The World War II-era destroyer escort docked in downtown Albany is about to head down the Hudson River for repairs. Making a rare voyage, the USS Slater is expected to depart for Staten Island at 7 a.m. Sunday.
WAMC's Jim Levulis spoke with Shanna Schuster, the visitor engagement and program manager for the Slater, which is owned and operated by the Destroyer Escort Historical Museum.
Schuster: The USS Slater is a World War II destroyer escort. She was built in 1944 spent time escorting convoys of merchant ships across the Atlantic Ocean. And the job of destroyer escorts was to protect those merchant ships from any u boat attack. So if a u boat was to come close to the convoy, ships like Slater would break off and go attack that u boat to make sure it didn't get any of the merchant ships. Post later successfully escorted five convoys across the Atlantic to Europe. And then after Germany surrendered, she came back to New York City for some repairs and to update her armament. And then she was sent to the Pacific to work on occupation duty there as well, so she served in both theaters. After Japan surrendered, the ship was put into mothballs, which very simply means that she was a waiting to be scrapped. Before that scrapping happened, though the Truman Doctrine kicked in. And the Truman Doctrine stated that the United States would do whatever they could to help stop the spread of communism, even going as far as giving away their war materials, which happened to Slater she was given to the Greek Navy, and she served in that Navy for 40 years before she was given back to the United States in 1993, to become a museum ship, so she came back to New York City and was parked next to the intrepid Air and Space Museum. And then in 1997, she came to Albany, where she's been ever since we're hoping to open for our 23rd season after we returned from the shipyard making sure that all of the COVID-19 stuff clears us and we're ready to go.
Levulis: And as you mentioned, there is another journey for the Slater, heading back down the Hudson. Why is that?
Schuster: Yes. So we are being tugged down the Hudson on Sunday, July 5, to go into dry dock in Staten Island, and at that dry dock we're just going to get some repairs, the biggest one being some restoration to our mast. Not very much work has been done on the mast in our 23 years of restoration here in Albany. So we're going into dry dock, we're going to restore the mast, make sure she's nice and safe for all of our visitors that will be walking underneath her, and also restore her back to her historical accuracy to World War II. The Greeks definitely made some adjustments as far as technology advancing to what their needs would be in the 50s. And we're just going to go and put back the equipment that would have been there during World War II. So whereas historically accurate as we can be, so we're going to get that done in our dry dock and we're also going to clean and repaint the bottom of the ship to make sure that she is not covered in too much growth from sitting in the Hudson for five years. It's been five years since the last time we were in the dry dock.
Levulis: And the last time the Slater moved, why did that occur?
Schuster: That occurred for the same reasons we went into dry docks to clean the hall, make sure that was in good shape to check it, make sure there were no hole sprouting or anything. We also came back with our dazzle camouflage paint scheme last time, so we went down as just a plain gray ship, and we came back in the dazzle camouflage that she sported in 1944.
Levulis: And who or what company is going to be working on the Slater?
Schuster: We will be at Caddell Shipyard in Staten Island, and that's the same shipyard we were at in 2014 as well. They do great work for us and we're excited to work with them again.
Levulis: You mentioned that the Slater is going to be tugged down the Hudson. Is anybody going to be on board the Slater during the trip?
Schuster: Yes, we will have a couple staff and about 20 volunteers that will be manning the ship as we go down just to make sure no damage comes and that she's running smoothly. And then we will have just a very small crew helping the dry drock crew or helping the shipyard crew with the repairs. So it will be a crew manning it down as well as when it comes back up. But other than that she'll be pretty empty.
Levulis: Are the dangers or other challenges of moving a boat of this size when it's usually docked?
Schuster: The challenges are just that she's not used to moving. We just want to make sure that everything goes smoothly. The tugs are very careful, but the Hudson can be a busy shipping lane. So we just need to be careful while we're out there and make sure that we're ready to act closing up hatches, if we need to maintain watertight integrity.
Levulis: How can people follow the Slater’s journey?
Schuster: We will be posting updates on our Facebook page. Right now we can't tell you much other than we expect to leave about five o'clock in the morning Sunday morning. When we know which tugs will be escorting us down the Hudson, we will post that to our Facebook page. And we'll be able to share a link that will let people be able to follow those tugs online and you'll be able to see where we are.
Levulis: Roughly when is the Slater expected to return to Albany?
Shuster: We expect we'll be able to open to the public Wednesday, August 5. We don't know for sure how long before that we'll be returning. Again we will update our Facebook page and we'll send out press releases. It just all depends on how long the work takes in the yard.