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Historic Vietnam War Era "Swift Boat" Stops In Santa Barbara, Oxnard As Part Of West Coast Tour

Vietnam War Era "Swift Boat," now a float museum, visits Channel Islands Harbor

It’s a boat straight out of a history book, with a crew made up of veterans who fought on these craft more than a half century ago.

It’s called a “Swift Boat,” and the 50 foot long, lightly armed craft were used by the U.S. Navy to patrol the coast of Vietnam.

This Navy gray craft, PCF 816, is the only remaining operational Swift Boat in the world, and is on a tour of West Coast ports, with stops in Santa Barbara and Oxnard’s Channel Islands Harbor.

The tour is bringing out a flood of memories for the more than 40 swift boat crew members taking this craft on its West Coast tour.  Dave Bradley saw combat on a swift boat in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968, and says it was 90% boredom, and 10% action. He says it was pretty overwhelming to be in the middle of a firefight.

The craft were created out of necessity. The Navy needed a small patrol boat which could be used to intercept supplies being shipped from North Vietnam to Viet Kong forces.

Rather than start from scratch, boats made to get supplies to oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico were retrofitted and converted into the swift boats. Machine guns and mortars were added, nearly doubling their weight, from 12 to nearly 24 tons. Bradley says while they were improvised, they got the job done, and within a few years the North Vietnamese began to rely on them for land shipments.

The tour is stopping in 11 ports, as part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. Those on the tour say they are representing the 3500 sailors who served on the boats, the 350 who were wounded, and the 50 who never came home.

After stops in Santa Barbara and Oxnard, the boat is leaving Channel Islands Harbor Friday for Marina Del Rey. After tour stops there, at Long Beach and Dana Point, it will return to its permanent exhibition mooring at the Maritime Museum of San Diego August 6th.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.