USS Slater stuck in port amid Hudson River ice
ALBANY, N.Y. — Sending out an SOS: The USS Slater is stuck in Albany.
The destroyer escort survived World War II and more than 600,000 nautical miles of postwar voyages. In fact, of the 563 Cannon-class destroyer escorts built between 1943 and 1945, the Slater is the last one afloat in the U.S. This is a ship that has weathered the worst.
So what's keeping the mighty Slater, which now functions as a maritime museum, anchored here when it's scheduled for maintenance in Staten Island?
Due to this relentlessly frigid winter, the Hudson River is still full of it.
"Because the last two winters were so mild, we figured we could get her out by the middle of February," said Timothy Rizzuto, the Slater's executive director.
Although most of the ice is gone near Albany, it remains jammed at narrower parts of the river to the south like West Point, Rizzuto said, "Down there, the ice is still a foot thick in some parts."
The Slater now has to wait for the Coast Guard to give them the go-ahead to start for Staten Island.
"Hopefully we'll finally be on our way by early next week," he said.
Every 25 years or so, the ship needs to be dry-docked for extensive work. This time around, the hull needs to be cleaned, primed and painted and a reinforced band of steel will be welded around the ship's waterline. Such work on the massive vessel can only be done at a shipyard in Staten Island. Rizzuto said the dry-dock appointment must be done this year.
Making matters more painful for Rizzuto and his crew, because of the delay, the Slater will now most likely be closed during the first week of May, which would have been the 70th anniversary of its commissioning.
"It looks like Slater will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of her commissioning on the blocks in a dry-dock," Rizzuto wrote in the Slater's monthly newsletter.
Rizzuto said it will take roughly nine weeks for a pair of tug boats — the Slater does not run on its own — to escort the destroyer escort down the Hudson River to New York City, let the shipyard make the repairs and tug the Slater back to Albany.
Rizzuto said he now hopes to be open by Memorial Day or early June. The Slater will spend the summer anchored in Albany on the Hudson, open to the public down by Madison Avenue.
The Slater typically draws about 15,000 visitors per year. Rizzuto said that number will be cut some by the delay. Typically open by April, the Slater is a popular draw for school and youth groups that can host sleep-overs in the ship's bunks. The Slater has already canceled its April overnight stays and tours.
The ship has restored to resemble as closely as possible what the ship looked like in wartime during World War II, to the blankets and pillows in the cots to helmets and life jackets onboard.
"Open the door to July 1945 when the world was once again at war, and American teenage boys answered the call to duty, thereby saving democracy," the Slater advertises on its website.
Destroyer escorts like the Slater were constructed because of an anti-submarine vessel shortage at the beginning of World War II. They were new warships back then, with heavy artillery and cutting-edge electronics to detect the enemy. The destroyer escorts proved to be an important asset to the Allies, high-speed with good maneuverability, clearing the way for convoys and bombarding rival shores.
The Slater was deactivated in 1951 and passed along to the Hellenic Navy in Greece, where it stayed in service until 1991.
With the Destroyer Escort Historical Foundation guiding the way, the Slater was transferred back to the U.S. and slowly restored.