April 30, 2023

Museum Review - Seawolf Park

While in Houston for the tour of Texas, Lord Nelson and I decided to pay a visit to the other warship museum in the area, Seawolf Park on the tip of Galveston Island. It's actually not far from the Gulf Copper shipyard, and we saw the masts of Texas as we drove to the park. But it's also fairly isolated, about 15 minutes from anywhere else in Galveston, which itself is about an hour from Houston.1 Despite the name, the park doesn't have any USS Seawolf.2 It does have a submarine, Cavalla, as well as the USS Stewart, one of two destroyer escorts on display in the country.

Cavalla and the sail of Tautog
Type: Museum destroyer escort and submarine
Location: Galveston, Texas
Rating: 4.2/5, Nice to visit if you're in the area
Price: $13 for normal adults

One interesting feature of the refit was the installation of a plot and a DRT in the wardroom

As you would expect from the fact that she is a submarine on display in the United States, Cavalla is a fleet boat, notable for sinking Shokaku during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Unlike all of the previous fleet boats I've visited, she's not in her wartime configuration, having been the beneficiary of the postwar SSK program that stripped away her deck guns, streamlined things topside, removed two torpedo tubes and fitted a snorkel. Note that this is a much less comprehensive refit than was done under the GUPPY program, which you can see on Razorback and Becuna. Inside, she's still very recognizably a fleet boat, although there's an interesting refit to turn the officer's wardroom into a plotting space. The inside is done competently but not exceptionally, but she's the most accessible sub I've been on since I started writing reviews, with the sole exception of Albacore. Only a few rooms were glassed off, and you could get into the kitchen, wardroom, and even the shower, spaces inaccessible on other submarines. There were a few weirdnesses (such as a Mk 16 peroxide torpedo, which is not something I would have wanted to sleep near), but on the whole, it was exactly what you would expect from a submarine.

A destroyer escort, sailing on dirt

Stewart is interesting primarily as a representative of the massive fleet of destroyer escorts built during the war. She's not as open as Cavalla, and most of the spaces aren't done as well as those aboard the submarine. A lot of it is quite bare, with only the major furnishings in place. Much of the ship is closed off, and even the bits you can see are usually less accessible than those aboard Cavalla, although they apparently run hardhat tours of those parts. But you can still get to pretty much the entire main deck, as well as the 01-03, and the crew quarters on the 2nd deck. A few of the sections are done pretty well, mostly notably the bridge, CIC, and various berthing areas. The outside is a bit spartan, with a lot of stuff missing (I didn't see a single 20mm gun), but most of the basic pieces are there, stuff like depth charge tracks, the Hedgehog, K-guns, 3" guns, 40mm mounts, and so on.

Stewart's CIC

My least favorite thing about Seawolf Park is the fact that both vessels are entirely dry-berthed, and in a way that I haven't seen before. Unlike Albacore and Batfish, they are not simply sitting out on the ground. Instead, they are actually buried to approximately their normal waterline, leaving them looking quite a bit like ships that have become embedded in the land near the sea. This makes the feel a tiny bit wrong, but not enough to spoil the experience. This may be because they're in fairly serious hurricane territory, and Seawolf Park itself was very badly damaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008. Knowing what they had to deal with 15 years ago and the shoestring budget these kind of places operate on made it quite impressive how good of shape everything was in today.

Seawolf Park after Ike

Signage inside the ships was fairly sparse, but what there was was done quite well, and there was enough for someone interested in the subject to figure out what was going on. The outside signage was basically nonexistent, and there really wasn't much effort to put either ship into any sort of context. This problem also extended to the small number of artifacts that were alongside the two ships. Stewart had a pair of 3" guns, a twin 40mm Bofors, and what I think is a 5"/38 alongside, while Cavalla had some sort of heavyweight torpedo (probably a Mk 14, but I'm not an expert on WWII torpedo identification), along with a SUBROC, which I greeted in the traditional manner. Also present but pretty much inaccessible was the sail of the nuclear submarine Tautog, one of the early Sturgeon class boats. And visible to the northwest of the park are the remains of SS Selma, a WWI-era tanker built of concrete.

Me greeting the SUBROC

On the whole, Seawolf Park was quite enjoyable. It's not worth traveling across the country to visit on its own, but once Texas is open again, it would make a good supporting act to the battleship. It's not huge, but the prices are fairly reasonable for what you get, and it's worth going just to see what they've managed to rebuild from the ashes of Hurricane Ike.

1 More or less. Houston is really big, and how far Galveston is will depend on where you are in the city.

2 Yet! Maybe they'll bring the current Seawolf there when she retires. (Narrator voice: They will not bring the current Seawolf to Seawolf Park.)


  1. April 30, 2023John said...

    Despite living in Houston since the 80s, I made my first visit in March. It's well worth the visit if you in Galveston.

  2. May 01, 2023Emilio said...

    If the wardroom had been converted in a plotting room, where would the officers spend their lordly free time?

  3. May 01, 2023bean said...

    It can still be used as a wardroom when you don't need to plot things.

  4. May 03, 2023Ian Argent said...

    My impression of Texas Travel is that any one part of Texas is ~2 hours drive from any other part of Texas. Whether that be between the closest points of approach of Dallas and Fort Worth, or San Antonio to Houston.

    This is not rational.

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