Water draining out of the ship's steel hull at low tide on the Delaware River. (Photo: Independence Seaport Museum)
Written by Walter W. Gallas
In her nearly 120 years of existence, USS Olympia has shown herself to be a resilient survivor. Today, the world’s oldest steel-hulled warship afloat remains afloat. She rises and falls with the tides of the Delaware River, along whose shores she is moored in Philadelphia, resting at low tide on the riverbed. It is at these times that the damage below her waterline is exposed.
Recently Jesse Lebovics, the ship’s manager, shared a photograph (above) showing a remarkable sight - water draining out of the ship through a series of holes eaten through the steel hull. According to Jesse, repairs will be made to this area using a “soft patch,” that is, rubber with a backing plate. These repairs can only be done when the area is exposed at low tide, a window of about three hours a day.
“I’ve never seen a floating vessel that looked this rough,” Jesse said about the condition of the hull, “It should not look like a pock-marked multicolor meteorite and it certainly shouldn’t have holes.”
Nevertheless, Olympia bravely endures. The application and vetting process to determine the ship’s next steward continues, with the goal of identifying a new caretaker and possibly new home toward the end of 2012. The Independence Seaport Museum has committed to continuing to do interim repairs as the application process plays out. The National Trust continues to serve as the home of the USS National Olympia Fund for donations that will either go to the next steward, or - if Olympia reaches emergency status and sufficient funds are available - for repairs to prevent the total loss of the ship.
The Olympia will remain open to visitors during this time.
Walter W. Gallas is the Director of the Northeast Field Office for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
UPDATE: August 4, 2011
Last week, the hull of the USS Olympia received a 16-foot metal patch (see photo below), timed to correspond to low tide on the Delaware River along the Philadelphia waterfront. Work was completed from floats on the water by the historic ship staff of the Independence Seaport Museum. Damage to the hull is significant, but the patch job at least buys more time until the ship can be taken to dry dock.