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Historic nuclear ship opens to public for National Maritime Day

McCartney Dulin, 6, of Columbia, tries to ring the bell during a tour of the N.S. Savannah with his brother and grandparents.
McCartney Dulin, 6, of Columbia, tries to ring the bell during a tour of the N.S. Savannah with his brother and grandparents. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Brad Grube and Barry Marsh sat in the shadow of the hulking Nuclear Ship Savannah in Canton on Sunday and reminisced about working for the company that designed the famous vessel in the 1990s.

"This has been my favorite ship since I was in sixth grade," said Grube, 63, of Bowie. "Our teacher was telling us about atomic power. That was in 1966. And years later I wound up working for the company that designed it. This is the best looking ship in the world, the coolest one for me."

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The Savannah was opened to the public on Sunday to celebrate National Maritime Day, a holiday created by Congress in 1933 and celebrated on May 22.

The ship has been used as a museum and docked at Pier 13 in Canton since 2008. Families boarded and browsed tables set up by the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the Green Port of Baltimore, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other oragnizations. The Maryland State Police, the Baltimore Fire Department and Baltimore Police Department docked boats nearby.

Grube and Marsh worked for George G. Sharp Inc., the firm that designed the Savannah. The vessel, built in the 1950s, is one of only four nuclear-powered cargo ships ever constructed. An atomic symbol adorns its side.

The inside of the ship is filled with mid-century modern style and a nuclear reactor compartment. Grube and Marsh said they visited it for years when it was open for Maritime Day.

"It's an ultra-modern, sleek ship and it's one of a kind," said Marsh, 53, of Towson. "And it's really cool that it's still around. It's very Jetsons."

About 300 people attended Maritime Day, more than last year, when it rained, said Mike Reagoso, the acting chairman of the Baltimore Port Alliance. He said the event helped make the public more aware of the contributions of the maritime industry.

"The iPhone you have, the sneakers you're wearing, the notebook you have, probably didn't come from New Jersey or Camden or Dundalk," Reagoso said. "It came from overseas and it got here on a ship. Ninety percent of things we use on a daily basis came here on a vessel, and the port helps bring those to you. It's important that people are more aware of that's how they get things but also there's great [job] opportunities out here."

Nelson Petteys, a model boat creator, displayed a 1/96th scale model he built at the event. He scanned drawings of the ship that were available and put them into computer-assisted design software and created a 3D model of the ship.

Parts of it he cut with a laser, some were 3D printed, and other parts he made out of fiberglass. Petteys says he plans to create similar models that are radio-controlled for other boat enthusiasts.

Petteys said he got an educational magazine for children when he was in first grade that had a two-page spread of the Savannah. He later enlisted in the Naval Nuclear Power program as a machinist mate.

"I like nuclear power," Petteys said. "The average coal-fired plant produces more radiation from emissions of natural radio isotopes in the coal than a nuclear power plant."

Fiona Chisholm, 11, was touring the boat with her family. Her mother, Karyn Chisholm, said the Baltimore family has attended the event for years.

"It is so complicated," Fiona said. "It's interesting to get to know all the different bits and pieces to just make it work."

She said the engine room was her favorite part.

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