Coast Guard commissions high-tech cutter

(10/17/98 Cape Cod Times)

By KIMBERLEE STROHM

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

WOODS HOLE - Just over two weeks after saving the tall ship Bounty and its crew off the coast of South Carolina, the most recent addition to a new class of Coast Guard vessels was formally commissioned at the docks of the Coast Guard Group Woods Hole yesterday. At the top of the celebration to formally place the cutter Hammerhead - an 87-foot patrol boat - into active duty, the vessel and its crew of 10 received commendations from Coast Guard officials. The kudos were for their role in rescuing the Bounty and its crew while en route to Cape Cod from Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, La., where the vessel was built. The Hammerhead met up with the Bounty - a 196-foot, 412-ton replica of the legendary HMS Bounty - about 30 miles southeast of St. Helena Sound, S.C., to assist with rescue efforts. The Hammerhead crew helped pump out 340 gallons of sea water a minute while the Bounty was, for a time, taking on more than 400 gallons per minute. The water rose inside the boat at about a foot per half-hour due to split seams. After more than 12 hours, the tall ship and its crew of 22 were saved from sinking.

The Hammerhead is one of two vessels of its size and class built for the Coast Guard, and the first on the East Coast. The other cutter, the Barracuda, is stationed in Eureka, Calif. At a cost of $5 million, the ship is filled with state-of-the-art equipment, employing the latest advances in integrated marine technology.

Master Chief Petty Officer Charles W. Bowen, the officer in charge of the Hammerhead, admitted he received little additional training to learn the computer operations of his new command post. "There are a lot of buttons, bells and whistles, but it's very simple to operate. It's all based on window screens and touch capabilities. Everything is right there for you. Anybody who has a home computer can operate this," Bowen said. "This vessel is far more mission-capable than our former boat and that's the bottom line," said Bowen, who was the last officer in charge of the 82-foot cutter Point Turner, which was decommissioned in Newport, R.I., in April.

Coast Guard Capt. W. Russell Webster anticipates that the advances incorporated into the Hammerhead are just the type of improvements needed to help in the group's growing number of search-and-rescue missions. "This vessel gives us that greater capability for what we do here. Just last year alone, Group Woods Hole units participated in over 1,200 search-and-rescue cases, saved more than 80 lives, preserved more than $39 million worth of property and assisted the Center for Coastal Studies with operations to untangle several right and humpback whales. And we estimate that our customer base of recreational boaters and others requiring our services is expanding with the fortunes of our economy, including the expansion of the cruise line and steamship industries, which saw more than 53 cruise liner visits and the movement of over 800,000 passengers throughout the group's area," Webster said. Coast Guard Group Woods Hole is in charge of covering the waters between Duxbury and Watch Hill, R.I.

In addition to its advanced technology, the boat is able to provide berthing areas for a mixed-gender crew, the first Coast Guard vessel of its size with such provisions. Executive Petty Officer Andrea Currie, second in command under Bowen, is thrilled. "I'm really glad that they chose this class and they chose this soon to start integrating on the smaller vessels," said Currie, one of two female crew members and the only enlisted female to hold a second-in-command position. Currie was also recognized at the ceremony for receiving the 9th District Enlisted Person of the Year Award.

Back to News