Professional divers inspecting the hull of the USS Turner Joy found a wide array of sea life that has built up for the past 16 years. The hull is due to be stripped and repainted in March 2017. Courtesy Michelle Perrigo / Divers Institute

Professional divers inspecting the hull of the USS Turner Joy found a wide array of sea life that has built up for the past 16 years. The hull is due to be stripped and repainted in March 2017. Courtesy Michelle Perrigo / Divers Institute

USS Turner Joy’s hull in remarkably good shape

BREMERTON — For having not moved an inch in 16 years, the hull of the USS Turner Joy got a remarkably upbeat bill of health.

A hull inspection, the first one performed on the Turner Joy since it returned from its last drydock 16 years ago, was requested by the Lake Union Dry Dock Company in preparation for the Turner Joy returning to dry dock this March. The tow to the dry dock company is scheduled for March 7.

While in dry dock, the ship’s hull will be stripped and will be repainted, after all of the marine life scraped away. A new marine-grade epoxy sealant will be applied to retard corrosion. The epoxy sealant has an estimated life of 15 years, but the last layer of epoxy exceeded expectations.

On Dec. 9, six divers from the Seattle Divers Institue of Technology prepared to go underwater to gauge the growth of any sea life and the general condition of the hull.

What divers found was remarkable — a riot of color and a wild assortment of marine flora that seemed reminiscent of an impressionist painting. A wide variety of tube worms and barnacles could also be seen just below the waterline.

Equally remarkable was that the hull was surprisingly free of rust, corrosion and peeling — all of which would add considerable cost to the planned overhaul, according to Walt Shuford, vice president of the Bremerton Historic Ships Asssociation.

“I was surprised that it wasn’t much worse,” said Jeff Stieffel, the project’s lead diver. “The epoxy coating, especially, was in better shape than we thought it would be.”

The positive results allowed the dive to take less than a day to complete, half the time originally scheduled.

The last time similar work was performed on the ship, the marine life scraped away from the hull weighed 52 tons and was very hard and solidly rooted. That process should be much less difficult this time.

“The patches we scraped came off very easily,” said Stieffel.

The dive team took video of what they found. They will share the video with Lake Union Dry Dock when the groups meet again in early January. The video will be available to the public within a few days, Shuford said.

The USS Turner Joy is a Vietnam-era ship whose keel was laid down in 1957, and the ship was decommissioned in 1982. The last time similar work was performed, the ship was towed to dry dock on Sept. 11, 2001.

The work list has several aspects. Besides work on the hull, the BHSA plans to paint the port side of the deck and superstructure. Military standard practice is to completely strip and repaint; that level of effort would delay the project and be prohibitively expensive.

Instead, the group learned that it would be possible to paint the port side like a house, washing the surfaces thoroughly and then simply painting over the existing layer.

The budget is estimated to be between $850,000 and $1.2 million, depending on what the dry dock company encounters.

If there are no snags, the work should take about four weeks, said John Hanson, president of the Bremerton Historic Ships Association.

“The last time the boat was in dry dock, the work took seven weeks, but the scope of work was enormous,” Hanson said.

Lake Union Dry Dock had originally requested to simply leave the boat in the fresh water of Lake Union, as that would further loosen the growth on the hull and speed up the work. The BHSA decided against that, as it would delay completion of work by a week.

The Divers Institute of Technology performed the inspection at no cost.

For more information on the project, or to contributing to the BHSA, volunteer or become a member of the BHSA, visit www.ussturn erjoy.org.

Mark Briant is a reporter with the Central Kitsap Reporter and Bremerton Patriot. He can be reached at mbriant@soundpublishing.com.

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