OCEAN CITY — With one retired U.S. Navy destroyer set to be sunk of the coast of Ocean City this spring as a major addition to the artificial reef system off the coast, plans for finding a home for a second destroyer above the water in the resort area are slowly coming together.
The 536-foot U.S.S. Arthur W. Radford is scheduled to be sunk about 25 miles off the coast of Ocean City as part of the vast Del-Jersey-Land reef as soon as this April, but another retired Navy vessel, the U.S.S. Forrest Sherman, could find a permanent home at the nearby Indian River Inlet as a historical site, recreational fishing opportunity and tourist attraction. The Forrest Sherman, a post World War II destroyer known as “the last of the great gun ships,” has been dry-docked in a Philadelphia Navy yard since being decommissioned in 1982.
The ship has been named to the National Register of Historic Places and the non-profit foundation to which it has been bestowed has been actively seeking a permanent home for the historic vessel. Several locations have been explored over the years, but a new Indian River Bridge could facilitate moving the vessel to a dockside location in the marina there. U.S.S. Forrest Sherman Foundation President Kurt Wagemann said this week the organization is seeking permission to permanently dock the vessel at Indian River in the future when the bridge is completed.
“We never really considered that location before because of the limitations with the existing bridge,” he said. “With the new bridge, the Sherman could be sited there with a few modifications to the next structure. It’s really a great location because of its proximity to Ocean City and the millions of tourists that visit the resort.”
Wagemann said there are about 100 retired Navy vessels turned tourist attractions around the country and the Sherman will likely be the newest addition. With a permanent berth at Indian River, the Sherman would likely attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, including tourists already visiting the resort areas and another whole segment just visiting to tour and enjoy the ship.
“An estimated 10 million people a year go to historic ships throughout the country and a vast majority of those come to the area specifically to see these historic vessels,” he said. “It could be a big boon to the local tourist industry, especially in the shoulder seasons.”
For years, the Bel Air, Md.-based foundation has held its bi-annual reunions in Ocean City with hundreds of Sherman alumni visiting the resort. If the vessel is moored at Indian River, those numbers are expected to climb. In addition, the ship is need of a major restoration and a considerable amount of work would be needed on the vessel once it arrives at its permanent home, creating dozens of local jobs.
If the Sherman finds a permanent home at nearby Indian River, its attractions would include daily tours of the vessel, museum exhibits, activities for children including lessons on the history of the ship, how it was built, the scientific aspects of ship design and engineering and ecological lessons. Also included in the plan is an Overnight Sleep Aboard Program, which would allow visitors to spend the night on the retired vessel in restored sleeping quarters and kitchen galleys.
“The sleep-aboard program for kids would probably account for about half of the ship’s revenue,” Wagemann said. “It’s a great program for kids, for one thing because it’s fun. There is also a big educational component to it.”
Wagemann said there is no firm timetable for a decision on moving the Sherman to Indian River although discussions have accelerated in recent weeks.
“As you can imagine, there is a ton of red tape to get through with a project of this size and all of the various state and federal agencies involved,” he said.