Tug needs permanent berth
A nonprofit would like to find a home in Olympia for the boat used in World War II, refurbish it and open it to the public for maritime activities.
OLYMPIA — It has been a World War II Navy tug, a U.S. Coast Guard rescue ship and an oceangoing commercial tug in its 64-year history at sea.
Now it's a veritable floating maritime museum, owned by a nonprofit group, anchored in lower Budd Inlet and looking for a permanent home.
The Comanche — that was its name as a Coast Guard ship from 1959 to 1980 — moved to South Sound in January 2007. It first moored at a Port of Olympia marine terminal, followed by a stay anchored south of Gull Harbor and more recently, Butler Cove.
At 143 feet long, it's hard to miss on the waterfront. It's one of the largest tugboats in Puget Sound and the last of a class of 89 large seagoing auxiliary tugs commissioned by the Navy in 1944 to assist warships in World War II.
The Comanche served in the Okinawa war theater and earned a battle star for towing battle-damaged ships out of the line of fire.
"The Comanche and its crew saved hundreds of lives" during the war, said Joe Peterson, a former Coast Guardsman who served on the Comanche's sister ship, the Modoc, which later was turned into a luxury yacht.
Peterson, a Tacoma resident and civilian instructor at Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base, formed a nonprofit group in 2007 called the Comanche 202 Foundation. The ship's last owner, David Howard, of Toledo, Lewis County, donated the ship to the foundation after using it for about 15 years as a Tacoma-based, oceangoing commercial tug, Peterson said.
The steel-hulled ship is filled with records and maintenance logs dating to its Navy days, as well as about 13,800 spare parts in their original packaging, said Tom Payne, a diesel mechanic and foundation secretary who has donated countless hours working on the ship's engine, which is operational.
The diesel electric power block aboard the vessel is reliable and powerful enough to generate electricity for a town of 5,000, Payne said.
The Comanche is memorable in other ways, said Randy Corrigan, a Lacey-area man who served on the ship for two years (1976-78) as a Coast Guard executive officer, second in command to the captain.
"It was the roughest-riding ship I was ever on in 27 years in the Coast Guard," Corrigan said.
The stormy seas that the vessel faces in the years ahead have more to do with finding a home and the funding to realize the foundation's dream: a refurbished, 1960s vintage Coast Guard vessel open to the public and equipped to host programs on maritime survival, shipboard safety, seamanship and a training center for teaching nautical skills.
"We're interested in Olympia as our home," Peterson said. "Having a permanent berth here would be marvelous."
Although its Coast Guard years were spent in the coastal waters of California and Texas, the ship did call on the Port of Olympia a number of times in more recent years as a commercial tug, Peterson said.
Short on money
The Comanche and its supporters are typical of a lot of well-intentioned maritime history projects long on enthusiasm and short on money, noted Bob Peck, a Tumwater resident and president of the South Sound Maritime Association.
"It's sort of a nostalgia thing," Peck said. "But this historic vessel happens to be in unusually good condition. Its not a derelict vessel. It's fully operational, but it's in everybody's best interest to find it a home."
Peterson said the vessel and its volunteers have been well-received in Olympia. The ship participated in Harbor Days Aug. 29-31 in downtown Olympia, hosting 1,200 visitors and raising $1,600.
A dedicated core group of foundation volunteers has donated 2,600 hours of labor on the ship in the past year, Peterson said.
At the same time, the ship has generated a number of complaints from lower Budd Inlet residents, who see it as interfering with their enjoyment and views of the waterfront, said Melissa Montgomery, who manages the state Department of Natural Resources derelict-vessel program.
DNR ordered the Comanche to move from its anchorage over state tidelands south of Gull Harbor last summer, citing state law that it had overstayed its visit.
The ship was forced to move from the port marine terminal earlier this year to make way for the Weyerhaeuser Co. log-export project.
The ship's current moorage was offered by Jerry Isaksen, a Butler Cove resident who visited the ship during Harbor Days.
Montgomery said the ship might still be perched over state tidelands, which means it may have to move again.
Peterson said his group continues to talk with Port of Olympia officials and others about a possible home.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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