HARLEM — When you walk onto the landing deck of the Baylander IX-514, something extraordinary happens.
The noise of the city vanishes behind the ship’s large wall — called the hangar structure.
“Once you get behind it, the city goes away,” said the ship’s Port Capt. Scott Koen.
The Baylander, a Vietnam-era decommissioned U.S. Navy ship that was used to train helicopter pilots to land at sea, is moored at 125th Street at the West Harlem Piers in the Hudson River.
But it’s more than just a piece of history tied to the pier.
It’s a makeshift museum by the river, hoping to become a community gathering space and educational resource for the West Harlem community.
“It’s very calming and the views are amazing,” he said while standing on the landing deck, with views of the calm waters and New Jersey.
“You’re trapped in the city and all of a sudden you have a ship here.”
On 125th Street and 12th Avenue, where street construction can be a detriment to pedestrians, the ship hopes to serve as a way to bolster tourism to the area.
It can also offer locals a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, Koen said, especially school children.
“It's tough to come down to a construction area,” he said. “This is exposing kids to things that are not right outside their house.”
In 1986, the Baylander was transformed into a helicopter trainer pad for the U.S. Navy, Marine, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard.
Much of the equipment and configuration from its military usage has been retained, with the captain's quarters, an antiquated radio room and other novelties well-maintained for tours aboard the ship.
Usually, the navy strips its ships before they're re-purposed for other uses, Koen said.
"That's the most unusual part of the ship," Koen said. "Everything is operational."
The ship, owned by the Trenk Family Foundation, hasn’t found a permanent home yet.
It spent time at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Brooklyn Bridge Park over the years, where it was used for art shows, community and veteran events.
At the West Harlem location, where it has been for six weeks, it is hoped those events continue and become a staple for people to learn about naval and maritime history.
There’s no set time on when the ship will leave. For now, Koen plans to continue to give locals a sense of history and a way to practically escape the city.
“We’ll stay as long at they’ll have us,” Koen said.
An open house on the Baylander for members of the community including area nonprofits, educational centers and artists will take place at West 125th Street and the Hudson River on Sept. 21st from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.