CAMBRIDGE — For decades, the marine railway at Cambridge’s Yacht Maintenance boatyard has transported many historic vessels. The most recent is the WWII, P-520 USAAF crash boat hauled out on July 6 for an insurance inspection and hull survey.
The 85-foot P-520 is the only complete crash rescue boat in existence. Although it was built in California, 27 similar 83’ and 85’ wooden crash boats were assembled between 1942 and 1944 at Cambridge Shipbuilders Inc. – the current site of Yacht Maintenance.
Operating on high-octane fuel at speeds of 40-45 knots, the U.S. Army Air Force boats were used to rescue downed airmen in The Mediterranean, North Atlantic and the Pacific during WWII and the Korean War. With crews of 14, the boats served the military and OSS intelligence agency until the advent of the helicopter during the Korean conflict.
After restoration on the West Coast, the P-520 suffered damage when it was shipped to Florida. It eventually made its way to Maryland where it has been docked in Cambridge since April.
“Our railway — which accommodates large boats up to 200 tons and 110 feet — allows the marine surveyors to look for damage to the P-520 hull and provide repair recommendations, said George Robinson, president of Yacht Maintenance Company.
“In addition to servicing our marine customers, one of my goals is to help preserve the rich maritime history of our boatyard and develop an appreciation for the shipbuilding industry that once thrived on Cambridge Creek.”
Following repairs, Cambridge will be the homeport for the P-520 where it will serve as a traveling museum that also visits other destinations on the Chesapeake Bay.
“When you see this boat, you appreciate the woodworking skills that went into building vessels of this kind in ports like Annapolis, Baltimore and Cambridge and their contributions to the war efforts,” said Ted Yadlowsky, a non-paid consultant to the P-520’s not-for-profit organization. “We want to raise funds through public ticketed trips on the Bay so we can then host veterans and wounded warriors on honor cruises as well as students for educational excursions.”
In addition to the crash rescue boats, Cambridge Shipbuilders, Inc. built 14 WWII cargo, fire patrol and freight vessels up to 140 feet from 1943 to 1945.