LA PORTE, Texas — It's the only surviving battleship that served in both world wars, having fought Nazis and the Japanese Army during World War II. But the greatest challenge in recent years for the USS Texas has been a leaky, rusty hull that at times forced workers to pump out about 2,000 gallons (7,570 liters) of water per minute from the 110-year-old ship.
To ensure the historic vessel doesn't sink and can continue hosting visitors, the foundation in charge of its care is towing the ship Wednesday from its longtime home along the Houston Ship Channel to a shipyard in Galveston for much needed repairs.
Tony Gregory, the president of the Battleship Texas Foundation, said Wednesday the pulling of the ship by tugboats and getting it on its way was perfect. He said any problems would have happened in the first 15 minutes of pulling the ship but there were no issues.
"It went smoother than we thought and quicker than we thought … and she's gone, down the channel," he said.
Gregory said he expects the ship to arrive in Galveston by 4 p.m.
The journey from its longtime berth at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site in the Houston suburb of La Porte is part of a $35 million project to repair the hull and ultimately restore the ship to its former glory.
The ship's repairs are part of the foundation's plans to eventually resettle it in a new location in Texas, possibly in one of three nearby cities, including Galveston, in order to attract more visitors and increase revenue.
Moving the ship for repairs is "the major step in getting the ship back to tip top shape," Gregory said Tuesday as he stood on the vessel while workers made final preparations.
The battleship will be pulled by four tugboats at a pace of about 5 knots per hour. The 40-mile (64 kilometer) journey to Galveston was expected to take about nine hours and won't be without risk as the ship's hull could leak enough to sink it.
"Once we get going, I anticipate it being pretty smooth... We feel like we're prepared," Gregory said.
Since 1948, the USS Texas has been located at the state historic site where the decisive battle in the Texas Revolution was fought. There, it's served as a museum and tourist attraction. The battleship was previously taken to the same shipyard in Galveston for repairs in 1988.
For the last three years, the ship has been closed to the public as the foundation has been preparing for the repairs. In 2019, the Texas Legislature approved the $35 million to fix the hull. The foundation is planning to make other fixes which it's paying for. All the repairs are expected to take up to a year to complete.
The foundation expected many people to gather along the ship channel to watch the ship go by.
Tricia Thomas, 50, who was one of the people invited to watch as the ship was unmoored, said she became emotional and teared up as she saw the ship move and heard its whistle sound as it began its journey. As the ship began moving, Thomas said, people clapped and cheered.
"It's amazing to see a ship that's 100 years old out on the water again, moving like she did for so many years. It was exciting," said Thomas, who lives in the Houston suburb of Kingwood.
Thomas said she believes it's important to preserve the ship so future generations can learn its history and it can remind people how they can come together for a common cause that's greater than them.
"I think that's probably the biggest story she can tell," Thomas said.