Coast Guard ships have their own personalities according to prior city commissioner and Ingham Memorial Museum Executive Director Bill Verge, and the USCGC Ingham has one as tough as nails.
“Kamikaze planes and torpedoes were definitely shot at this ship during WWII,” said Verge. “She is the only left of her kind.”
The 327-foot beast cost $2.5 million when it was built in Pennsylvania in 1938. (New ships of similar size cost $60 million according to Verge). It has 6,000 horsepower and can move up to 21 knots. She was cutting edge technology at the time and the steam technology is still used today, said Verge. Thousands of men have rotated through its passageways since it was built and, at the height of WWII, 200 men were crammed aboard.
The Ingham cuter is actually the equivalent of a Hollywood superstar. It was featured in the WWII film, carried General Douglas MacArthur, served in Vietnam and rescued hundreds of Cubans during the Mariel Boat Lift when it was brought to Key West in 1980. It brought more than 100,000 Cubans to exactly the same place where the ship is moored today, on the Truman Annex Waterfront.
“She also sank German U-boat 626 in the North Atlantic in 1941. In 1943 she was running a convoy from North Virginia to Africa,” said Verge. “This boat has a lot of history. I hope you brought two notepads.”
Aside from the historical notes, the museum tour gives an in-depth understanding of what life was like aboard. The first station is an infirmary and audio clips narrate the importance.
“If there was a flu outbreak, the whole ship would fall ill,” the narration intoned. Another has an audio clip of what life was like was for the captain. And the tour finishes ending at the trash shoot with the name Ralph etched on the lid.
“They called it Ralph because that is the sound crewman made when they got sick from handling garbage on a rocky boat,” said Verge.
Probably the most incredible part about the tour is that everything on the ship works. Chief Engineer Chip Powell is in charge of making all the ewquipment operational.
“It is an amazing experience getting old WWII equipment working again and coming to life,” said Powell. “It is like taking a trip back in time.”
When the boat was decommissioned in the 80s, the crewmen just picked up and left, leaving many artifacts behind to be examined by the public today.
Tours are available Mon-Sat from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission for adults is $10, tickets for children cost $5 and children under 6 are free. It is $5 admission cost for active military and the ship is accepting volunteers to do three-hour shifts.
In the evening, the ship transforms itself into one of the most unique places to host a private party or enjoy happy hour with the best sunset view in Key West overlooking the horizon and the Outer Mole. The bar is open from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.