“It’s cold,” United States Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf public relations officer Lt. j.g. Beth Denicola said as the ship moved through Gastineau Channel on Sunday morning. “It’s a lot colder than anywhere else we have ever sailed.”
The 418-foot, 4,300 long-ton national security cutter Bertholf, the newest, largest, most technically advanced class of cutter in the Coast Guard and its 125 crew docked in Juneau Sunday morning beginning their first Alaska patrol.
Denicola, a Pennsylvania native, is on her first assignment outside the USCG academy.
“I really like the missions,” Denicola said. “The service, the search and rescue, the environmental missions and I wanted to help people.”
Denicola was standing with Chief Warrant Officer Colin Lansley in front of the stern ramp doors on the lower aft deck. The Bertholf is the first cutter to use a stern ramp to launch and recover small boats such as their Long Range Interceptor or their Special Purpose Craft Cutter Boat.
“The boats are jet drive, run right in and slide onto a sleigh,” Lansley said. “It saves a lot of time. It is safer and more efficient.”
The Bertholf has what is known as “optimum crewing.” The vessels the Bertholf has replaced had a lot more crew.
“We do more, or equal to, with less,” Lansley said. “You can’t turn a corner on here without finding somebody who is doing a great job for the country, the ship, or the Coast Guard in general. We have a lot of great people here.”
One flight of stairs up is the flight deck, capable of landing, and storing two HH65 helicopters with a longer flight range than their predecessors.
To get topside to the bridge, visitors are lucky if they pass through the galley. The Bertholf cooking staff won the Large Cutters Afloat Best Galley Of The Year award and cook Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Pearl, from Anaheim, Calif., was a runner-up finalist for Cook Of The Year. With five years of Navy cooking and now two in the Coast Guard, Pearl knows food.
“Timing everything is the difficult part,” Pearl said. “Because you have vegetables, starches and proteins. It takes different cooking times and then having it all come together for 125 is a challenge. It’s gets easier after a few months on board.”
Three meals a day, plus a special Mid-Rats (midnight rations) for watch details, food tailored to meet the dietary requirements of religious beliefs, snacks, holidays and special occasions can cost more than $90,000 for inventory leaving their home port of Alameda. Crewmembers can eat $2,000 worth of food daily. Food is monitored for six-week cycles.
“We’ll be doing a lot of salmon and crab meals up here,” Pearl said.
On the bridge approaching port the watch increases as officers of the deck, conning officers, navigation evaluators, radio operators, executive and command officers stand tall and efficient, even marking navigation notes on the bridge windows.
With 27 years in the Coast Guard, Bertholf commanding officer Captain John Prince’s seven seagoing assignments and multiple staff assignments have led to numerous Meritorious Service Medals, Commendation Medals, Achievement Medals, and the respect and admiration of the service.
“Obviously we have a new ship here with newer systems and more readily able to be maintained and operated,” Prince said. “We have enhanced electronics, our communications are better, and our surface and air search radars are enhanced.
In Alaskan waters Prince stated the ship can get there quicker, stay longer and operate at higher degrees of safety.
Prince stated from a homeland security standpoint, the Bertholf brings enhanced control and communication and surveillance capabilities, as well as advanced weapons systems. From a Coast Guard position improved flight deck, endurance and small boat ability are benefits. The crew’s largest berthing facility is for six persons, a quality of life improvement from the 25 berths of the older cutters.
Computers monitor and operate much of the Bertholf’s activities and allow greater crew function and performance.
The Bertholf has a price tag of close to $700 million. The second NSC, the Waesche, is in operation in southern waters and the NSC Stratton is currently under construction.
“At present this is scheduled to be my last patrol,” Prince said looking out over the Juneau landscape. “I have never been to Juneau before.”
When asked what it is that appeals to him about the Coast Guard, Prince paused.
“I enjoy the fact that regardless of what the world circumstances are, the Coast Guard always has a job to do, be it Homeland Security or traditional Coast Guard missions, or in time of war as part of the Navy defending the country,” Prince said. “I take great satisfaction in the search and rescue, the law enforcement, the fisheries enforcement, all the missions that the Coast Guard does. I enjoy being out at sea and doing the work that we do on the ship.”
On the starboard bridge deck Operations Specialist 3 Benjamin Montanez, from Florida and New Jersey, checks points for visual lines of bearing and reference points as the Bertholf moves through Gastineau Channel.
“It’s beautiful,” Montanez, four years of service, says looking toward Mt. Juneau. “It’s not as cold as I thought it would be but I am loving it right now.”
Deck Watch officer Ensign Ann Newton has 10 years in the Coast Guard.
“I have loved every second of it,” Newton said. “And Alaska is unbelievably gorgeous and beautiful.”
Newton had hoped to be married on a Coast Guard vessel, as ships captains can conduct marriage ceremonies, but officer candidate school came first.
Newton drove the ship Saturday and hopes to be a captain of a ship in the next year.
“There are a lot of little traditions that we do that I just love,” Newton said.
One tradition is the Boatswains Whistle from the days of wooden ships, which summons crew to various duties, most notably for the “Evening Colors.”
Another such tradition is “Saying Honors” and the crew lined the port side as a fishing boat passed. The tradition is usually only for military vessels where the opposite vessel captain is higher ranked by years in service.
“It’s our first time up here so we want to make a good impression,” Newton said. “We know how important the fishing fleet is to Alaska.”
Standing on the foredeck, the damage control crew seems like tiny red fire ants as the focsile on the Bertholf is the largest in the Coast Guard.
“Compared to other cutters, there is so much space up here it is unbelievable,” Newton said.
A white helmet signifies the safety observer who is in charge and has “coms” or communication to the bridge. Red helmets are damage control and gunner’s mates. Blue helmets are deck support. A yellow helmet is just an extra deck man.
DC 1 Sam Jones, from Massachusetts. has 8 years in, and previously saw Alaska on the USCGC Boutwell in 2004.
“I love it,” Jones said as the Bertholf neared port. “Alaska is pretty cool. I love this place.”
Gunner’s Mate Glenn Lees stood at the ready with an M-16 and a special adapter to shoot a mooring line if needed. Lee, from Yelm, Wash., has been in the Coast Guard for seven years.
“A gunner’s mate is always ready to fire,” Lees mirthed. “We just need the word to go. This is my first time to Alaska, that is why I came on board, I was looking forward to it.”
The Bertholf also has a series of mounts around the deck for different types of weapons such as the M2 .50 caliber. The focsile has a Bofors 57mm weapon systems deck cannon.
As the Bertholf edged parallel to the Juneau cruise ship dock, BM3 Jason Todd, a native of Guam, prepared to throw the first mooring line.
“It’s pretty cold, but oh so beautiful here,” Todd said.
The mooring lines were thrown and bounced onto the dock.
The Boatswain’s whistle sounded “Mooring” and the Bertholf crewmembers were now officially Alaskans.
• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.