Although not as unlikely as the proverbial "lead balloon," concrete would probably not leap to mind when listing the materials from which sea-going vessels have been constructed.
I found myself in Galveston the other day around noon with a couple of hours to kill. As it was a very hot day, neither birding nor herping were viable options for passing the time. Shortly before discarding the notion of taking the ferry over to Point Bolivar, however, I remembered one of those things that I've been telling myself I should do if I ever found myself in Galveston with time to kill.
Since vintage war machines also rank fairly high among my priorities for diversion, I decided that Sara and I would finally take the time to visit Seawolf Park. The park is located on Pelican Island, just across from the Galveston ferry landing. As many times as we've passed right by it on the ferry, we had never visited.
The Seawolf Park itself is apparently more popular among the locals for its fishing pier than for the two World War II fighting ships permanently grounded there. The U.S.S. Cavalla is a "Gato class" submarine that saw combat in the Pacific Theater and is credited with the sinking (much later in the war) of one of the Japanese aircraft carriers that participated in the Pearl Harbor raid. The Cavalla has been lovingly restored by a volunteer group of mostly ex-submariners.
The other vessel on display, the Destroyer Escort U.S.S. Stewart, is unfortunately a mute testimonial to the ravages of the elements upon the steel hulk of a large steel ship. Touted by the visitor's brochure as "a memorial to the many men who served aboard Destroyer Escorts," the Stewart is seriously in need of the same kind of loving restoration lavished by those old vets on the Cavalla.
What really caught my attention,however, was an inaccessible old hulk mired in the mud about three-hundred meters offshore. When I first saw it many years ago, I assumed that it was merely some ancient abandoned freighter that had perhaps run aground and wasn't worth salvaging. It wasn't until Sara and I seriously began birding in the mid-1980S that I learned from the old Birder's Guide to the Texas Coast (1984, OP) by James A. Lane and John L. Tveten about the true identity and provenance of this vessel.
Anyone who has taken the 15-20 minute ferry ride from Point Bolivar in south-east Texas to Galveston Island has probably seen the remains of this concrete ship. The S.S. Selma lies in the mud a couple hundred meters off the Seawolf Park on Pelican Island, just across from the Galveston ferry landing.
The unlikely material of her construction resulted from a severe steel shortage during World War I. Although the Selma was launched too late to serve in that conflict, she spent her active days as an oil tanker plying routes along the Gulf coast. An accident near Tampico left her hull cracked and she was towed back to the Houston area for repair (she had been built--poured?--in Mobile, Alabama). Unfortunately, no one there had the expertise--or perhaps the inclination--to undertake the necessary work.
In 1992, the Selma was purchased by a Houston area newspaperman who annually marks her "birthday." The Selma is officially recognized by several different historical and archaeological organizations and is the putative "flagship" of the Texas "Army." Despite the unorthodoxy of using concrete in the shipbuilding trade, the technique was apparently not so radical that it would not be resurrected when steel shortages were again encountered during World War II.
For more information (and photos) of the Selma as well as other concrete ships, consult the following web sites: