Coast Guard marks safe passage to Bethel, Alaska

 

Coast Guard Cutter Sycamore small boat crews transit the Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska, while setting buoys June 19, 2013. The Cordova-based crew, along with members from the cutters Hickory and SPAR, set 36 buoys during a 12 day trip to mark the safe channel for commercial traffic from the open ocean along the shifting sandbars and mudflats to Bethel. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ensign

Coast Guard Cutter Sycamore small boat crews transit the Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska, while setting buoys June 19, 2013. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ensign Katelyn Dacimo.

In the Kuskokwim Delta, April brings showers, May brings flowers and June brings buoys. The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Sycamore recently conducted a summer aids to navigation run in the region.

The crew traveled 2,330 miles during a 12-day roundtrip from their homeport of Cordova to set 36 seasonal aids marking the route of safe passage for tug and barge traffic bringing supplies to the remote Alaskan town of Bethel.

The 40-mile approach to Bethel through Eek Channel to the Kuskokwim River is a maze of shifting sandbars, both visible and covered, with blind channels. The channels in the bay and river undergo constant change from year to year, because of the action of the sea, currents, and ice; extreme caution and continuous soundings are necessary, according to the Coast Pilot, a navigational atlas for the United States produced by NOAA that details information for mariners.

Crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Sycamore place buoys in the cutter's small boat for deployment in the Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska, June 19, 2013. The Cordova-based crew, along with members from the cutters Hickory and SPAR, set 36 buoys during a 12 day trip to mark the safe channel for commercial traffic from the open ocean along the shifting sandbars and mudflats to Bethel. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ensign Katelyn Dacimo.

Crewmembers aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Sycamore place buoys in the cutter’s small boat for deployment in the Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska, June 19, 2013. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ensign Katelyn Dacimo.

“The chart we were using was printed in May, but due to the ice and currents that flow through the region the bottom is always changing so we couldn’t rely heavily on it,” said Ensign Katelyn Dacimo, of the cutter’s operations department.

The Kuskokwim River is considered part of the Homer-based Coast Guard Cutter Hickory’s area of responsibility. However, the Sycamore was called in to conduct the run while the Hickory undergoes maintenance.

“Since this trip was unplanned for us and in the middle of transfer season we were down several qualified personnel,” said Dacimo. “Hickory and SPAR sent us a total of six of their qualified members. It was a great opportunity for collaboration and joint training across the buoy tender fleet here in Alaska.”

The crew used both the cutter itself and the small boat to set the buoys. They worked together skillfully to navigate the shifting sandbars, maintain station and conduct small boat operations. As the Coast Pilot states navigation of the region is recommended only at low water, when the mudflats are visible, enabling the channels between them to be followed. Because of the inequality of the tides, vessels grounding at high water may not be refloated for several days.

While the channels through the bay are not always apparent by the surface indications of the water the buoys set by the crew of Sycamore will serve to safely guide vessel traffic through the region this season.

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