched from the main deck of the ship to the edge of the drydock.
Prior to Dec. 23, about 300 square feet of steel plate had been replaced on the outer hull in sections as large as 4 feet by 8 feet to fix rust damage.
On that day, the 54,899-ton warship got a "bounce," the term for a slight movement — in this case, four feet — to reposition the battleship on 315 concrete and wood keel blocks so those previously covered portions of the hull could be painted.
Carr said about 15 additionally discovered holes under that covered area had to be welded shut with steel plate. Even with some unexpected discoveries, the project was kept within budget, Carr said.
With the addition of some other scheduled projects, including the installation of a $1 million humidity monitoring system for the ship's many tanks, replacement of pier mooring line with anchor chain, the renovation of shipboard bathrooms, and installation of the new enclosure on the fantail, the total renovation comes out to $18 million.
The chains will provide a more secure mooring. Missouri officials found out the need for chains the hard way when about a year ago strong winds blew against the battleship, causing its rope lines to stretch and the ship's service brows to crash to the pier.
Many of the Missouri's 120 employees stayed on the payroll during the drydocking with some alternate assignments, Carr said.
About a half-dozen tour guides worked on restoring the Missouri's two boats — the captain's gig and the personnel boat, he said.
"We found them (the boats) just rotting away in a yard on Ford Island, actually only a couple hundred yards from where we were," Carr said. "We spent the last three months renovating them, and they look absolutely magnificent."
A "soft" reopening of the Missouri, one of Hawai'i's 10 most popular tourist attractions, is expected around Jan. 15.
The new rate structure includes a tour for $20 — a slight reduction from the pre-move rate of $23 for entry onto the battleship and a guided tour, officials said.
A grand reopening is planned for Jan. 30, a day after the 66th anniversary of the Missouri's launch from the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Kama'äina and military can visit for free that day.
"There's going to be a lot of new stuff and we encourage everybody, whether they've been here or not, to give us a look," Carr said. "But more than anything, the ship itself just looks magnificent, and that was our No. 1 priority."