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Long-neglected hydrofoil USS High Point has a new owner

The USS High Point, in the early 1960s.

U.S. NAVY

By JIMMY TOMLIN | The High Point Enterprise, N.C. | Published: December 8, 2020

HIGH POINT, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Nearly 3,000 miles across the country, at an old naval shipyard in Astoria, Oregon, rests an aging, neglected vessel that could just as easily be found in a scrapyard as a shipyard.

She was really something to see in her glory days, skimming above the waves at 50 mph, practically flying as her underwater wings knifed through the water, just beneath the surface. You can't see them now, with the dilapidated ship docked at Astoria's old Tongue Point shipyard on the Columbia River, but just beneath her hull, those three steel wings — known as foils — remain fairly intact.

In fact, about the only visual clue concerning the ship's history is the name imprinted on the stern in fading, but still legible, block letters: HIGH POINT.

This is what remains of the USS High Point, the U.S. Navy's first patrol craft hydrofoil and once the pride of High Point, North Carolina. Launched in 1962 and deactivated in 1985, the highly hyped High Point is no longer seaworthy — but that may be about to change, if Neil Beach gets his way.

Beach, a 45-year-old carpenter from Charleston, South Carolina — who also happens to be a maritime and military history buff — bought the USS High Point two months ago, after his 11-year-old son, Elias, spotted it for sale through an online boat brokerage firm.

"He's really into military things — I passed that on to him — and he was looking for a PT boat to buy," Beach explains. "It was just kind of a fantasy thing of his, but one day he came to me and said, 'Dad, look at this neat boat for sale.' I looked at it and started researching it, and I thought it was really cool, too. I thought it would be fun to restore it."

That was about a year ago. As time passed — and as the original sale price of $200,000 gradually dropped — Beach became increasingly intrigued by the old vessel. By this past August, the price had been slashed, and Beach decided the family vacation to the West Coast would include a day trip to explore the High Point.

"If you've seen movies where an old plane has gone down in the jungle somewhere, and it's been taken over by the vines and everything, that's kind of what the ship reminded me of," Beach says. "The moss grows really good up there in Oregon, so it had gotten pretty mossy."

The initial tour won him over, though.

"As soon as I stepped on the ship and started looking around, wow — I knew I was gonna buy it," Beach says. "It's like a time capsule. A lot of the electronics they used are still on there, and the crew's quarters and the galley are just like they were. It's really a neat piece of history."

After spending about three hours on the ship inspecting it, Beach was ready to negotiate. He says he ended up paying $45,000, but he's not through writing checks yet, because even though he'll do much of the restoration himself, it's going to cost him tens of thousands of dollars more to make the High Point seaworthy again.

Although the hull has not rusted or rotted — because it's made of aluminum — it will need some patching, welding and painting, Beach says.

"I've also been working on the engine and the hydraulics," he says, explaining he travels to Astoria about once a month to work on the ship. "Anything that's been sitting there as long as this ship has is going to need a lot of work."

According to Beach, the High Point has been moored at Tongue Point for nearly 20 years, if not longer. After it was deactivated in 1985, Boeing — the original manufacturer — used it as a test vessel a few years before it passed through the hands of several private owners, including one who rescued it from being scrapped in a lien sale. Like Beach, the other private owners dreamed of restoring the High Point, but it turned out to be more challenging than they could handle.

Now it's Beach's turn, and though he acknowledges it will take a few years to get the ship restored, he's confident it can and will be done. The plan is to get the ship back to Charleston, but he also envisions making the High Point accessible for the public to see, perhaps taking it to various maritime festivals.

"This is going to be a fun project for me," Beach says. "Some guys get a muscle car, and some get a Harley-Davidson. I got a hydrofoil."

And, in the process, a piece of High Point history.

(c)2020 The High Point Enterprise (High Point, N.C.)
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