Web posted Thursday, April 4, 2002

photo: news

Crewmen on the Coast Guard buoy tender Spar tend the twin Caterpillar diesels before firing them up. The vessel also has a pair of diesels to provide shore and auxiliary power.
Photo by Joel Gay, Homer News

Sedge crew sees future

Ships Ahoy!

by Joel Gay
Staff Writer

The Coast Guard buoy tender that will replace the Sedge is due to be launched in early May and should arrive here next year, but its sister ship docked in Homer last week and provided a glimpse of what the future holds.

The Spar spent last Wednesday and Thursday in Homer, in part to see how the longer, 225-foot buoy tenders fit alongside the new Pioneer Dock, said Lt. Cmdr. Joanna Nunan, captain of the Kodiak-based vessel.

It also gave most of the Sedge crew members their first glimpse of the kind of ship they will soon serve on, she said.

"It's fun to watch people's faces light up," Nunan said, when they see the difference between a buoy tender built in 1944 and one built in 2002.


The 225-foot Spar dwarfs the 180-foot Sedge lying behind it on the Pioneer Dock last week. Among the features of the new class of buoy tenders is a 60-foot, 20-ton crane mounted on its buoy deck.
Photo by Joel Gay, Homer News

Or as Petty Officer 1st Class Doug Banker noted, "The guys are going to be a lot happier with this vessel."

The new buoy tenders are longer, wider, higher and full of high-tech equipment that makes them far more efficient at their main job <> tending the huge navigational buoys that mark shipping routes.

The ships have twin diesel engines but a single shaft with a variable-pitch propeller. The shaft always spins the same direction, but the propeller blades change position to put the vessel into forward or reverse. The new vessels also have both a bow thruster and a stern thruster for maneuverability.

But the real advantage is electronic, Banker said. When the vessel pulls alongside a buoy, a computer can take over the controls and keep the vessel stationary, regardless of currents and winds, by making subtle adjustments on the main prop and the thrusters.


The galley in the new buoy tenders is roomy compared with the galleys in the smaller vessels they are replacing.
Photo by Joel Gay, Homer News

Because a ship can spend two or three hours at a single buoy, the "hold position" function provides welcome relief, Banker said.

The deck has a bigger, more powerful crane to lift the buoy, chain and anchor out of the water, plus a 6-foot-high reel that the crew calls the "Winch-o-saurus."

"It's like a big spinning reel" on a fishing rod, Banker said, which allows the deck crew to reel up the chain and anchor faster and more safely than the older buoy tenders can.

While the Sedge and others in its class were built to military specifications more than 50 years ago, the Spar, Hickory and other 225-foot buoy tenders have wider passageways, shallower stairs and higher ceilings. The new ships have a crew of 40 officers and enlisted personnel. Even the most crowded rooms have no more than six bunks, a sink and toilet. And in accordance with OSHA standards, all living quarters are above the waterline.


Lt. Cmdr. Charles Cashin and Lt. Cmdr. Joanna Nunan
Photo by Joel Gay, Homer News

In contrast, the Sedge crew of 57 is packed into 180 feet of ship. One bunkroom has 21 enlisted men, though they share two toilets and two sinks.

The additional space on the new ships allows such sensible changes as putting the galley and food storage on the same deck <> on the Sedge the galley is two floors above. There is also a "mud room" adjacent to the buoy deck where deckhands can slip out of dirty, wet clothes and use a bathroom or visit the galley.

The on-board desalinization plant works full-time, said Banker, providing "more water than we can use." On the older buoy tenders, the water maker runs only when the main engine is operating.

And while the older vessels require someone to stand watch in the engine room whenever the diesels are running, the new ships are monitored by color TV. In fact, a massive computer system links the entire ship, providing instant feedback on everything from the engine exhaust temperatures to gallons of fuel remaining in a tank. If one of the diesels develops a problem, a specialist in Detroit can run a diagnostic test via phone line.

The smaller crew requires more specialists and fewer enlisted personnel, Nunan said, which makes it difficult to do things like clean and paint the ship. Those services are meant to be contracted out in the home-port community, she said.

On the other hand, "Now there's all sorts of 'cross-pollinization,' which I love," Nunan said. "Now we see chiefs sweeping; everybody has ownership in the whole ship. That's part of the success (of the new ships) . . . everybody rolling up their sleeves."

One job that had a good portion of the Spar crew busy last Friday was dealing with the tidal range of Kachemak Bay. The brow, or gangplank, did not span the gap between the ship and the new dock, which demonstrated the need to modify the brow for the Hickory.

A trickier problem to solve will be tying up Hickory. The Sedge crew adjusts the tie-up lines every 15 minutes around the clock, using deck winches. The Hickory will have fewer deck winches and fewer enlisted crew, making the current practice "unworkable," said Sedge skipper Lt. Cmdr. Charles Cashin.

"We'll probably have to modify the pier," he said, by adding self-tightening winches or adding a floating dock to the mooring pilings. The Coast Guard will pay for the upgrades, he said.

While he said he will miss the well-seasoned Sedge, Cashin looks forward to having a modern new ship under his command. "My only concern is how it'll ride in heavy weather," he said.

The Hickory is scheduled to be launched May 11 at the Marinette Marine Corp. shipyard in Marinette, Wis. After that comes 10 months of finish work on the vessel. The Coast Guard is scheduled to accept delivery of the Hickory next March. It should arrive in Homer in early June where it will be commissioned for service.