Old Bremerton hydrofoil vessel goes to Missouri

Wednesday, June 9, 2010 | 6:27 p.m. CDT

BREMERTON, Wash. — The Fresh-1 will fly again. That's the plan, anyway, for the once-fastest hydrofoil in the world.

But the record was 47 years ago. For much of the time since then, the Navy research vessel sat behind an auto center warehouse, getting abused by vandals and nature.

On Monday, workers partly disassembled the craft, hoisted it onto a flatbed truck and headed for the USS Aries Hydrofoil Museum in Brunswick, Mo.

"We're going to start restoring it immediately," museum founder Eliot James said by phone Monday from Calgary, Alberta, where he is chief operations officer for Bonnybrook Steel Fabricators. "We'll start putting it to its former glory. Our intention is to have it operating and flying again."

It flew on an underwater wing — a hydrofoil — that lifted the hull out of the water.

On May 3, 1963, a turbine engine pushed the 59-foot, 17-ton catamaran to 96.7 mph on Puget Sound, a hydrofoil record. On July 18 of that same year, Fresh-1 (Fresh was a sort of acronym for Foil Research Hydrofoil) rolled while going 80 mph off Vashon Island. It was rebuilt for about $500,000, completed its trials and was accepted by the Navy, but the wipeout was the beginning of the end.

The Navy shifted its focus to designing reliable 50-knot vessels instead of 100-knot hydrofoils. The Fresh-1 was mothballed and eventually sold at auction.

A Los Angeles surplus dealer bought it from the Navy in 1982 for $12,900. While trying to resell it, he allowed it to be displayed near the battleship USS Missouri along Navy Yard Highway. Dave Symington, a Seattle businessman who developed the Lake Symington housing area in Central Kitsap, eventually bought it. He doesn't remember when, but he's been leasing a space to store it behind Peninsula Trucking for a long time. He doesn't want to add up the cost.

"What good would it do? It'll just make me feel bad," he said.

Symington, 91, had the money to store the Fresh-1, but not to restore it. He'd been trying for years to find a Northwest home, and a few times thought he had.

"I'd rather see it out here," he said.

After none of the sites worked out, Symington figured Missouri was better than the scrap yard.

"I've been talking to him over the last five years," James said. "Dave has always had an interest in seeing the Fresh-1 preserved, and he decided we were the best candidates for doing that."

The museum might not stay in the Show-Me State for long. James said he'll probably move it south, near the Gulf of Mexico.

Dedicated to preserving hydrofoils of all types, the museum is centered around the USS Aries, a Pegasus-class hydrofoil Boeing developed for the Navy in the early 1980s. After serving for 11 years, it was retired in 1992. James, knowing nothing about hydrofoils, bought the 133-foot craft for scrap. Finding it in good shape, he sailed from Charleston, S.C., to Missouri, and decided to restore it. He has since added more hydrofoils and hopes to create a national hydrofoil museum.

They'll move around under their own power to waterfront festivals and other events.

"Our intention is not to just have static displays," said Eliot, 47. "We're all about making hydrofoils fly."

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