Homer’s long-lived Coast Guard Cutter retires

Crew of the Roanoke Island. (Photo by Quinton Chandler/KBBI)
Crew of the Roanoke Island. (Photo by Quinton Chandler/KBBI)

The Roanoke Island’s crew, their families, legislative representatives and coastguardsmen from sectors Anchorage and Seward came out to the Homer Elks Lodge for Roanoke Island’s decommissioning ceremony. Cmdr. Shawn Decker of Coast Guard Sector Anchorage presided over the ceremony. Decker said the Roanoke Island was first commissioned in Louisiana in February 1992 before she made the long transit to Homer.

“Over the course of the past 23 years she’s one of the longest tenured cutters to stay in the same home port her entire career. It’s very common for cutters to move around and to change home ports, but for the Roanoke Island she’s been here [in Homer] ever since she was commissioned and that is definitely not common,” says Decker.

Decker expounded on the duties carried out by the cutter and its crews over the years including: search and rescue missions, law enforcement operations, and community service projects.

“Over the past 23 years Roanoke Island has accumulated over 40,000 hours underway, they’ve completed over 1,000 law enforcement boardings, and they’ve executed over 100 search and rescue cases,” Decker says.

He called those stats a testament to the crews of the Roanoke Island, past and present. Lt. Michael Clell Thomas also spoke to the merits of the cutter. He is the ship’s commanding officer and in preparation for the decommissioning he was assigned the job of safeguarding the Roanoke Island’s history.

“It’s interesting how you get focused on yourself and your own crew and what you do with the cutter. You forget the legacy of that cutter and what the cutter has done with past crews. Reading through a lot of the history it’s kind of mind blowing to see all that has been accomplished,” Thomas says.

Thomas has also been consumed with preparations for the trip to the cutter’s new home. The crew will have to travel south to pass through the Panama Canal before heading to port in Baltimore, Maryland. The trip will be 7,000 nautical miles.

“We try to plan it as best we can before the trip but there are always some variables in there such as weather and delays with coming into a country and some of your port of calls that are always on my mind. And then safety from a C.O.’s perspective,” Thomas says.

Thomas and his crew are projecting the trip to take two months.

“That’s probably one of our biggest challenges. As a crew that operates a couple of weeks out at a time, doing a full two months is quite an evolution for us. The families are really what make this possible for us and without their help a two month deployment can be challenging,” Thomas says.

After the cutter makes it safely to Baltimore the Roanoke Island’s crew will fly back to Homer to meet their new vessel, the US Coast Guard Cutter Sapelo.

“The Sapelo is leaving next week from Puerto Rico and they’re probably going to cross somewhere with the Roanoke Island on the Panama Canal. The Sapelo is going to be here in the beginning of August,” Decker says.

Thomas says only one member of his crew will be transferred after the trek to Baltimore and the rest will be reunited aboard the Sapelo in August. The crew and the cutter are expected to be ready for full duty operations by September.


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