Hurricane Ike did to the USS Cavalla what Japanese destroyers tried and failed to do. The storm punched a gaping hole in the bow of the World War II submarine that survived depth charge attacks during the battle of the Philippine Sea.
Ike floated the Cavalla, although its hull had been buried 15 feet in the ground when it was placed in Seawolf Park on Pelican Island in 1971. The storm surge washed earth beneath the floating sub and left it 5 feet higher when it subsided, said John McMichael, Seawolf Park manager.
The storm also floated the destroyer escort USS Stewart, another park attraction that sits next to the Cavalla, and deposited a boat underneath it that had to be removed.
More than two years after the storm, volunteers such as former submariner Bob Gawe, 66, and his wife Sharon, 58, from Bridgeport, Conn., and hired hands are at work repairing a 30-foot hole in the Cavalla's bow where rusted steel plates gave way under Ike's blows.
McMichael, who served on 11 submarines over his 32 years in the silent service, had to raise $86,000 before repairs could begin. He now needs to raise $520,000 for restraining systems that will keep the Cavalla and the Stewart stable if another Ike-size storm strikes.
The engineering plan calls for driving 3-foot diameter pipes 90 feet in the ground on each side of the Cavalla and welding inch-thick steel straps to them that would stretch across the sub under its wooden decking, McMichael said.
The Stewart would have a metal brace attached to its hull that would slide up and down a 12-foot high steel retainer with a base buried 90-feet deep.
The quest for funding is never-ending for a boat that has earned its place in history yet has never gained the attention McMichael thinks it deserves. He often encounters Galveston residents who have never heard of the storied submarine.