A group hoping to move a Cold War-era submarine from the Charleston Harbor to Tennessee is racing against the clock before the aging sub is either sunk to form a reef or is scrapped.
Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant revealed back in 2012 that it could no longer afford to maintain the submarine USS Clamagore. The museum had originally planned to scuttle the vehicle off the Florida coast, but has pushed back the date to give preservation groups enough time to find a new home and enough resources to maintain the 69-year-old vessel.
The organization “Friends of the Clamagore” is working on a last-ditch, longshot effort to bring the sub to Knoxville as part of a new museum. But they face a tall order: the ship needs approximately $5 million in repairs, a new location to dock it, a long-term operating plan, and a way to transport the 311-foot vessel from the Cooper River to the Tennessee River more than 400 land-miles away.
The group’s organizer Josh Richardson said they have cleared the first step: getting the support of local leaders. He presented a letter from Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett expressing support for the project.
“While there are logistical issues out of our control, we hope Josh is able to work them out and we support his endeavors,” Burchett wrote. “If the appropriate location can be identified, I’m sure our county would be a great location for this historic submarine — and I know it would havc both educational and tourism benefits for our area.”
Patriots Point executive director Mac Burdette said he wants to see the sub saved, but adds issues like restoration cost and transport must be cleared in advance. The Department of the Navy must approve any transfers of ownership. The Navy requires new owners to document a sustainable long-term plan. Burdette said museum officials are also talking to an unnamed entity out of Florida that is also interested in acquiring the sub for a museum piece. He said he could not identify the other party at this time.
But he warned that the Navy would prefer the sub be scrapped for its metal. “(The Navy) is not in the business of museums,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “They’re in the business of fighting wars with modern-day warships.”
Burdette said it’s no longer an option for Patriots Point to keep the sub at its own location. The nonprofit wants to dedicate its limited reserves to repairing its centerpiece attraction — the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier needs an estimated $80 million in work — and does not have the available funds to repair the sub as well. Burdette said the aging sub is an environmental disaster waiting to happen the longer it remains in Mount Pleasant.
“We know we’re just one hurricane away from having a real problem down here,” he said. “And none of us can predict when that next one will come our way. But it’s going to happen.”
Burdette says a plan needs to be in place by next summer at the latest, or the museum will move forward with sinking or scrapping the sub.
Richardson admitted his organization still has long odds. He said finding a new property to house the sub is the “biggest hurdle” remaining, but added Friends of the Clamagore will also be responsible for raising the millions necessary for repairs. One issue in his mind is that their efforts are getting more attention in Tennessee and other parts of the Southeast than they are among South Carolina residents.
“We need them to step it up a notch and maybe write a few letters and make a phone calls to ensure that local and state officials understand there’s another option now,” Richardson said.
The Clamagore is the last of its kind– a Balao-class GUPPY III vessel that served in a transitional period between the end of World War II and the dawn of nuclear-powered subs in the 1950s. She was commissioned in 1945 and served until 1975.