Take a stroll through Brooklyn Bridge Park this weekend and you'll find yourself face-to-face with floating history. The Baylander, a Vietnam-era vessel later used to train helicopter pilots on marine landings, is open to visitors for free beginning Saturday.

Almost half a century has passed since the Baylander arrived in Da Nang as the newest recruit in the muddy, messy Vietnam War. As fighting intensified in the mid-1960s, the U.S. military impulsively purchased eleven steel, amphibious "Skilak" vessels from Alaska and shipped them south. One was completely destroyed by rockets at the DaNang Bridge Ramp in 1969; others were transferred to the Cambodian Navy after the war. Soon, all but the Baylander (identified as YFU-79) had been scrapped or destroyed.

"This is the only one that's left. The other ones are all gone for different reasons," the Baylander's port captain Scott Koen confirmed.

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The Baylander, date and location unknown / US Navy

For the next decade, the Baylander worked as a naval training ship in Pensacola, Florida. Despite its size—at only 131-feet long, setting down on the Baylander was like landing on a "moving postage stamp"—the ship boasts 120,000 error-free helicopter landings, including one record-setting day of 346 in 1988.

But when the ship was decommissioned, its preservation went into jeopardy.

"Normally when a ship is decommissioned, [the military puts it] in reserve, like this one was. They strip it extensively," Koen said. "But they had put [the Baylander] in a nuclear submarine base in Kings Bay, Georgia, so nobody was allowed to go on board."

That's when enthusiast Al Trenk purchased the ship, and Koen became the port captain.

"Everything on the Baylander is completely intact, including the paperwork the men had when they were here," Koen said, attributing this rarity to the fact it had been stored in Kings Bay. "I don't like to say it, but even the men's personal files were here. We had to take the garbage out."

Koen, like Trenk, is enthusiastic to be a part of the Baylander's preservation and celebration in Brooklyn. Having grown up in a military family, Koen's earliest memories include visiting historic naval vessels and museums; he hopes the Baylander will inspire a new generation of young visitors.

Indeed, giving back to the community has already begun.

"So far we've got nine soccer balls out of the water," Koen said (the Baylander is docked across from the soccer fields at Pier 5). "Every day we hear a 'thunk' in the water and then some little face peers over and somebody says, 'Can you get my soccer ball?' And so right now there's one here, there's two more over there..."

In a press release, Murray Fisher, president of the New York Harbor Foundation, added that “The Baylander will offer the New York Harbor School an opportunity to not only have our students easily access the waterways that are their classroom, but it will also allow the children in our classes to demonstrate their knowledge of the ocean by offering visitors a chance to see the skills they have learned and what they are able to do on the water."

The Baylander's original not-to-be-missed interiors include a charming galley with ancient-looking microwaves and a cockpit with spectacular views of Lower Manhattan. It is open to visitors of all ages beginning this weekend and running Saturdays and Sundays through Labor Day. Koen will be giving the tours himself, for free.

The Baylander is open for free tours every weekend through Labor Day; details here. Brooklyn Bridge Park Marina is scheduled to open in 2015 and plans to host other historic vessels, including the Lettie G. Howard, a wooden Schooner from 1893, and the John J. Harvey, a retired FDNY fireboat from 1931.