>Day Trip Aboard the Coast Guard Cutter JAMES RANKIN

>Photos and Story by: Caryl P. Weiss, Coast Guard Auxiliary

     The Auxiliarists in our area along the Chesapeake Bay had received invitations to go out on day cruises aboard the CGC James Rankin, “Keeper of the Bay” (WLM 555) — the black-hulled buoy tender out of Curtis Bay Coast Guard Station. Her area of responsibility is from the top of the bay to the Potomac River.Upon arrival, I was greeted by the ship’s captain, LCDR Mark Palmer, who graciously welcomed me aboard. There was plenty of hot coffee in the galley, which was greatly appreciated at 0730!

     The task for the day was to pull five channel buoys from the Chesapeake Bay, and replace them with winter “ice hull” buoys. I had no idea that the buoys were swapped out, much like we put away our summer clothes and get out the winter ones! The ice hulls, which are seven feet in diameter and fifteen feet high, are much heartier, but the lights are not as bright as the summer buoys. Once pulled from the bay, the old 3-1/2-ton buoys are taken back to port, where they’re off-loaded, cleaned of all the bird poop, repaired, painted, stored for winter, then refurbished electronically for the spring replacing. This includes checking bulbs, batteries, and solar units. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to go through the cycle of retrieving and re-placing each buoy, and the crew works like little worker bees in synchronization. Everyone knows their role, and there is very little talking–most of the signaling was done by hand by BM2 Tonya Mills, as MK1 Jason Dernhel worked the crane.

BM2 Tonya Mills serving as Buoy Deck Supervisor, relaying commands with hand signals to MK1 Jason Dernhel serving as crane operator.

     Auxiliarist Lorraine Colletta works in the galley of the Rankin, and whipped up a wonderful lunch of fajitas and tacos, with all the fixin’s. Then it was back on deck for the next evolution.

     The 175-foot-long James Rankin is powered by two Rolls Royce engines; and, although she has a shallow draft (only 7.9 feet), she rides very smoothly in the water. The vessel is also used as an ice breaker on the bay, and has opened up a channel with ice as thick as eighteen inches. She has no ship’s wheel, but is oper-ated with a series of joy sticks.

     Dinner was yet another delight, courtesy of Aux. Colletta: Mahi-mahi, spiced shrimp, asparagus, and salad. (That’s much better than the leftover turkey that I had prepared to eat at home later that evening!)
We arrived back at Curtis Bay around 1700, and thebuoys were off-loaded to the dock, where a forklift would take them to their winter resting place, and the next set of ice hull buoys were loaded onto the deck of the Rankin. The crew was preparing to go out to an-chor overnight near the first buoy that they were going to replace the next day, so that they could get an early start, change out five buoys, get back to dock, and take out another five. The mission calls for replacing 67 buoys in 13 days, and I believe that the crew will ac-complish that task with flying colors.

     Thank you to LCDR Palmer for allowing us to tag along. I have an even greater respect for the Gold Side after witnessing yet another facet of the extensive work that they do!

    This article was featured in the Coast Guard Auxiliary e-Beacon. It can be accessed at: http://www.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=4855985182868305436 to view more pictures from the James Rankin or additional articles from the Auxiliary.