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From mudbath to facelift

Finally pulled free from the Hudson River bottom, the historic aircraft carrier USS Intrepid was on the move again Tuesday, passing majestically through New York Harbor, bound for a long-awaited overhaul at a New Jersey shipyard.

Just getting the 900-foot vessel to budge was a triumph - and a relief - for the Intrepid's owners, who scrubbed an attempt a month ago when the floating military museum's rudder and four giant propellers got stuck in the mud at the pier that had been the ship's home for the past 24 years.

"This old baby is moving!" exulted Bill White, president of the Intrepid Foundation.

This time, there were no politicians, military bands or other trappings - just officials, journalists and former crewmen on deck, some of whom cried and gave each other high-fives and hugs as about 200 people ashore cheered. "I'm 18 again. And I have my beautiful broad right here, my ship Intrepid," said Felix Novelli, who served during World War II.

Three weeks of dredging removed nearly 40,000 cubic yards of muck from under the ship. As happened on Nov. 6, the blue water was churned dark brown Tuesday as powerful tugboats strained to haul the giant vessel from its longtime home. "If she doesn't move, we are going to jump in and push her," said 84-year-old Joe Cobert, a former crewman.

The engineless carrier was towed stern-first past the Statue of Liberty on a five-mile trip to Bayonne, N.J., where it will undergo a $60-million renovation.

In addition, its pier will be demolished and rebuilt, and some of the carrier's 20-plus vintage aircraft will be restored.

As the Intrepid passed the World Trade Center site, about 20 former crewmen unfurled a 50-by-90-foot American flag and stood in a silent tribute.

The Intrepid survived five kamikaze attacks and lost 270 crewmen in the last two years of World War II in the Pacific. It also served off Korea and Vietnam and as a recovery ship for astronauts after their space capsules splashed down at sea.