You don't need sea legs to have brunch on board the LCI 1091, but it would help to pine for a salty atmosphere and even saltier corned beef hash.
That's the yen that gathered Leroy Marsh and a handful of volunteers on a recent Friday morning — as it does every Friday and Sunday morning — on board the former Navy ship to eat, catch up and work.
The 1091 has a long, rich history. Built as an infantry carrier, it's a long, shallow draft boat that in its heyday could run right up on a beach, open its bow doors, and unload 200 infantrymen in less than three minutes. The 1091 was launched in September, 1944, and earned two battle stars in the Pacific Theater during WWII. In the early 1950s, it was converted to a laboratory ship and used to combat malaria during the Korean War, earning another four battle stars. In 1955 the boat was decommissioned and eventually sold and converted into a floating cannery as part of an Alaskan fishing fleet in the Yukon River.
In the late 1980s, Ralph Davis, a McKinleyville dentist, bought the 1091 and outfitted it to fish. For about eight summers, Davis would guide the 1091 out of Humboldt Bay in search of albacore, until fuel prices made the operation unsustainable in 2003. A couple years after that, Davis told the Humboldt Bay Naval Sea/Air Museum, a small nonprofit, it could have the boat.
The 1091 is full of stories ranging from combat and commercial to personal. There was a crewmember suicide and still-blacked-out archives help fuel speculation that the ship — with its small radar signature — was dropping scouts behind enemy lines or involved in biological warfare post-WWII.
Those are rousing tales for the Boy Scout troops that do overnight field trips aboard the boat, and the families of former crewmen who've visited from around the country.
The 1091's been moored at a city of Eureka-owned dock at the foot of Commercial Street since 2003. It's a concern to many folks on the bay, who fear the old ship, lacking serious hull repairs, poses a sinking threat (see "That Sinking Feeling," March 24). But that doesn't stop a hale and hearty crew of mostly old-timers from showing up to clean, restore, repair and chow twice a week.
As volunteer Don Reed gave a tour of the ship, the commingling scents of engine oil, hash browns and coffee filled the boat's corridors. Down below are the cramped quarters where infantrymen bunked for weeks at a time between islands. The museum raided the "Mothball Fleet" in Suisun Bay and has found materials it hopes to use to restore the ship to its WWII station.
Much of the bulwark is being restored by the museum, which has among its members at least one good welder and others who, well, Reed said, they try. It's clearly a labor of love. After a brief prayer led by Davis — who's on the boat about as often as he was when he owned it — the group ate a supposed Navy galley favorite: SOS, or, Reed eventually explained, "shit on a shingle."
It's better than the name lets on, and the museum folks are happy to share (though donations are appreciated). Volunteers are there every Friday and Sunday morning, and they'll accommodate appointments, too. For more information, call Leroy Marsh at 442-9333.