Down in Dry Dock with the Battleship New Jersey

The Battleship new Jersey in dry dock at the Philadelphia Navy Yard
The Battleship New Jersey (BB-62) in Dry Dock number 3 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. (Photos: Hoag Levins)

(June 7, 2024 – PHILADELPHIA) Although you may have a general sense of its large size, it’s still an altogether different experience to descend into a 50-foot-deep dry dock, sharply bend your neck back to stare up at the seven-story-high gunwales of the Battleship New Jersey, and peer upward beyond that at the underside of a battery of enormous gun barrels jutting out across open sky. Or to stand with your hand on the keel along the bottom of this mighty vessel looking back at the 36-foot-wide propellers standing out sharply against the sun-splashed concrete wall and miniature clusters of humans in white hard hats.

During the last twelve weeks that this 83-year-old retired war vessel has been in Dry Dock at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, thousands of visitors have climbed the 150 steps into and out of this cement pit in which the ship sits on 295 massive piers of timber and concrete as it undergoes $10 million worth of bow-to-stern maintenance. A spokesperson for the Home Port Alliance for the USS New Jersey said the visitors — who paid from $225 to $1,000 for their dry dock tour tickets — came from across the U.S. as well as from Europe and Asia. A great many of them were either former crewmen or relatives of former crewmen who served aboard BB-62. The rest were a collection of naval and military aficionados seeking a very rare experience. Here’s what some of it looked like:

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Hard hats worn by visitors on their dry dock tours at the Philadelphia Navy Yard
Visitors taking the Dry Dock tour has to wear hard hats as well as special steel toe protectors and eye protection.
Visitors descend the iron stairway clinging to the wall of the 103-year-old dry dock.
Climbing down into Dry Dock 3 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard
Safety was a major concern at all points along the tour, including the insistence that visitors hold on to the rails with both hands as they climbed.
A rear view of the Battleship New Jersey in dry dock
The 83-year-od vessel that began its long, distinguished career in World War II battles across the Pacific shows the scars of its many years in other war zones.
A view from underneath the Battleship New Jersey in dry dock
It’s a rare scene to stand beneath the ship and see its gargantuan rudders and propellers.
The propellers and rudders of the Battleship New Jersey in dry dock
Two of its propellers have four blades and two others have five blades — a configuration worked out to minimize vibration.
The tunnel-like void along the bottom of Battleship New Jersey's hull
Tour Guide Rich Meaner, a retired U.S. Navy anti-submarine warfare officer (blue hat) took the group into the massive indentation along the bottom of the ship known as the “Holland Tunnel.”
Propped up on hundreds of timber and concrete blocks, the ship’s rear propulsion system was an awesome and very unique sight.
A dry dock tour guide explains the battleship's sonar dome that was used in anti-submarine warfare
Means explains the streamlined sonar dome behind him in the Holland Tunnel. Its sensors constantly scanned the surrounding oceans for submarines.
Rich Meaner, a retired U.S. Navy anti-submarine warfare officer
Meaner details the bilge keel behind him. It’s a huge wing-like structure sticking out from both sides of the hull that serves to dampen side-to-side roll of the ship. This is crucial to maintaining the vessel’s level for accurately aiming and firing the big guns.
Visitors at the bottom of the dry dock at the Philadelphia Navy Yard
The length of the Battleship is that of three football fields laid end-to-end. Overall, from its keel to the top of its main mast, it’s 15 stories high.
The streamlined bow of the Battleship New Jersey, BB-62
The aerodynamically shaped bow of the ship was the key to its speed. The bow is also higher than the stern — the reason it had to be pumped full of 3,000 gallons of water so that the ship was level as it entered the dry dock.
The dry dock doors that keep out the Delaware River at the Philadelphia Navy Yard
Beyond the bow is the steel gate that shuts the dry dock off from the Delaware River beyond. It take eight hours for the pumps to fill or empty the entire dry dock; and when it’s emptied, there are often stranded fish left behind.
The aerodynamically shaped complete bow of the Battleship New Jersey
The different color paints signify the vessel’s above-water line (gray), the water line (black) and the submerged hull line (red). The red paint is a special copper oxide variety that inhibits marine growth.
Dry Dock 3 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard
The Battleship New Jersey was built in the Philadelphia Navy Yard and has been in dry dock number 3 four times during its long career.
Climbing out of Dry Dock 3 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard
The 90-minute tour ends with a climb back out of the dry dock whose walls are crumbling. Navy Yard scuttlebutt has it that the New Jersey was the last ship that will ever be in Dry Dock 3 before the dock is decommissioned.
Full view of the Battleship New Jersey in its 2024 maintenance period in Dry Dock 3 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard
Although the Battleship NewJersey was decommissioned from the U.S. Navy Vessel Registry, the ship is still owned by the Navy. But the Navy does not provide any funding for ship maintenance or dry docking, or any of the cost of its operation as a historic site along the waterfront in Camden, NJ. The $10 million cost of this dry dock project was covered by funds from the State of New Jersey, funds raised by the Home Port Alliance of the USS New Jersey, and donations from other organizations and individuals. It is believed the Dry Dock tours program raised more than $1 million of the money used to cover the cost of the dry dock work.