The USS Requin, a submarine set to sea in the waning days of World War II, has not moved from its spot in the Ohio River for more than two decades.
The boat settled into its home at the Carnegie Science Center in September 1991, following a 28-day journey from Tampa, in which it was cradled among four barges up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
Before its trip north, the 1,500-ton submarine, which had been left rusting for years in the brackish Hillsborough River as a neglected tourist attraction, was moved to a dry dock in the Port of Tampa where repairs were made to its hull. That was the last time the Requin underwent such maintenance.
Ron Baillie, co-director of the Carnegie Science Center who helped bring the Requin to Pittsburgh, said he was told then that the boat could not sit in the Ohio River forever.
"I distinctly remember them saying to me, 'You'll be good for 20 years,' " Mr. Baillie said.
Now, with the 312-foot Requin facing corrosion on its outer hull, the science center is looking to remove the boat from the water again.
That task, Mr. Baillie said, will likely cost "a couple" million dollars. It may take three or four years for the center, which is in the early stages of fundraising, to gather the necessary money and complete the project, he said.
He estimates the boat may be dry-docked sometime in 2015.
"At this point, we've done a pretty full-scale inspection. We know what the needs are," Mr. Baillie said. "We want to put it in good stead for at least another 20 years, if not longer."
The Requin, which never saw action in World War II and spent most of its career in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, was decommissioned in 1968 after 23 years on duty. In early 1991, then-Sen. John Heinz introduced a bill to transfer the submarine from Tampa to the Carnegie Institute, which was in search of a historic Navy vessel to be part of the science center it was building on the North Shore.
Since then, about 150,000 people have passed through the submarine each year, Mr. Baillie said. It is one of only two Tench-class submarines, commissioned between 1944 and 1951, on display in the United States.
Carnegie staff has worked hard to maintain the interior and exterior of the submarine as best as they could through regular upkeep.
Patty Rogers, the center's curator for historic exhibits, said framing under the boat's decking has been repaired, its railings have been fixed and its mooring lines replaced.
The part of the hull visible above the water also has been repainted since she arrived at the center roughly a decade ago.
And professional divers have inspected the underside of the boat every two or three years, Ms. Rogers said.
Last August, the center hired a New York-based marine surveyor, who spent 12 days inspecting every inch of the ship, Ms. Rogers said.
While the conservation survey concluded that the submarine is in good condition overall, Ms. Rogers said, the thin external steel hull at the bow needs extensive work. Dry-docking the vessel would allow the center to repair the bow as well as complete other maintenance and clean and repaint the vessel.
Because the Requin is no longer operable, Mr. Baillie said it would have to be lifted by barges and carried to a dry-dock. He said the center has contacted several marine contractors about the project, noting that there are dry docks in the area large enough for the vessel.
Peter Stephaich, chairman and CEO of the Houston, Pa.-based marine service company Campbell Transportation, said the company has been talking with the science center for more than a year about possibilities.
Although Campbell Transportation has never worked on a submarine, Mr. Stephaich said the company is capable of handling the science center's project.
"There's no need to take this thing to New Orleans or 2,000 miles down the river," he said.
"The science center is very concerned, and so are we, about making sure that whoever does this does this very carefully," he said.
While seawater is generally more corrosive than fresh water, Jeffrey Nilsson, executive director of the Historic Naval Ships Association, said continued water exposure will damage a boat.
"If you leave anything in the water for over 20 years, something's going to happen," Mr. Nilsson said. "None of these ships, I don't care which one you're talking about, none of them were built to last forever."
Although the Navy inspects historic vessels annually, it plays no role in their upkeep, Ms. Rogers said.
Fundraising for the project has been limited to key board members committed to the submarine's maintenance so far, Mr. Baillie said. Going forward, the center will talk to local corporations as well as state and federal government sources. He noted that the economic downturn has made it difficult to raise money for this sort of project.
Since the Requin arrived in Pittsburgh, veterans who served on the boat have organized a reunion at it every two or three years, although not all are happy with how the submarine has been maintained.
Bob "Dex" Armstrong, 72, of Alexandria, Va., who was on the Requin from 1959 to 1965, said he thinks the science center has done a poor job of taking care of it. He said he visited last winter and got the impression that staff was more concerned about the cosmetics of the boat than maintaining its overall structure.
But other Requin veterans said they are glad the boat is on display and appreciate the opportunity to visit their old home, noting both its personal and historical value.
"This submarine was the first radar picket submarine that the United States Navy had," said John Stewart, 73, of Bellwood, Blair County, who served on the Requin from 1961 to 1963.
Dick Brakenwagen, 70, of Narragansett, R.I., a sonar technician on the boat in the mid-1960s, said he happened to be visiting Pittsburgh with his wife the first week that the Requin was open to visitors in 1991. They decided to take a tour, and he said he quickly realized that the young man acting as their guide did not know anything about the submarine. Mr. Brakenwagen jumped in and led the tour, explaining he had spent a lot of time on board.
He said it is important to continue maintaining the Requin as a museum.
"It's a part of our history," he said.
Gavan Gideon: email@example.com or 412-263-4910.