Going Coastal

Circle Line's WWII Cutter May Take Its Final Manhattan Cruise

In Get Wet, Manhattan on September 15, 2008 at 2:35 pm

A World War II Coast Guard cutter that found new life plying Manhattan’s waters for Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises may have run out of time.

The 76-year-old Calypso, which spent its glory days patrolling for bootleggers during Prohibition, guarding President Franklin Roosevelt’s yacht and rescuing survivors of torpedo attacks, may be retired with another vessel to make room for three new boats joining the Circle Line fleet.

“It would be something of a regret if they couldn’t find an honorable home for it,” said Gerard Marder, 84, who was captain of a former Navy vessel that’s part of Circle Line.

The boats being added by privately owned Circle Line are the first it has bought new rather than converted from military surplus. Whoopi Goldberg will host welcoming celebrations for the first new vessel, named Manhattan, on Sept. 17.

Circle Line is paying $5 million for Manhattan, built by Somerset, Massachusetts-based Gladding-Hearn Shipbuilding. It paid $1 for the 165-foot (50-meter) Calypso, now formally called Circle Line XI, in 1956, Coast Guard records show.

The Manhattan “is like our new Yankee stadium,” said Robert Maher, chief executive officer of Circle Line, which has cruised the Hudson River, East River and New York Harbor with boatloads of tourists since 1945.

Upgrading Controls

About 1 million passengers bought tickets at an average price of $20 last year, Maher said. Excursions range from jaunts past the Statue of Liberty to harbor lights cruises to circumnavigations of Manhattan Island.

Circle Line’s eight berths at Pier 83, off West 42nd Street, aren’t enough to accommodate the Manhattan and two more boats coming next year.

One reason the Calypso may be retired first is that its antiquated system requires the captain to ring signals to the engine room. The Manhattan’s speed and maneuvering will be controlled directly from the bridge, Maher said.

Circle Line offered to donate the Calypso to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, but was turned down, Maher said. He’s waiting to hear whether the Coast Guard wants to reclaim the boat for training use.

Another possible destination is the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston, New York. Museum officials plan to visit Pier 83 soon to inspect the cutter, Maher said. The Calypso may land on the scrap heap if no home is found.

“We gave her a life for 52 years,” Maher said.

Cheaper to Fix

The Calypso still has its original engines, and requires tailor-made replacement parts. The Manhattan can be repaired with standard parts, said Andreas Sappok, Circle Line’s vice president.

“A custom-made part is about 20 times more expensive,” he said. “It would be like driving your grandfather’s car.”

The Manhattan will be 8 feet wider than the Calypso, carry 600 people to the Calypso’s 575, and be more fuel-efficient. Its amenities include a larger concession area, air conditioning, and L-shaped windows extending into the ceiling to provide skyline views, Maher said.

The new craft will preserve the two-deck profile and red, white and green palette familiar to generations of locals and tourists. Circle Line boats have been featured at least twice on New Yorker magazine covers.

The Calypso was built by Bath Iron Works of Maine and commissioned in January 1932. After Prohibition service, it was transferred to the Navy in 1941 to escort Roosevelt’s USS Potomac, according to the Coast Guard’s Web site.

Wartime Service

The cutter was returned to the Coast Guard in 1942 and escorted vessels along the eastern seaboard. It rescued more than 100 survivors of torpedoed ships that year alone, the Web Site says.

Circle Line’s fleet includes four other cutters. It also has two Navy LCIs, or Landing Craft, Infantry (Large), that carried U.S. forces to enemy beaches. A smaller speedboat called the Beast is used for express runs to the Statue of Liberty.

The two LCIs are among only eight still in existence, out of 1,051 hulls built by 10 U.S. shipyards from 1942 to 1944, according to the Amphibious Forces Memorial Museum in Portland, Oregon. LCIs were designed to land an infantry company of about 200 troops after a beach had been secured by an assault landing force, said Jack Green, a spokesman for the Naval Historical Center in Washington.

Veteran’s Visits

Marder was captain of one of the LCIs, the LCI(L)-758. He said he travels from Asheville, North Carolina, to New York each year to visit the boat, now called Circle Line X. It made five landings in the Philippines, shot down two enemy planes, and won three battle stars, he said.

“During two years, I slept ashore only two nights,” Marder said.

The Circle Line X received new engines last year, so it’s safe from being scuttled for now. That means Marder will be able to continue his annual visits.

“It’s a big ego trip for me,” he said. “They treat me like King Tut.”
Nancy Moran

  1. I had no idea there were one million passengers a year on Circle Line. The last time I was in Manhattan it looked hard to park near the Circle Line… It looked like there was a place to park out on a pier in the Hudson RIver. This article made me want to visit and try the cruise around Manhattan Island. Thanks !!

  2. hey this website is cool yo peace.

  3. I wish to correct an error in your article. The new vessel is NOT more fuel efficient than the Calypso, which made a complete 35-mile three hour cruise carrying a full load of passengers on only 78 gallons of fuel oil. This is more efficient than any modern engines.

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