Posted by: arbeam | January 24, 2015

Putting ‘the joy back in Turner Joy’

Jack James takes over as USS Turner Joy Director. Photo By Larry Steagall

Jack James takes over as USS Turner Joy Director.                                     Photo By Larry Steagall

BREMERTON — When he interviewed for the director’s job at the USS Turner Joy Museum, Jack James was asked if, along with all the public outreach the position involves, he’d be willing to turn a wrench, too. “For me, it’s more of a weapon,” joked James, a Navy Seal for more than three decades. “But, yeah.”

James, who retired from the service in 2007 and was hired at the Turner Joy in October, has brought a renewed energy to the aging vessel, one of eight destroyers on display in the country and the only one on the West Coast.

“We want to keep it looking like the same Vietnam-era ship it always was,” he said. “But make it a world-class museum ship and a tourist destination for Bremerton.”

James is a West High School class of 1972 graduate who grew up on Park Avenue. He and his wife, Stacey, an Air Force intelligence officer, met in Qatar while on duty in 2002. They moved to Poulsbo in retirement.

The director’s position requires a peculiar set of skills: social butterfly, knowledgeable Navy networker, ship mechanic. John Hanson, president of the Bremerton Historic Ships Association, that manages the vessel, said finding that skill set is nearly impossible, but they just may have in James. He is, after all, a man who once led the Navy’s first tideland mine disarming team as a Seal but has also gladly channeled the fictional Captain Jack Sparrow at children’s birthday parties.

“He has ideas and visions for the ship,” Hanson said. “He’s taking us to a different level and his community involvement is off the charts. The volunteers love him, staff adores him and our guests do, too.”

Turner Joy 2There are some mighty challenges awaiting the vessel, which was decommissioned in 1982 after a 23-year career and has been tied up on the Bremerton waterfront since 1991. In 2016, the ship’s due for a tow to Lake Union for a $1 million scrubbing and painting of its underbelly. Last time that was done, 52 tons of sea growth was removed. Right now, the association has little more than $100,000 saved for the overhaul, but Hanson is confident they’ll meet their target, perhaps with some assistance from the federal government.

But Hanson hailed two other successes: The ability of the ship to cut costs and get grant funding, and its getting noticed by a prominent Seattle tourism group.

The vessel, with help from Puget Sound Energy, was retrofitted with many LED and energy saving light bulbs. The ship’s power bill was $900 last month, down from $2,000, Hanson said.

Projects to preserve the vessel are also ongoing. A $10,000 grant from the Tin Can Sailors association paid to repaint a 130-foot section of the ship’s surface walkway.

The Turner Joy was added to the marketing material produced by a company called Seattle Premier Attractions in 2013, which Hanson said has greatly boosted interest in the ship. Attendance has been up about 5 percent the last two years, with around 40,000 people visiting last year. The No. 1 referral is now from the Seattle tourism group, Hanson said.

James has big plans for 2015. A member of the local Navy League board, he has already started a new program that brings Navy Junior ROTC and the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps aboard for educational visits. He’s invited a local boot camp to conduct a session on board and wants to produce new fundraisers to include a swim from the vessel to the Boat Shed restaurant across the Port Washington Narrows. He’d also like to have a pirate takeover for kids to come play aboard the storied ship, where he’d play the role of — you guessed it — Captain Jack Sparrow.

“I want to put the joy back in Turner Joy,” James said.

Kitsap Sun Article by Josh Farley

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