Story last updated at 3:19 p.m. Thursday, November 21, 2002

Ship to become part of Nigerian navy; 225-foot Hickory bound for Homer

Buoy tender Sedge given sendoff

by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

photo: news

 
Seventeenth U.S. Coast Guard District Captain Richard Houck, right, and Chaplain Lt. Cmdr. David Tubley salute the flag during Friday's ceremony decommissioning the USCGC Sedge. Aboard the Sedge, in the background are bagpipers Rick Stewart, left, and Dan Henderson. The Sedge, a 180-foot seagoing buoy tender built in 1943, will become the fleet training vessel for the Nigerian navy. The replacement cutter Hickory is scheduled to arrive in Homer next spring.  
After countless missions and forays into waters off Alaska's North Pacific coast, the U.S. Coast Guard buoy tender Sedge steamed into the pre-dawn fog Monday, rounded Seldovia Point and left Kachemak Bay in its wake for the last time.

The Sedge's departure marks an end of an era -- an 28-year stay in Homer and more than 50 years serving in Alaska waters. Soon the 180-foot cutter, which was launched from Duluth, Minn., in 1943 and saw duty in Hawaii, Guam, Anguar and Midway during World War II, will once again set sail for foreign seas as the newest vessel in the Nigerian navy.

The final voyage of the Sedge's Coast Guard career was celebrated with an official decommissioning ceremony on Friday, as officers and crew, past and present, gathered with family members on the Pioneer Dock at the end of the Homer Spit.

Strains of military band music tore into a raw day on Kachemak Bay as the ship's crew stood at attention on deck.

Though he was sad to say goodbye to the old ship, Lt. Cmdr. Charles Cashin, the Sedge's commanding officer, told the gathered crowd that the crew was the driving force behind the old boat's

mystique.

A few days earlier, Cashin sat back in his office and remarked at the upheaval as 50 years worth of documents and paraphernalia went in boxes and headed for shore. The gear and papers will eventually be trucked down to Marinette, Wis., where it will meet his crew aboard Sedge's replacement, the 225-foot buoy tender Hickory.

But while the new ship will have state-of-the-art bow thrusters and a host of other technological advantages, the Sedge was nothing if not seaworthy.

"She's a fine ship," he said of the Sedge. "But it's really the crew that gives the soul and lifeblood to any ship."

Still, Cashin said, there are many memories of how well the Sedge and its crew handled their extraordinarily tough mission -- to tend to Alaska's 1,000-plus aids to navigation, provide for homeland defense, search and rescue, and marine environmental and fisheries enforcement, all in some of the roughest seas in the world.

In particular, Cashin recalled a day during the winter of 2000 when the Sedge briefly lost power in the Gulf of Alaska after an engine compartment fire.

With 25-foot seas tossing the Sedge, Cashin said, he and his crew called in a distress signal and set about checking the damage. Within a couple of hours, the Sedge was back under power and under way.

"That was an interesting day," Cashin said, though he added that Sedge could probably weather a hurricane without a problem.

As much as anything, Cashin said, he prefers to recall those clear calm days patrolling off Kodiak during the long days of summer.

The Sedge and its crew were present for some far less tranquil events.

The buoy tender rendered assistance in Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska in the aftermath of the 1964 earthquake. The ship's logs give a chilling account of the devastation as the Sedge responded to coastal areas devastated by the tsunamis that followed the massive 9.2-magnitude quake.

Just as chilling is former Sedge skipper George Capacci's account of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. Sedge was the first Coast Guard vessel to respond to the 11-million-gallon spill.

"As we came around Knight Island, about 40 or 50 miles away (from the spill), you could smell it on a gentle breeze," Capacci said, noting that there was no sign of sea life anywhere in the usually bustling sound. "It was spooky. It was just really quiet, and it smelled like crude oil."

The Sedge remained on the scene for weeks during the cleanup. At one point, Capacci said, the bridge became a makeshift air-traffic control center as spotting planes and news helicopters buzzed through the area.

Several years later, the Sedge again sailed to Bligh Reef to assist with the installation of a permanent light tower there.

As Cashin and his crew sail Sedge off to San Pedro, Calif., the City of Homer plans for a memorial to the 180-foot class of Coast Guard cutters.

Sedge was the 33rd of 39 such vessels built during World War II. Now, only four remain as commissioned Coast Guard vessels.

Sepp Jannotta can be reached at sjannotta@homer news.com

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