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James Branaman | Kitsap Sun

Rod Arakaki, bottom right, of Bainbridge Island takes a closer look at the P-520 crash boat at Eagle Harbor. Along with Arakaki are his daughter Elena, 8, and his son Jarrett, 5.


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James Branaman | Kitsap Sun

Harrison Berdan, 9, of Bainbridge Island takes a look through the sights of a replica .50 cal. machine gun as he and his mother, Susan, toured the P-520 crash boat at the Eagle Harbor public boat dock.


WW II-era Crash Boat Lands in Puget Sound

By Steven Gardner, SGARDNER@KITSAPSUN.COM
June 14, 2005

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND -- A one-of-a-kind piece of history is navigating its way through Puget Sound and stopped in Eagle Harbor on Sunday and Monday.

The P-520 crash boat was built by the Army to rescue pilots shot down over the water in World War II and the Korean War.

 
The Army built 140 of them in 1944. Only one remains in near original condition from the bright red tabletops in the officers' mess to the Morse code stamper in the radio room to the icebox in the galley.

There are a few changes. The V-12 Packard engines have been replaced by V-12 diesels, allowing the boat to sail at around 12 knots instead of the 35-knot speed of the old engines.

Bud Tretter, who owns a shipyard in Long Beach, Calif., sailed about 18 months on a crash boat during the Korean War, running spy missions and distributing counterfeit currency into the North Korean economy.

He said the Army chose him and his fellow crash boat soldiers because they were "too good for the Navy and not good enough to fly."

Clark Green, a retired high school teacher from Seattle, sailed just under two years in the Aleutians on a crash boat.

He said much of his boat's work was as a transport vehicle, ferrying soldiers to different locations.

Much of the 85-foot crash boat fleet was sold off to private parties after World War II and the rest were taken out of service in 1957 with the advent of helicopters.

The P-520 sailed its entire military career off shores of California, making one rescue attempt during which crews found a pilot's helmet, goggles, a boot and life raft. The boat was also damaged on the attempt and was taken to San Francisco for repairs. It sailed again for a while in the Bay Area. Not long after the war the boat, which cost $250,000 to build, sold for around $6,000.

Tretter said the buyer used it as a yacht, but not for long. The V-12 Packard engines were prohibitively expensive to run.

However it was used in the interim, the P-520's owners did not significantly change the design or the equipment.

A buyer picked up the boat about a decade ago and two weeks into a restoration project gave up and offered it to donate it to the AAF-USAF Crash Rescue Boat Association.

The group accepted the dilapidated P-520 and Tretter spent about seven years rebuilding it to its 1944 specifications.

Olympia's Chuck Fowler of the Combatant Craft of America invited Tretter to bring his boat up to participate in a string of Puget Sound events. That will include Tacoma's Tall Ships Tacoma festival June 30 to July 2, where the P-520 will run alongside Fowler's restored Coast Guard vessel in escorting the ships into Foss Waterway.

Tretter's son Jerry Tretter is now the P-520's skipper. The boat made the trip from Long Beach to the Puget Sound in May. Rough weather forced it to stop at Avila Beach neat the San Luis Obispo Yacht Club, which served as the P-520's headquarters during the war

After a 10-day stop the boat continued north, eventually stopping in Port Townsend. It sailed to the San Juans and Everett before stopping in Bainbridge.

The crew will stop long enough in Bremerton today to get a tour of the USS Turner Joy before heading to Gig Harbor. The P-520 will not be open for tours.

The crew is keeping a running log at www.p-520crashboat.com .



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