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Hauling Out the USS Albacore

Uss Alabacore

May 4, 1985
Twenty years ago a local philanthropist had a wild idea. Why not move a huge submarine onto dry land? It would make a great museum. And it does today. But the haul-out of the USS Albacore was harder than anyone had imagined. Here are the photos of that amazing day.




Portsmouth, NH
May 4, 1985
VISIT THE Albacore Museum Web site

Once the fastest submarine in the world, the unique teardrop-shaped USS Albacore was launched from Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in 1953. Decommissioned in 1977, the 205-foot experimental sub had been the "missing link" between early submersibles and modern nuclear submarines, but she was destined for destruction when Portsmouth politician Bill Keefe had an idea. Why not turn the historic ship into a museum?

Joe Sawtelle towing USS Albacore, May 4, 1985 / SeacoastNH.comReal estate developer Joseph Sawtelle responded to what seemed, to many, a crazy plan. With difficulty, Sawtelle's as-yet-unbuilt Portsmouth Maritime Museum convinced the Navy to release the sub and it was towed 575 miles from Philadelphia at an average speed of 5 knots. Local engineers designed a plan that to float the 300-ton ship a quarter mile inland from the Piscataqua and into a concrete support system 27 feet above sea level. That meant the Albacore had to sail through a main road leading into the city and through the Boston and Maine railroad trestle. Then the ship was to be winched with 50,000 pounds of force from a dredged area to its final resting place. The move had to be made at the absolute highest monthly tide.

Many more haul-out photos and 1985 reporter's notebook

On May 4, 1985 . Albacore moved reluctantly into her cradle in the new museum just outside the city. The ship had to be moved sideways as well and the tail got stuck in the mud at a critical juncture, but by blowing the ballast tanks the sub reached its destination for the winching to begin with only minutes to spare in the Piscataqua high tides. But the marine railway system failed and the sub sat in the mud just below its cradle like a beached whale for six ignominious months. At one point members of the crowd literally jumped into the fray and attempted to haul the submarine using ropes. A small canal was finally designed around the sub, filled with water, and the USS Albacore floated its last few yards to the site where it resides today -- a memorial to the ingenuity of its original designers, builders and crew. --- JDR



Historic Albacore Haul-Out Scrapbook
May 1985

Return to the Piscataqua on April 29, 1985

USS Albacore towed

Preparing the museum area

Cutting through the railroad bridge

CONTINUE Albacore Haul-Out Photo Tour

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