JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The USS Orleck on Thursday finally began its voyage to Jacksonville after spending its preservation period at the Gulf Copper and Manufacturing Corporation in Port Arthur, Texas.
The tow will be carried out by Smith Maritime, of Green Cove Springs, and it’s expected to take up to 12 days for the Orleck to get to its destination. The planned route takes the ship directly from Texas toward the Florida Keys.
The goal continues to be getting the ship opened as a museum on Jacksonville’s northbank in June — in time to celebrate the city’s Bicentennial.
“It’s a great feeling to know she is on her way and I can’t wait to see her come down the St. Johns River,” said Daniel Bean, President of Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association.
RELATED: It’s official: USS Orleck is coming to Jacksonville
Though this project requires a lot of money, the city won’t have to pay it.
Bean said the association got a line of credit from VyStar and they have the support of Downtown Investment Authority.
To fund it, the authority has $2.5 million: $1 million from the state of Florida and another $1.5 million from loans and creditors.
WATCH: The track of the Navy ship on its journey to Jacksonville
According to a Thursday news release, the shipyard work went beyond expectations, and the ship’s life expectancy has been increased to a minimum of 15 years — up from original estimates of 10 years. Steel plates have been welded over all underwater hull openings, and a special marine protection paint compound was applied in several layers “to create an impenetrable water-tight hull.”
Pre-COVID estimates for the ship restoration were $1.3 million. That increased to $1.8 after labor and material cost increases. Costs reached $2.05 million due to damage from Hurricane Laura in 2020. Further costs are in store following the tow from Texas and additional work to be done to fully setup the pier and prepare the ship to be opened as a museum.
About the museum & ship
The Jacksonville Naval Museum will feature the “US Navy Cold War Experience,” which is represented by the ex-USS Orleck.
It is named after Lt. Joseph Orleck. The ship was called the “Top Gun” of Vietnam, fired 11,000+ rounds earning the nickname “Grey Ghost of the Vietnam Coast” and netting an astonishing 14 battle stars throughout the war. It received dozens of awards for military service.
It was the most decorated post World War II ship ever built and supporters said that is reason enough to save it.
The Orleck embodies the Korean War, Vietnam War, and Cold War periods in US Navy history, having served in all three.
It will support veterans as a local resource and networking center.
A floating naval museum on the Northbank has been a dream come true for the Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association, and once docked it believes the number of military visitors could triple.