Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Titanic Struggle Dry Dock's Ride Anything but Smooth Sailing

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Titanic Struggle Dry Dock's Ride Anything but Smooth Sailing

Article excerpt

It was supposed to be a simple trip: Take a mammoth, barge-like structure, tie it to the back of a tugboat in the Atlantic Ocean and send the whole package to Jacksonville.

But powerful winds and fierce waves sunk that plan.

So 12 days after it left Norfolk, Va., a much-anticipated dry dock repair station that will be used to work on Mayport-based U.S. Navy ships is still floating in the Atlantic Ocean. Now being towed by its third tugboat, the dry dock could arrive Tuesday or Wednesday.

As of late yesterday, the dry dock and its ride were about 300 miles away from their final destination -- the repair facility at Atlantic Marine and Dry Dock on the St. Johns River near the Intracoastal Waterway. The dry dock was supposed to arrive Jan. 15.

"Fortunately, the wind was blowing south [earlier in the week] and it blew it in the direction it was going anyway," said Atlantic Marine Vice President Tom Jones. "We were very lucky."

The dry dock, 640 feet long and 140 feet wide, is like an oversized hangar that floats on the edge of land. Massive ships can park at the dock, and repair crews can access all sides of the ship.

The Navy awarded the $68 million, five-year contract to Atlantic Marine last month. The Navy hopes the arrangement will improve the quality of life for its sailors, who can spend more time with their families while ships are being repaired. Atlantic Marine crews are supposed to begin working on Navy ships in May.

The dry dock's journey began Jan. 11, in Norfolk, when it was tied to the back of the USNS Mohawk, said Lt. Cmdr. Kelly Merrell, a Navy spokeswoman based in Mayport. Several ropes, about 2 inches thick, connected the dry dock to the boat.

By Jan. 13, off the North Carolina coast near Cape Hatteras, the ship ran into a storm that blanketed parts of the Northeast and New England with snow. Heavy winds and 8- to 10-foot-high waves made traveling difficult, Navy and Atlantic Marine officials said. The wind also put a strain on the ropes and other equipment connecting the dry dock to the boat.

When the weather began to deteriorate, the Navy sent a second Norfolk-based ship, the USS Grapple, to help out. …

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