It’s not famous like President John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 or as widely known as Cmdr. Quinton McHale’s PT-73 from the 1960s television show McHale’s Navy, but the refurbished PT-305 did something neither of those boats did — roll down the streets of New Orleans.
On Saturday morning, the 78’x20’1″ patrol torpedo boat named Sudden Jerk (a name given to the boat by its first crew when it came into the dock too fast) was rolled approximately two miles from the World War II Museum to the Erato Street Wharf at the Port of New Orleans via a Berard heavy crawler machine. The move went off without a hitch, as the boat weaved in and out of the extended arms of streetlights on several corners along the way.
Candy Westfall, the museum’s PT boat project manager, allotted two hours and 15 minutes for the move. The boat made it in about one hour and 45 minutes. “Yes, it went great,” she said with a big exhale. “I couldn’t have been happier.”
About two hours later, a Coastal Cargo derrick barge used its massive crane to lift the patrol boat from the Berard crawler and set it on a barge owned by Canal Barge. Several hours later, the barge was pushed away from the dock by a Marquette Transportation towboat, headed for the Seabrook Marina in Lake Pontchartrain. Once there, PT-305 was lifted off the barge and placed in a facility for additional outfitting. In late December, the boat will be taken to the former Trinity Yachts yard for wet docking and sea trials. Berard, Coastal Cargo, Canal Barge and Marquette donated their services to move the vessel. “We had a bunch of professionals doing their jobs,” said Westfall. “As I said, I couldn’t be happier.”
The move is only part of the story, however. More than 200 volunteers worked on the PT-305 over the past seven years to get her ready to go back to work, and 67 are still at it. The museum estimates that the volunteer labor has a monetary value of about $2 million in addition to $400,000 in financial donations and about $3 million worth of supplies, materials and parts. This includes 300 gals. of paint, 120 gals. of Dolfinite bedding compound, 480 yards of #10 cotton duck, 10,000 board ft. of mahogany, 3,000 board ft. of cypress, 75 sheets of plywood, 39,000 copper rivets, three miles of caulked seam, 36,000 silicon bronze screws and 12,459′ of cabling and wiring.
Some of those who worked so hard to get the boat ready for her first public appearance walked alongside the Sudden Jerk with pride. “When we first got it, it was nip and tuck as to whether we could save it,” said Bruce Harris, the lead shipwright on the project. “We had so many volunteers working on this project that many of them would pass each other coming in and out of the museum and not know they were working on the same project.
“Virtually none of the volunteers knew anything about boat building,” Harris continued, “and for them to stay together for seven years, well, that’s incredible. Many close friendships were made during this process.”
Designed by Higgins Industries, famous for its amphibious landing craft that transported soldiers on D-Day, the PT-305’s main propulsion comes from three Packard V-12 gasoline engines that push the boat through the water at a top speed of 40 knots.
Tom McNeely was in the museum one day and heard a tour guide say that one of the bronze exhaust ports was missing. McNeely who owns Brammer Machine Shop in Crowley, La., thought he could help. “When I got home, I knew I could build one out of stainless steel,” he said. “It was quite a project. It took a while, but we got it done.” His company also machined some brackets that support the fuel selector valves.
McNeely said he was struck by the passion and determination of his fellow volunteers. “I’m amazed at these volunteers,” he said. “It’s been fun being involved.”
The attention to detail that developed during the process was another wonder to Harris. “We had one section of the boat where hex nuts had been used, but one of the volunteers read that square nuts were original equipment, so he bought some off the Internet and changed them out,” said Harris.
PT-305 originally patrolled the waters of the Mediterranean. By next spring, the patrol boat will be running tourists around Lake Pontchartrain. The relaunch of PT-305 is scheduled for March 25, 2017, at the museum’s annual Drafts for Crafts celebration. Then beginning in April, people can tour the boat and, on Saturdays, even ride aboard. But it won’t be cheap. Rides will cost $350 per person over 12 ($305 for seniors) for a 90-minute ride. A tour will cost $15.