Tuesday, April 27, 2010

SS Independence: Putting the Bell Puzzle Together

Life is always full of surprises. The other night a friend asked if I had a ship's bell on my boat. I replied, "no, I don't". He got up and returned with a back pack and pulled out a ship's bell. He stated he bought it several years ago in a donation auction and always thought it needed a ship.

He went on to say that he recently rang it at the funeral memorial of his long time friend and Chief of the Makah Indian Tribe at Neah Bay, Washington. It had been the only time he had rung the bell. I asked about the history of this bell and he relayed what had been told to him at the auction. The Independence was an aircraft carrier during the Viet Nam era and his Captain was named Bridges and is a family member of the Ben Bridges Jewelery stores in the Seattle area. Also, the Independence had been mothballed with the fleet in Pearl Harbor.

The next day, I pulled the bell out of the pack and really looked at it. I found it unusual that the inscription is
SS Independence; meaning sailing ship and not USS Independence, as it would be for a US Naval Ship. I googled the names and discover:

The SS Independence is a cruise ship:
  1. Built in the 50's on the east coast and in the 80's was refitted in Japan to become, along with its sister ship, The SS Constitution, an inter-island Hawaiian Cruise Line in the 80's. It ran for 20 years and the end the company went bankrupt. Her last Captain was Dana Wirkala.
  2. After that the ship had a miserable journey of being towed to various ports, running aground, hitting the Carquienez Bridge while heading into the Suisun Bay( Delta of California) to be mothballed, then back up to the Napa River at Mare Island Shipyard, where it grounded at the dock. It was then towed back to the Bay area and docked for years.
  3. It was bought by a shipwrecking company in India, who towed it to the Arabian Sea near the State of Gujarat in India where it ran aground on a small island just offshore. It lies, stuck, listing at 35 degrees and rusting.
  4. I am familiar with this sailing ship from seeing it many times in the Hawaiian waters, remember it hitting the Carquinez Bridge, as I had Shatoosh in the Delta at the time, have run aground on the Napa River myself, and have cruised past the mothball fleet in Suisuin Bay trying to find Montezuma Slough.
The USS Independence:
  1. Was an aircraft carrier used in the Viet Nam era and her sister Ship was the USS Saratoga, based out of Yokuska, Japan. I am very familar with the Saratoga, when being a Captain stationed in Yokohama, Japan in late 60's, we were frequent guests onboard the Saratoga, as I dated one of the young officers. We had many wonderful dinners onboard in the Captain's Mess when they were in port.
  2. The Independence was indeed, later mothballed, but in Washington state. Her last Captain was Mark Milliken, USN, who was the last person to leave the ship in 1998. He later became Rear Admiral.

After further examining this bell, I have deduced that it has never been used as a bell on the SS Independence, as there is no evidence of wear, and none of the parts fit together and the fork needs widening, the drill holes don't align and the clanger needs a rope attached,  perhaps it was given to the last Captain or some other member, as a departing gift. It seems as though Hira, Shatoosh and the SS Independence have traveled many of the same waters, so it is fitting that something belonging to her essence be in form on Shatoosh. It is beautiful and I will look forward to putting it on Shatoosh.