April 5, 2012 | Vol. 39, No. 14

USCG Cutter Hickory visits Petersburg

The USCG Cutter Hickory last week made a brief stop in Petersburg. The multi-mission cutter was docked in the South Harbor in March.

Suzanne Ashe
USCG Cutter Hickory heading North in Wrangell Narrows.

During the brief visit, the crew of 43 enlisted men and seven officers got a chance to explore Petersburg before heading back out to sea.

The Hickory is currently stationed out of Homer, and spends much of its time in Kachmak Bay, Cook Inlet and along the Aleutian Islands.

The Hickory is equipped as a buoy tender and is responsible for maintaining up to 200 buoys. The crew of the 225-foot boat is responsible for maritime law enforcement, marine environmental protection, search and rescue assistance, aids to navigation, and Home Land Security detail Mario Meresbang SK1 said.

“There's a lot of work maintaining the waterways,” said Meresbang. “We can be out there all day just working on one buoy.”

He added that the most common problem with buoys is that they are off station, or in the wrong place.

“Quite often the buoys need new panels or batteries,” he said.

The solar-powered buoys can also stop sending a signal, or are not lit correctly among other common problems that the crew fixes.

The crew works four-hour long watches around the clock. They have modest living quarters, a galley and even a small work-out room with free-weights and a treadmill.

“It's all men on board right now, we don't have any women on board.” Meresbang said. “When we have women [serving] on board it's two of them. They come on board at the same time and leave at the same time,” he said.

Often times the crew of the Hickory faces extreme weather conditions while on patrol. “The craziest thing I've ever seen, was when we were transitioning into heavy seas and the whole boat was covered in ice. The whole crew got involved and broke up the ice,” he said.

The Hickory, nicknamed the Kenai Keeper, was commissioned in 2003. It is one of 12 cutters in District 17 Command that patrol Alaskan waters.

“These boats haven't been around very long,” Meresbang said, referring to not only the Hickory, but a few other Coast Guard cutters commissioned in the last 10 years. Some of the cutters are named after trees, such as the USCGC Sycamore, based out of Cordova and the USCGC Maple, based out of Sitka.

Petersburg's own USCGC Elderberry, which was commissioned in1954, is currently in dry dock in Ketchikan on a scheduled maintenance.

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