The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Anacapa is leaving Petersburg this year after more than three decades of fisheries law enforcement, rescues and patrols in Southeast Alaska. The Coast Guard plans to reassign the vessel after an overhaul.
The captain and crew of ship welcomed the community for tours this week as they get set to depart Alaska.
“There’s not a lot of creature comforts on this boat. This boat is to do a mission,” said Petty Officer Second Class Caleb Tower as he lead one of the tours. “The 154s down in Ketchikan, they’re built to a commercial standard. So it’s much more luxurious — essentially take a yacht and put guns on it and say it’s for the Coast Guard.”
The fast response cutters are 154-foot replacements that are being deployed to other Alaskan ports. Local officials fought to keep a cutter stationed in Petersburg after the military branch announced plans to replace the 110-foot Island class ships like the Anacapa. Named after an island in California, the Anacapa arrived in Petersburg and was commissioned in 1990.
Tower said the constant use in Alaska is hard on a 30-year-old ship.
“The only other boat I’ve been on that is equivalent to what we do here in Alaska is over in the Middle East,” he said. “And it’s high op tempo, constantly just go, go, go, go. So the boat gets tired — it’s a 30-year-old boat. She’s tired. But she’s in very good condition for her age.”
Deep in the stern, senior chief petty officer Jeffrey Wilkes showed off the two large engines for propulsion and two for electrical power. At top speed, the ship can burn around 300 gallons an hour. At lower speeds it can go almost 5,000 nautical miles on a tank of gas. Wilkes said it’s been challenging to be on an older ship.
“It’s getting harder and harder to maintain the asset with the limited resources,” he said. “Parts are hard to find.”
The Anacapa will head to Ketchikan and will spend about a month there, swapping out engines and generators before heading to its new homeport of Port Angeles, Washington. A new crew will take over there as the Petersburg crew heads to new postings.
It’s bittersweet for some on board, including Wilkes.
“The town has been real welcoming to me and my family, my kids, my wife works at the school. We just love it here, but work-wise it’s been a difficult tour,” Wilkes said.
The Anacapa was to be decommissioned, but that’s no longer the plan. It will be replacing a ship that’s in worse shape. The crew says there are maybe a dozen of the 110s left in the Coast Guard, and this one may have another two to five years left in it.
Out on the front deck, Tower shows off the 25 millimeter cannon, which is usually kept under cover.
“It’s a fun gun to shoot,” he said. “It shoots about 175 rounds per minute.”
The Anacapa also has two .50 caliber machine guns and some smaller arms onboard.
In 2012, the crew used the cannon to scuttle a derelict Japanese fishing boat that wound up off the coast of Alaska after the 2011 Tōhoku tsunami.
Over the years the Anacapa has responded to natural disasters, freed entangled whales, and searched for missing aircraft and hunters.
Michaela McKeown has been commanding officer on the Anacapa for about a year. It’s her first command. She says the ship has character, and it’s been a privilege to work with her crew.
McKeown said one of the tougher missions during her time was a search and rescue for a sailboat in distress north of Sitka
“The weather was rough, of course, as it is with SAR cases,” she said. “We steamed through the night, got there first light in the morning and went into this remote bay and had to come up with a pretty creative plan. We used our small boat to get the sailboat under tow and then transfer the tow over to the cutter and were able to rescue the sailboat and the couple individuals onboard and bring them back to Sitka.”
The Anacapa’s replacement in Petersburg is an 87-foot San Francisco-based Marine Protector-class cutter called the Pike, built in 2005. The smaller ship means around 7 fewer crew.
The Pike is expected to arrive in Petersburg in June.