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Salvage of the Brooklyn

On the morning of March 20th 2017, Tommy Wong and I decided to head down to the lake at Prado as it had been drained for several weeks. Being as I was still not working and Tommy was on spring break, a Monday trip down to the lake would be ideal as there would be very few people at the park. Why the concern about too many people? Well, our quest was to locate the USS Brooklyn that went missing on January 2011 and the last thing we needed was for someone to call the men in the white jackets to take care of a few loons who were walking all over the dry lakebed.

Back in 2011, the Brooklyn was preparing for a battle when it got stuck in forward with a loss of radio control due to a low voltage condition on the battery. The pump wasn't running and it made a wide, slow turn to port over the course of several minutes getting slower as the battery quickly faded. A rescue was attempted but when the dual-manned folding boat was within 10' of the stricken ship, she sank beneath the calm surface. At this point, Ryan Matsuura, the owner of the Brooklyn said, "That's okay. I didn't really like that ship anyway." As such, salvage rights were bandied about onshore but no one wanted to head out a look for the ship as it sank in deep water which was quite cold due to the time of year.

So the USS Brooklyn sat, unloved and unwanted, on the bottom of Prado lake. I told everyone in SCRAP that we needed to wait for a lake draining event before we could find it. In mid-2016, the lake was partially drained due to a major leak but not completely. However, in late 2016, the management of Prado Regional Park announced that they needed to drain the lake to fix several broken bypass pipes that direct runoff under the lake that would otherwise flow into the lake. These bypass pipes were broken in several locations that allowed lake water to drain out at over five million gallons per day. These pipes are 48" in diameter and there are three of them under the lake that meet in the middle and continue to the drainage culvert behind the main dam of the lake. The expected time for the drainage was to be two months. As the lake was drained in early February, we felt we had waited long enough despite the rain we kept receiving which made the lake bottom extremely soft.

Upon arriving at the lake, there was still water in the deepest portion of the lakebed as water continued to percolate out of the surrounding area which never allowed the lake to completely drain. While the center areas were still very soft, the majority of the lake - while giving way slightly to pressure - would still hold a person of larger than life stature. The continued existence of water is why several species will more than likely survive despite the extended drainage period. Little did we realize that the missing ship would be found pretty close to the middle of the dark area within this photo.

Tommy and I entered the lakebed and I explained to him that the ship sank about 50 degrees to port from standing on shore. We walked in that direction and every anomaly we discovered, we investigated. The lakebed was covered in large cracks that extended deeply into the clay bottom. There was plenty of trash with plastic bags being a great indicator of an anomaly as the dirt above them was always dry and easy to see. We also found large rocks and clumps of dried concrete. We would turn these over to see if anything was living under them but we found nothing. Then we found a small log and flipped it over. Underneath were two dead crayfish which had dried out in their lairs. When Tommy asked about the viability of their returning to the pond, I explained that the remaining large body of water would allow most of the fauna to survive. Those that could not would be reintroduced by birds visiting the lake or by the process of fish restocking.

We continued to explore in the general direction that I remembered the ship sank. We found several items but no ship appeared. After about 30 minutes of wandering around and noticing that the mud was getting quite soft the closer we were to the remaining water, I turned around and headed back, head down in both defeat and to continue scanning the muddy bottom. I also noticed that Tommy was stuck in the mud near the remaining water. He was pulling his boots out of the mud and then had to crawl out of the mud on his hands and knees. Ah, the blessings of youth. If that was me, they would have had to send out a helicopter. Visions of them extracting stuck horses hanging from a harness with me in place of the horse danced through my head and I had to laugh.

In a better mood, I continued to walk back taking a path about 20' further to the east as retracing my steps made little sense. As I was nearing the shore and much too close to our battling location to find the ship, I noticed a plastic object and what looked like another sunken log. The plastic was closer so I headed over to it. More trash. I then had the following thought, "just head back to shore and we'll call this one as officially lost as perhaps someone with a fishing pole had snagged it and pulled it out years ago. But, I'm here, I might as well check the log." So I wandered over to the log and looked at it. Right away, I noticed some rust on the top of it and immediately attributed that to a lost fishing hook. I then put my foot on it and it gave with flexibility. More flexibility than wood. I noticed the dried mud was suspended above the lakebed, as we'd seen on everything else before but I decided to flick off a piece of this dirt and underneath was a fiberglass rib. I straightened up and said, "well that's a surprise" and I then called Tommy over. He was still exploring the edge of the water but far enough back that he wasn't in danger of getting stuck.

Tommy ran over and as he approached, I told him I had found the USS Brooklyn. He was extremely excited and grabbed his camera. You can see how it looked sitting in the mud and from the opposite side. Little more than a small bump in the dried mud. I guess it's better to be lucky than good. The ship settled on its port side in the mud with its stern towards the hat in the lower-left corner of the first photo. In the first photo you can clearly see where I walked over to the ship, pushed on it with my foot, flicked away a bit of mud to expose the rib and then moved back to get a better look at it. The small bit of rust I saw is just a bit more forward on the deck rim and was caused by a deck rim hold-down screw. At this point, we headed back to the car to get a shovel and hand tools to extract the ship. The superstructure was gone which unfortunately included the rear cannons. This is what it looked from from the excavation site looking back towards our battling site.

After carefully digging around the ship, I extracted the USS Brooklyn and carried it to shore. This was much more difficult than I anticipated as the ship was packed full of mud. Tommy decided to stay and look for additional pieces in the mud near where the ship laid. I finished carrying the ship to my car and put it in the trunk. A quick drive over to the park office and the nearby hose would help clean the ship out much quicker and be less damaging. Here is a before, during and after photo of the mud removal. As mentioned it was completely full of mud so we had no idea what the condition of any components would be at least until most of the mud was removed. During the process, it was clear the ship internals were in very bad shape.

I loaded the now much cleaner USS Brooklyn back into my trunk and headed back to the lake. Upon arriving, I called Tommy back to shore and then took this photo showing where we found the ship relative to the view from the parking lot looking between the two trees. The dark area behind Tommy is where the Brooklyn was located and excavated. Tommy had found several additional pieces to the ship which was no small task considering the amount of mud involved. We then decided to call it a day and head out after a very successful salvage and recovery effort.

After additional cleanup and disassembly efforts, the following pictures paint a good image of what the ship looks like now:

I'm most disappointed in the 3.5 ounce aluminum CO2 bottle not surviving well enough to be reused. Out of everything, that is what I had hoped to salvage from the operation but at least I did get a good standard Williams regulator out of it as that's probably the only thing that survived without issue. If you're interested in a decent fiberglass Brooklyn hull with plenty of history, just let me know.