Monday, January 29, 2007

Underneath a 613-Ton Ship: Visiting the Mary Whalen in Drydock

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There is something that is both frightening and uplifting about standing under a 613-ton fuel tanker several stories beneath ground level. You look up and the mass of the ship, with a fresh black coat of paint, rises several stories above your head into the pale Brooklyn winter sky. The the left and right are the steep, stair-stepped walls of a drydock. Amazingly, she sits about nine or ten feet off the bottom of the drydock on more than a dozen massive blocks. Water rushes through a massive bulkhead in the Brooklyn Navy Yard graving dock, dropping in a little waterfall into a trough before being pumped out again. Underfoot there is a gritty black gunk left over from sandblasting, spotted with fuel oil from work equipment, the smell of which is fairly strong. The ship itself--which is a large vessel--seems oddly dwarfed by the 285-foot-long graving dock, which is one of the smaller ones at the historic Navy Yard.

Welcome to the Mary A. Whalen, an old tanker that is in the process of being converted into a floating museum and headquarters for PortSide New York. Gowanus Lounge visited the Whalen--a 172-foot tanker that delivered to ships around New York City and to ports as far away as Maine before she retired from active duty in 1993--on Sunday, having been invited by PortSide's Director Carolina Salguero. Ms. Salguero has been documenting the repairs on the PortSide Tanker Blog, which she is somehow managing to keep up, despite living on a ship in dryock. Ms. Salguero notes that the ship hadn't been in drydock for repairs in about 16 years and that the TLC she is getting is vital. The Whalen had been docked since fall at one of American Stevedoring Piers in Red Hook, and PortSide must raise capital in order to do the interior renovations that will turn her into a floating maritime museum, office space, cafe and community facility, but the stay at the Navy Yard is vital to ensuring that the Whalen has a long and healthy new life of service.The Whalen will leave the drydock late this week or early next week, and we'll write more about her, but for now, it's time to let our pictures say more than our words. We've got a small slideshow embed below, but you can click over to our flickr photoset or directly over to our flickr slideshow (which we'd embed here, except for the persistent glitches) for a whole lot of images of the Mary Whalen in drydock.

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