Friday, February 09, 2007

Pampanito declared ship-shape and ready for S.F. museum duty

February 09, 2007

Even the air pressure of the periscope tube -- which helps send it shooting above the ocean's surface -- was checked as part of the makeover the USS Pampanito has been undergoing in Alameda.

That was among the easiest jobs.

Workers at Bay Ship & Yacht Co. also blasted an estimated 40 cubic yards of barnacles and other sea growth from the hull of the famed World War II submarine, which usually rests along Pier 45 at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

With the work now wrapped up, the Pampanito is set to leave the dry-dock along the Oakland-Alameda Estuary early today and make its way back to the spot where it sits as a floating museum.

'There were no major surprises,' said David Rasmussen, who managed the restoration. 'Of course, you always have to expect something, but that's part of the job.'

The Pampanito will not travel to San Francisco under its own power, however.

The U.S. Navy removed its propellers when it handed over the submarine to the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association, and so tugboats will guide it back across the Bay.

During the restoration the hull got a fresh coat of gray and black paint, making the Pampanito look almost as crisp as it did that November day it was commissioned in 1943.

The cramped interior of the 311-foot submarine also got new paint job as part of the spruce-up, which happens every seven years and will cost about $250,000.

Len Vaden spent Wednesday aboard the boat installing a water heater -- one salvaged from another vintage submarine, the USS Sailfish.

It's a necessary piece of equipment because Boy Scouts routinely spend the night aboard the Pampanito on field trips, said Vaden, who has been volunteering at the submarine for 26 years.

'It's just neat to hear the history and the stories of the guys who served aboard this sub,' said Vaden, a Dublin resident and U.S. Navy veteran.

The Pampanito sank six enemy ships and damaged four others during World War II. Its crew also rescued 73 POWs from the waters of the Pacific after the Pampanito attacked a convoy carrying war materials to Japan -- not knowing hundreds of British and Australian prisoners were aboard.

With the Pampanito now a museum, every one of the approximately two dozen chunks of rusting metal that were removed from the submarine were saved. Some of it came from the gun turret.

'They want to be able to archive it and catalog it,' Rasmussen said about the museum operators. 'They want to know what was there and what we've taken out.'

A Balao class submarine, the Pampanito displaces 2,415 tons when submerged. It opened as a museum in 1982.

'We could not have asked for anything more,' said Aaron Washington, the Pampanito's manager, about the restoration. 'We're extremely pleased.'

The job has been a labor of love, Rasmussen said.

A Navy veteran himself, Rasmussen served aboard another submarine, the USS Daniel Boone, from 1976 until 1981.

'It brought back memories,' Rasmussen said about the project. 'Especially being able to walk everywhere and compare the technology then with the modern boats.'

He considers the restoration a tribute to the sailors from another era.

'This is all about the men who served on the Pampanito,' Rasmussen said.

To celebrate the Pampanito's return to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, the museum will offer free admission on Saturday. For more information on the submarine and its history, visit



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