Stephen M. Woods’ column regarding the Portland City Council’s rejection of the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy reminded me of historic maritime projects that I have worked on. All had been born and initially flourished with great enthusiasm. Most faded away when reality set in.
Few people outside the maritime field have any concept of the demands of maintenance and logistics of even a relatively small ship. A large naval vessel like the JFK was meant to be maintained on a daily basis by thousands of personnel with virtually unlimited equipment and resources. Nearly all the existing steel naval vessels that are preserved as historic attractions are no longer in seaworthy condition and are desperate for funds. Many, though painted and kept superficially attractive, are in terrible condition and grounded in mud. None are self-sustaining. Rust never sleeps.
I assisted in the creation of the first historic maritime preservation conference in Baltimore in 1977. A major issue discussed was the need to preserve the “last-of-type” ships that were in danger of being lost. Instead, it seems every city or town with a maritime museum is trying to save a lightship, submarine, battleship or carrier. While these endeavors are stumbling ahead, we are losing older, rarer historic ships.
The JFK does not have much local significance or support. Portland and the state should have a maritime center and coastal attraction ideally involving a historic vessel. But it is not going to be another cast-off, modern naval vessel.