Final destination: Kitty Hawk due to arrive in Brownsville May 31

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Five months and 17,000 miles after departing Bremerton, Wash., the former USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) is expected to enter the jetties of the Brazos Santiago Pass off South Padre Island at 10:30 a.m. on May 31, the day after Memorial Day.

That's according to Robert Berry, vice president of International Shipbreaking Ltd./EMR Brownsville, which won the contract to dismantle the historic supercarrier, the last conventionally powered aircraft carrier to be decommissioned. The Kitty Hawk's keel was laid at the New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden, N.J., on Dec. 27, 1956. The ship was launched on May 21, 1960, and commissioned by the Navy on April 29, 1961.

It was decommissioned in 2009 and had been mothballed at Naval Base Kitsap as part of Bremerton's "ghost fleet" until departing under tow for Brownsville in mid-January. The voyage has taken the 1,069-foot-long carrier and its 7,268-horsepower ocean-going tugboat, the Michele Foss, all the way down the west coast of the United States, Mexico, and Central and South America, though the Strait of Magellan in southern Chile and up the other side en route to the Gulf of Mexico and Brownsville.

The Kitty Hawk left the Port of Spain in Trinidad on May 14 before making its way across the Caribbean Sea. Berry was interviewed by phone on May 20, when the Kitty Hawk was off the coast of Jamaica, and said the long trip had gone well so far.

"It's actually been pretty smooth," he said. "It makes me a little nervous at the end talking about it. ... We've had really good weather the whole trip, and it's been a five-month trip. I've spend five months waiting for the other shoe to drop."

Based on the current long-range forecast, weather isn't likely to pose a problem on this final leg, Berry said, adding that he knows better than to try and second-guess Mother Nature.

"I think it's going to be OK," he said. "It looks like it's going to be. We've got that Bermuda high sitting off Florida, so it's kind of holding the worst of the weather away from us. There's a few little storms out in the Caribbean that pop up from time to time, but our weather people say the long-term looks like it's going to be OK. I have to be careful about talking about the weather. You know how it is."

The ship will probably arrive before dawn and anchor offshore before entering the jetties mid-morning, Berry said. A ceremony honoring the Kitty Hawk and the thousands of veterans who served on it will be held at the Isla Blanca Park Amphitheater to coincide with the vessel's arrival, he said.

"We expect to have some people that served on her speaking, and the mic will be open to any veterans that are involved, plus I'm sure we'll have some politicians," Berry said.

He hopes the event will do justice to the Kitty Hawk and those who served on it, he said, noting that there's been an enormous amount of interest surrounding the retired carrier's impending arrival.

"You have no idea how many people have been calling," Berry said. "And several associations of people that served on the ship. We're talking literally thousands of people. I don't know how many are actually going to show up, but one of the big issues has been knowing the (arrival) date, and then with Memorial Day weekend it's hard to get a hotel."

Five carriers have been dismantled at the port over the last several years. ISL has done three of them: the USS Constellation (a Kitty Hawk-class carrier), the USS Independence and USS Ranger. Other shipbreaking companies at the port have dismantled the USS Forrestal and USS Saratoga. Berry said the Kitty Hawk may draw a larger crowd than any of the previous carrier arrivals.

"That's what we're thinking, but we don't know until it happens," he said. "But we are expecting it to be a pretty big turnout, based on how many people have been calling us."