PT-728 during the restoration
PT-728 with new hull and paint
Capt. Nenodovich and Jeff Sondles inspect below decks
In dry dock near Port Clinton, PT-728 is being rebuilt, refurbished and improved. By next summer she will be the only PT boat that will be licensed by the US Coast Guard and approved for passengers.
According to Jeff Sondles, Administrator of the Liberty Aviation Museum, the experience of going aboard their PT-728 “will be like the crew just left it and we are invading their privacy.”
In addition to having 85% of her 72-foot wooden hull replaced, PT-728 will have new engines to provide the original feel of the PT boat. PT boats were known by the Japanese navy in the South Pacific as “mosquito boats” and “devil boats” for their speed, heavy armament and quick-strike capabilities. She will achieve speeds of 40-45 mph. Depth charges and torpedoes will not be operational, but the guns will be capable of firing blank rounds.
“The delicate dance” between accuracy and safety will feature a modern helm and wiring with the presentation as close to the original as possible. The Coast Guard has been working very closely with the museum throughout the restoration to ensure a re-certification to carry 49 passengers.
PT-728 is painted green, the color of the boats that were in service in the South Pacific. Another difference for PT-728 will be her name. With the blessing of the family of Sandusky native and Lenny Thom, PT-728 will be named after Thom’s PT boat, “Thomcat”. The story of Thom and his experiences with John Kennedy aboard PT-109 are told by Sondles in the companion article.
How she got here
Last summer PT-728 was acquired by the museum and transported through the Erie Canal to Lake Erie and to its new home in Port Clinton. Half a dozen volunteers of the museum transported her on the historic journey. “Once the AP published a story about us traveling though the Canal, we were treated like rock stars,” remembers Captain Frank Nenodovich. “People were standing along the canal waving the American Flag, WWII Vets would stand and salute, they would bring us dinner … it was all very patriotic and humbling.”
After arriving in Port Clinton, PT 728 was put in dry dock for complete refurbishing when the extent of the structural damage was discovered. Once the bilges were emptied, and she was dry-docked, according to Capt. Nenodovich, “she dripped water for two weeks”.
PT 728 was built in 1945 at the Annapolis Yacht yard, and was scheduled for the British or Russian navy as part of the lend-lease act. Once the atomic bomb was dropped, the PT boats in the Pacific were burned and scrapped, and those still state-side, like PT-728, were sold for use as cabin cruisers or by the Navy as training boats.
Why a PT boat?
What exactly is an aviation museum doing with a PT boat? That is a question often directed to museum President and CEO Ed Patrick. “Well… first of all, we are located in the ‘Lake Erie Shores and Islands Region’ popular with many Midwesterners who like to boat and fish on their vacations. There is a great deal of local maritime history in this region. When we had an opportunity to get this PT boat for the museum, I jumped at the chance” states Patrick. “To have such a unique local connection in the form of a local Sandusky boy playing a significant role in the future of our country, it was a logical step that we honor Lenny’s legacy by naming PT-728 the ‘Thomcat’.”
What is next for Thomcat
Once the restoration and sea trials are completed, possibly yet this fall, Thomcat looks forward to conducting dockside tours and “torpedo runs” for the general public on weekends next summer. During the weekdays it will be available for “executive torpedo runs” for businesses. The museum has already been receiving inquiries about booking trips.
Considering all the work that needed to be done, Capt. Nenodovich is thrilled that they have achieved “quite a goal in one year.”