The LCI 713 survived combat duty in World War II, but the harsh elements on the lower Columbia River have proven to be a tough adversary.
The 63-year-old vessel that had found a home at Pier 39 on the Astoria waterfront is back in Portland, where its crew of volunteer restorers continue working to bring it back into wartime trim, and ponder where its future home will be.
The vessel's owners aren't sure whether it will return to Astoria, where it arrived 21?2 years ago with the plan to become the centerpiece of a naval history museum.
The vintage landing craft, one of the last of its kind still afloat, was recently honored with its acceptance into the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service designation recognizes sites and structures associated with "events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history" and that "embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period or method of construction."
The designation recognizes the 713 as exemplifying war-time ship-building techniques "that emphasize simple, rugged and cost-effective construction."
But 30 months in Astoria tested some of that rugged construction. High winds knocked the vessel about, and saltwater corroded the steel hull, causing leaks. Last August, the ship was towed back to Portland.
Gordon Smith, president of Amphibious Forces Maritime Museum, the nonprofit group that's restoring the vessel, said the damage was only part of the reason for relocating the 713. Back in Portland, the ship is much more conveniently located for its 20 or so volunteer restorers, most of whom live in the metro area, he said.
The group continues to work on the vessel, restoring it to its wartime condition. Its biggest task is raising an estimated $375,000 to replace the ship's bottom - gaining recognition from the National Register should help in the hunt for grants, Smith said.
Until then the ship remains in limbo and its future home uncertain, although the group is open to bringing the 713 back downriver, Smith said.
"We love Astoria - we had a good host," he said. "Astoria is still a very viable location."
Pier 39 owner Floyd Holcom said the vessel sprang a leak while moored in Astoria, and that the future of the ship will likely depend on the ability of its owners to raise money for the needed repair work.
"We hope they come back," he said.
LCIs, for Landing Craft Infantry, ferried men and equipment to invasion beaches in Europe and the Pacific. More than 1,000 of the vessels were launched, but only a handful remain afloat today. The owners of the LCI 713 believe it may be the only one of its kind still in its original wartime configuration.
The ship, built in 1944, served in various campaigns in the Pacific, earning a battle star for the engagement at Mindanao, and once landed a unit of Oregon National Guard troops as part of an attack in the Philippines.
After the war it was sold as surplus to a logging company in Stevenson, Wash., that used it to store gear. After years on the water, it sprang a leak and settled into the mud on the bank of the Columbia. In the 1970s, bus company owner Arthur Raz bought the vessel with the intention of restoring it, but died before the project could begin.
In 1998, Walt James, a tugboat captain and history buff, bought the hulk and launched Amphibious Forces Maritime Museum with the goal of bringing the historic ship back to life. Since then he and a dedicated group of volunteers, including some World War II veterans who served on LCIs, have devoted their weekends to restoring the once rusted-out hulk.
The organization won permission from the owner of the Red Lion resort at Jantzen Beach in Portland to moor the vessel. But that's only a temporary home because the property is up for sale, Smith said. The museum group has received little interest from the city of Portland to provide a permanent location for the ship - which helped bring them to Astoria in the first place - but has approached the city of Vancouver, Wash., across the river with a proposal to reopen one of the old wartime shipyards as a home for the vessel.
In the meantime, the 713 has received one exciting invitation - to join the rest of the fleet tied up at the Portland waterfront during the Rose Festival.
"That's quite an honor for a little old LCI like us," Smith said.
Parked right below the Interstate 5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver, the 713 is in one of the most visible spots possible, Smith said - although not all the attention has been welcome. Last month, on April Fool's Day, some vandals untied the 713 from its moorage.
The vessel drifted about 1,000 yards downriver before coming to rest against some pilings, but suffered no damage and was towed back to its berth.