American salts cast off for Normandy

UNDER the charge of a 78-year- old skipper and a crew of pensioners, the world's last seaworthy Liberty Ship chugged out of San Francisco Bay, beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and off into a blanket of fog. A small crowd of well-wishers waved from the quayside.

Manned by Second World War veterans, the Jeremiah O'Brien is on an epic voyage to Portsmouth and France to join in the 50th anniversary of D- Day. The 441ft vessel was steered out of San Francisco on Monday by a 65-year-old helmsman, under the escort of a vintage DC-3 passenger plane.

Built during the war in just 56 days, it was one of thousands of hastily assembled cargo ships that carried the troops, supplies and tanks across the Channel during the Allied invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944.

Its elderly master, Captain George Jahn, concedes that his craft has not made an ocean voyage since 1946, the year President Bill Clinton was born.

She was laid up for 34 years. But in 1979 the National Liberty Ship Memorial took over the vessel, and she was steamed to San Francisco for a refit. This restoration, which required 400,000 hours of volunteer work, returned her to near pristine condition.

The trip was twice delayed by the US Coast Guard, which wanted more sea trials. 'Everyone's asking if I have any doubts,' said the captain, before departing. 'But there's nothing wrong with this ship. She'll make it. There is no reason she can't'

He applies the same argument to his men - average age 70 - some of whom last sailed when there was still a threat of being sunk by a German U- boat. Jahn admits that his crew are old, but says they are 'all good and anxious to go'. The men, who were obliged to take physical examinations before departure, are accompanied by a doctor and a priest, and a number of young hands who can step in if they tire. They are expected to reach Panama in a fortnight, then Portsmouth 40 days later. After the celebrations, they will sail back again, completing a round trip of 20,000 miles. The voyage may prove to be arduous during the summer months, because the ship has no air conditioning. But the crew are undaunted - they have been preparing the ship for the past two years, at a cost of some dollars 2.5m ( pounds 1.7m).

Among those on board is Ralph Ahlgren, 72, a retired printer who has not been to sea for 40 years. He is an oiler in the ship's boiler room. 'This,' he said, 'is the last big adventure in a guy's life.'

(Photograph omitted)

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
football
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam