A historic boat that was used during World War II to rescue crewmembers of a sinking American oil tanker torpedoed by the Japanese off the coast of Cambria could soon be on display in Morro Bay.
The Morro Bay City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday to negotiate and execute a licensing agreement with the Central Coast Maritime Museum Association that would allow the Alma to be installed along Embarcadero at the intersection of Surf Street near the retired Morro Bay Power Plant.
The site is home already to two boat displays, a U.S. Navy submarine and a U.S. Coast Guard life boat, which chronicle local maritime history. The licensing agreement will incorporate the future use of those exhibits as well.
Morro Bay has a memorandum of understanding with the museum that allows them to be exhibited on city property.
“The museum anticipates locating the new vessel on the city’s property as soon as feasible, early this fall,” city officials Rob Livick and Eric Endersby wrote in a staff report. “The license agreement proposes a term through Dec. 31, 2016, but will allow for extension or termination.”
The Alma was built in 1927 on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco — and it was used to conduct military and tugboat duties for many decades.
During World War II it was deployed to rescue crewmembers of the Union Oil Tanker Montebello, which was hit by a torpedo off the coast of Cambria by a Japanese submarine on Dec. 23, 1941.
“The Alma was sent up the coast to help with the rescue,” said Larry Newland, president of the museum’s board of directors. “All those on board made it to safety. The (Montebello) sunk.”
After World War II, the Alma served as a towboat for targets used for military artillery practice, and later was used as a tugboat for an oil terminal located offshore in Morro Bay.
The museum doesn’t have an indoor location for information and exhibits, and directors intend to raise $350,000 to $400,000 to build a roughly 1,500 square-foot facility for that purpose.
Morro Bay councilman Noah Smukler supported the concept of the museum’s future partnership with the city, noting details will need to be discussed on a building project.
“My thought is let’s keep the momentum going with the public outreach on this,” he said.
In the meantime, the agreement on the outdoor displays sets up the Alma’s installation for October or November, though it may not be ready for its new home until spring if it’s rainy, Newland said.
The museum still needs to raise $4,000 to set up the project, which would include materials for a cradle that holds and elevates the boat for public viewing.
Newland said that the museum is made up of all volunteers, and they depend on volunteer labor and donations to operate and prepare projects for exhibition.
The Alma required about 800 hours of volunteer repairs to complete its restoration, which included weatherproofing.
The Alma was donated in the late 1990s by Sylvester Tug Service, and the museum has spent an estimated $30,000 on its improvements the past two and a half years.
About half of that money was donated by the Hind Foundation, a San Luis Obispo-based organization that helps fund community projects that preserve legacies.
“I just want to commend the museum for the work they’ve done on the Alma,” Livick said. “It looks great.”
Morro Bay’s intended agreement would offer the city space for no cost to display the exhibits; however, they must not impede the public’s right of way. The agreement would indemnify the city from any associated liabilities with the presentation, according to Morro Bay officials.
Newland said that cultural histories, including maritime history, help draw tourism and boost local business — which is another reason he hopes the concept of an indoor maritime museum will come to fruition.
“Cultural history and heritage can be good business, and big business,” Newland said. “Tourists who come for cultural heritage will spend more money and stay longer. It’s good for the local economy.”
For more information about the Central Coast Maritime Museum Association, and this project, go to http://morrobaymaritime.org/.