The USS Clamagore at her current anchorage in South Carolina.
Skyler Swisher, Sun Sentinel
4 January 2017
A Cold War-era submarine on display at a maritime museum in South Carolina could be sent to the bottom of the sea about a mile off the coast of Palm Beach County.
The USS Clamagore, a designated historic landmark built during the last months of World War II, is one of three vessels featured at the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum on Charleston Harbor.
But museum officials say it's not cost effective to keep the aging sub as an attraction. Restoring the boat is estimated to cost $6 million, and annual upkeep runs about $250,000, said Chris Hauff, a museum spokesman.
"The cost of maintaining these 70-year-old warships floating in salt water in Charleston Harbor can be very high," he said. "We have exhausted all other options as far as finding a new home for it."
Palm Beach County is interested in sinking the sub off Juno Beach as part of its artificial reef program — perhaps as early as this summer.
The boat would sink in about 75 feet of water, and the county's plan calls for removing some of the submarine's paneling so divers could see the inside of the boat.
County officials also hope to create a museum on land that showcases the ship's history and artifacts.
Commissioned in June 1945, the Clamagore didn't see action in World War II, but it served during the Cold War. Its service history included a stint patrolling the Caribbean during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, according to materials submitted to the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The U.S. Navy retired the Clamagore from service in 1975, and it opened to the public at Patriots Point in 1981.
The sub would make a striking addition to Palm Beach County's network of artificial reefs, likely becoming the first submarine in South Florida to serve as a diving attraction, said Dan Bates, deputy director of environmental resources management.
"It would be a very unique dive site, especially with the way we are looking at presenting it," Bates said. "This is a great way to preserve the vessel rather than seeing it scrapped."
The county learned about the vessel through Artificial Reefs International, a Florida-based company that marketed it.
Palm Beach County commissioners will consider Jan. 10 using $1 million in registration fees paid by boat owners to jump-start the project.
Bates estimates the total cost of cleaning, transporting and sinking the sub will be four times that amount. Those funds could come from sponsorships, donations and grants, he said.
The U.S. Navy also would have to authorize the sinking, Bates said.
About 45 ships have been sunk as part of Palm Beach County's artificial reef program. Most recently in July, the county sunk the Ana Cecilia, a 170-foot cargo ship that was seized by the federal government during a drug investigation.
Tom Lufkin, chairman of the Clamagore Restoration and Maintenance Association, said many veterans who served on the Clamagore and other submarines don't want to see the boat scuttled.
"We are very actively trying to save the boat," he said. "She is the last of her kind. There are no more like her."
Lufkin said the boat could be preserved for considerably less if it were moved to land. His group has raised $40,000 toward preserving the boat.
The museum tried for about five years to save the vessel through donations or a sale, but those efforts were unsuccessful, Hauff said.
Patriots Point museum, a state agency that receives no tax dollars, wants to focus its efforts on maintaining an aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown, and a destroyer, the USS Laffey, Hauff said. About 280,000 visitors tour the museum annually, he said.
Hauff said turning the Clamagore into an underwater memorial would be a fitting tribute to the men who served on it. He said he's glad Palm Beach County is interested.
"The last resort is for it to become scrap metal," Hauff said. "Nobody wanted to see that."