Getaway Guide: Historic Ship Ports

April 10, 2014 7:00 AM

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

Reporting Jay Lloyd

The value of preserving historic ships was underscored by the decision last week to keep the cruiser Olympia right here on the Philadelphia waterfront rather than see it hauled off for scrap or to benefit another port city. Preserving old ships is costly, but their historic value is priceless. Most are warships. But the influence of sea power extends to whalers, liners, rescue vessels and lightships, many of them clustered in key cities on rivers and harbors that provide fascinating day trips or destination getaways. Let’s cast off. – Jay Lloyd

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

(credit: Jay Lloyd)


Both Philadelphia and Camden across the river were among the nation’s leading shipbuilders. The Continental Navy was born here. Now, it’s home to no less than six vessels of historic significance. Visitors can board five of them.

U.S.S. Olympia – This steel hulled cruiser carried Admiral Dewey into the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish American war. It was a forerunner of the dreadnoughts that symbolized naval power at the dawn of the 20th century.

U.S.S. Becuna – A classic World War II diesel submarine. Visitors can tour the cramped living quarters and torpedo rooms — not for the claustrophobic.

Moshulu – Now a floating restaurant and prime waterfront attraction, the Moshulu began life as a grain carrier, essential to national commerce in the days of sail.

S.S. United States – In virtual quarantine and hoping for life as a major attraction, the one-time pride of American ocean liners stills holds the world’s speed record between Europe and New York. You can look but not board.

U.S.S. New Jersey – A surviving battlewagon that served in WWII, Korea and Viet Nam. It’s open for tours on the Camden waterfront.

Gazella – Philadelphia’s entry in the world’s Tall Ship fleet, the Gazella was launched as a Portuguese Grand Banks cod fishing boat, a vital part of the international fishing industry.

(credit: Jay Lloyd)

(credit: Jay Lloyd)


Nearby Baltimore on the vast Chesapeake Bay has one of the nation’s most impressive exhibits of historic ships including:

Constellation – A rebuilt version of an original frigate commissioned for the United States Navy in the 1790s. The storied Constellation literally carried American sailors and marines “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.”

Coast Guard Cutter Taney – The Taney was already underway, steering out of Honolulu Bay, on the morning of December 7th, 1941. It’s believed to be the first ship to return enemy fire and the last floating survivor of the Pearl Harbor attack.

Lightship Chesapeake – Lightships were navigation sentinels, marking the approaches to major American ports. They bristled with foghorns, whistles and bells in addition to the light.

U.S.S. Torsk – The stuff that fueled WWII submarine movies. The Torsk entered underwater warfare history off the Japanese coast.

Richard Maloney -former KYW reporter - at Nautilus. (credit: Jay Lloyd)

Richard Maloney -former KYW reporter – at Nautilus. (credit: Jay Lloyd)


New London, Connecticut is still one of my favorite ports, where history blends with modern day nautical life. I was stationed here in 1952. The area is home to the Mystic Seaport Museum, a nuclear submarine industry and base, the Nautilus Museum and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Today, you’ll find:

Charles W. Morgan – A wooden whaler whose 19th century voyages spanned the globe evokes images of Moby Dick. Presently, undergoing a critical refitting, the centerpiece of the Mystic Seaport will again lay down the gangplank for visitors this summer.

U.S.S. Nautilus – The world’s first nuclear powered submarine offers a dazzling display of the giant leap forward in undersea warfare technology. The museum that surrounds the sub presents a comprehensive history of the crews and “boats” that formed our underwater navy.

Coast Guard Eagle –
America’s Tall Ship flag carrier is maintained and sailed by cadets. When not at sea, visitors will find it at the Coast Guard Academy outside New London.

So, plan a getaway this spring and summer into the nation’s nautical heritage and learn how to sign on as crew, as a volunteer or passenger on a tall ship including the Gazella of Philadelphia, or on a historic service vessel.

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