So there I was in Dutch Harbor, where I found on my answering machine a message from the United States Coast Guard. They wanted to speak to us regarding frequency management in the Dutch Harbor area. The message was from an LT on the USCGC Alex Haley (WMEC-39)
stationed in Kodiak. No one having been on site for some weeks, I was sure that his question had not yet been answered. I tried to return the call to the number that was left but to no avail. Then, lo and behold, the next day they pulled into Dutch Harbor for a port call (they called it a patrol break). So, being the type of guy I am, I went right down to the dock and made my presence known to their quarterdeck watch and asked for the LT who had left the message. As it turns out, the person who left the message was the Operations officer and he wanted to know if the ship would be able to rotate and radiate on their newly installed radar whilst in port without interfering with our facilities. So while I was there I got a tour from the Ops and a little history lesson on this ship. I learned a bunch there and not just that you really don’t have to be six feet tall to be a Coasty (in case you fall overboard you can then stand up in the water).
Here’s some of what I learned on that tour as well as a little more I found out afterwards when my curiosity had been piqued.
The USCGC Alex Haley (WMEC-39)
was originally commissioned in 1971 as the USS Edenton (ATS-1).
A U.S. Navy diving and salvage ship built for the Navy by a British shipbuilder.
While in the Navy she had a few connections with the submarine force.
In 1983 she towed the decommissioned submarine tender USS Bushnell (AS-15)
to the site of her final resting spot some 175 miles out to sea where she was sunk by two Mk-48 torpedoes fired by USS Atlanta (SSN 712), with the USS Finback (SSN 670) standing by. A more complete description may be found at the bottom of this page
and a video of the SINKEX can be found here
In 1995 the USS Edenton
participated in attempting to recover the screw from the Civil War ironclad USS Monitor.
In 1996 the USS Edenton was decommissioned. In 1997 she was transferred to the Coast Guard and stricken from the Naval register.
After completing an 18 month yard period where the diving and salvage equipment was removed, a flight deck installed and many navigation, engineering, combat system and habitability upgrades were performed, the ship was recommissioned in 1999 as the USCGC Alex Haley (WMEC-39).
A basic before and after drawing may be seen here.
Yes, that Alex Haley
. In addition to being a prolific and famous writer, the author of Roots
was also a Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Coast Guard. Haley originally enlisted as a mess attendant just prior to WWII. During the war he served aboard ship in the Pacific as a cook but his writing abilities garnered him much attention. After serving aboard cutters for much of his career, the Coast Guard created the Journalist rating for him in 1952. He wrote and edited stories for the Coast Guard in official publications as well as promoting the Coast Guard in the media until he retired in 1959.
The cutter itself is home ported out of Kodiak, AK but ranges all over the Gulf of Alaska, North Pacific and Bering Sea providing fisheries enforcement and SAR capabilities. It has a coed crew of about 10 officers and 90 enlisted not counting any embarked air detachment. The cutter can carry a helicopter in the hanger installed after the conversion. As the hull configuration is not a normal built-to-be-a-cutter design, the ship is a lot more stable in the large seas frequently experienced up here.
The warp cutter installed aboard was an interesting piece of equipment. This device looks like a large grappling hook with blades on the inner part of the hooks and is used to cut fishing nets or cables by towing it behind the ship.
My tour guide and I got to chat about the differences in watch standing in the various departments on a submarine and the cutter. I was amazed to see their in port duty section was so small. Of course it only took a trip to the engine room to remind myself of why. They’ve got diesels, so all they have to do is hook up shore power, turn off the systems, change over to a below decks roving watch and a quarterdeck watch (in a nice heated shack), and make sure they’ve got enough bodies to fill those two watchstation’s for the day. The duty officer was a first class so you can imagine how many duty sections they must have. I wish I could’ve spent more time learning about their systems but it was just a tour.
So I’ll leave you with that and thanks again to the OPS and the duty section onboard for the tour and their hospitality.