From Bayou to Borough, FRC John McCormick comes to Ketchikan

Crew of the Coast Guard cutter John McCormick man the rails as they make their way to Ketchikan, Alaska.

Crew of the Coast Guard cutter John McCormick man the rails as they make their way to Ketchikan, Alaska.

Written by: Ensign Hailey Thompson

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter John McCormick took quite an adventure leading up to their commissioning in Ketchikan, Alaska, April 12. In Oct. 2016, the crew traveled to the Bollinger Shipyards, in Lockport, La., where the cutter was built to commence pre-commissioning training. While there the 24-person crew underwent intensive shipboard familiarization training, spending countless hours navigating the complexities of the advanced systems built into this new and capable platform.

After seven weeks of training in Louisiana, the CGC John McCormick’s crew departed the bayou for Key West, Fla., where Lt. Michael Moyseowicz, CGC John McCormick’s commanding officer, signed for the brand new cutter Dec. 13, officially making the cutter the property of the Coast Guard. But, the CGC John McCormick still had 6,200 miles to go before reaching its homeport in Ketchikan.

“The day we signed for it, the ship was a disaster because gear was everywhere and there was so much that had to be stowed,” recalls Chief Petty Officer Matthew Oliveira. “When you are living on a brand-new ship, you see everything that has to go into it.” The John McCormick was loaded with over $1 million worth of equipment, all of which had to be properly assembled and stowed within the 154-foot hull. In the first 24 hours since the Coast Guard had signed for the ship, the vessel’s draft at the waterline increased by a full six inches due to the weight of the massive on load.

The next two months in Key West were a blur of high-paced trainings, installations, drills, gunnery exercises and inspections. Post-Delivery Availability, as this period of the pre-commissioning process is known, tested the stamina of the crew but they diligently charged through the long days, keen to finalize preparations for the long journey to their new home.

The crew of the CGC John McCormick cast off the mooring lines for the last time in Key West, and started homeward Feb. 6, 2017. Their circuitous route to Alaska took them first southwest to the Panama Canal and then north along the west coast of Central America and the United States.

A Panama Canal linehandling team waits on the bow of the Coast Guard Cutter John McCormick as it transits through the Panama Canal during it's voyage to their homeport of Ketchikan, Alaska, February 12, 2016.

A Panama Canal linehandling team waits on the bow of the Coast Guard Cutter John McCormick as it transits through the Panama Canal during it’s voyage to their homeport of Ketchikan, Alaska, February 12, 2016.

“In Puerto Chiapas, Mexico,” recalls Seaman Randy Duncan, a Culinary Specialist in training, “I was able to see where chocolate is grown and made authentically and had the best tamales, salsa, and corn tortillas of my life. The experience for a chef was amazing.”

Along with the amazing port call experiences, the crew witnessed some extraordinary sights on the long journey home. From the behemoth locks and straining locomotives of the Panama Canal, to pods of hundreds of spinner dolphins, hordes of sea turtles, whales, manta rays, and even a hammerhead shark.

The latitudes and environment changed dramatically as the John McCormick made her way from the lush tropics of Panama and Mexico, past the arid California Peninsula and north to the verdant forests of the Pacific Northwest. By early March, the cutter had made it to the mouth of the Columbia River, nearly 79 years to the day after Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class John McCormick made a heroic rescue for which he was awarded the Gold Lifesaving Medal.

The reverent feeling experienced by the crew pulling into Astoria, Oregon, over the Columbia River Bar was made even more palpable in meeting John McCormick’s granddaughter and the ship’s sponsor, Linda Jarmer, just inside the mouth of the river. From aboard a 47-foot Motor Lifeboat and accompanied by the 52-foot Motor Lifeboat Triumph II (named after the original Triumph commanded by John McCormick) Linda Jarmer nimbly leapt aboard the new cutter named for her grandfather and accompanied the crew to the pier in Astoria where more descendants of John McCormick enthusiastically greeted the cutter.

“When we departed from our port call in Astoria, in which we got to spend time with many members of John McCormick’s family, it was a very proud moment for me. As a crew, we all grew a tremendous amount on this transit and really jelled as a team that was able to work so well together,” said Moyseowicz. “I was excited to finally be almost home, but it also really hit me with how amazing a crew we have to have gotten so far on this epic 6,200-nautical mile voyage, and also how lucky I am to get to operate with them in Southeast Alaska once we commission.”

On March 17, after 156 days away from home, the CGC John McCormick rounded the tip of Pennock Island and nosed into her mooring at Base Ketchikan where family members crowded around the pier waiting to welcome their loved ones home. During a ceremony on shore, Capt. Shannan Greene, commander of Sector Juneau, awarded several members of the crew with the Coast Guard’s Meritorious Team Commendation for their swift actions during a flooding emergency the crew encountered during the transit home.

Returning to homeport was a momentous occasion, the end of an extraordinary journey and the beginning of journeys to come for the John McCormick during her service in Southeast Alaska. The cutter has had the trip of a lifetime, and the life of the ship has only just begun!

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