Cutter SPAR completes fall buoy run in Western Alaska

Shore aid tower in Isanotski Strait

The Coast Guard Cutter SPAR crew heaving up a shore aid tower in Isanotski Strait, near False Pass, Alaska, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Coast Guard Cutter SPAR.

SUCCESS! The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter SPAR completed a fall aids to navigation maintenance run in Western, Alaska, in October.

According to the crew, one of the most challenging aids was a shore aid at Isanotski Strait, near False Pass, where the crew heaved a new shore aid tower into place. The crew aboard SPAR was able to complete the project with a grueling two-day all hands evolution. The project was precisely timed on a low tide cycle as the water rises quickly over the base during high tides. The crew battled extreme weather conditions including sustained winds exceeding 46 mph and temperatures that dipped into the low 40s.

SPAR’s crew successfully worked three other shore aids including the complete rebuild of an aid which had been destroyed by a bear. SPAR’s annual Aleutian West Run entails aids to navigation maintenance and conducting law enforcement missions in areas such as Dutch Harbor, Adak, and Bechevin Bay.

The following is a firsthand account of the voyage by Seaman Justin Hergert:

Building the tower at Isanotski was a unique experience. The feeling we felt after giving all we had and pulling that line to stand the tower up was described by one of my shipmates as winning the Superbowl! We pulled off the impossible!

Shore aide near Dutch Harbor, Alaska

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter SPAR work a shore aid near Dutch Harbor, Alaska, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Samuel Brandenberger.

We left this aid winking and blinking to guide local fishing boats back home. Due to the drastic tide changes we had to strategically time our work during the low cycle. We had to work fast!
Words can’t describe what it’s like to work on the buoy deck of a mighty black hull buoy tender. From the smell of buoy critters, to the shouting of “BUOYS LIVE” these are memories that we all savor and take with us forever.

Being a multi-mission cutter our work varies drastically as we are always facing new challenges. That paired with the environments we face along the Aleutian Chain, makes for a unique ever changing job. Winds of 57 mph and 20-foot seas are just a regular walk in the park on a sunny day for us. Working on a black hull is an experience that I will never forget!

In Dutch Harbor, I finally got to see the famous Deadliest Catch boat Northwestern moored up as we passed by on the way to work a shore aid. Growing up watching the show was part of the reason I wanted to be stationed in Alaska.

Working the shore aid in Dutch Harbor was quite a challenge due to the rocky cliff it’s on and the 6-foot swells crashing around us. Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Sheppard, a boatswain’s mate, had to time the swells when launching us onto the rocks from the small boat to work the aid. We then had to throw a heaving line over to the small boat and use it to send the day board and tools.

Working buoys near Adak

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter SPAR works buoys near the entrance to the harbor at Adak, Alaska, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Coast Guard Cutter SPAR.

We moored in Adak this particular trip and Petty Officer 2nd Class George Atkins, a damage control technician, and I serviced two range board lights used to help guide ships in.

Out with the old and in with the new. We made hull replacements on several buoys that mark the entrance into Adak about 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage. We spent many hours power washing the tons of buoys critters that came off of these buoys.

Adak is a neat place and part of the island is a defunct Navy base. At its peak it housed just over 6,000 Navy and Coast Guard personnel and their families, but now the population is about 120 people. The base was officially closed in March 1997 and it looks like the people just disappeared. The buildings, desks and even papers and lamps are still present. There is a fast food restaurant with the signs still up and all the table and chairs left just as they were. The bowling alley is completely shut down but the bowling pins are still standing in the lanes. I took lots of pictures of Adak for one of my good friends from back home in Georgia who actually grew up on the island. His parents were stationed at the Navy base.

Our next big trip will take us to Canada for their version of buoy tender round up – stay tuned for a recap.

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