The Petersburg-based Coast Guard cutter Anacapa usually performs search and rescue missions and conducts law enforcement operations at ports and coastal water ways.
But on Monday, the 16-strong crew, plus two Coast Guard members from Station Juneau, embarked on a different mission: spreading holiday cheer by delivering presents to villages throughout the Panhandle.
“It’s not a normal mission, but it’s one we’re happy to participate in,” the ship’s commanding officer Lt. Cmdr. Ruben Boudreaux said with a smile.
The boat set sail Monday to deliver goods collected from its annual Southeast Alaska Blanket, Coat and Toy Drive after the crew sorted, wrapped and bagged the gifts over the weekend.
Anacapa will sail to six cities — Hoonah, Pelican, Elfin cove, Tenakee, Angoon and Kake — over the next nine days, travelling approximately 500 nautical miles from Petersburg to the villages and back. The boat will come back to Juneau after four days, load up more donated items, then head back out to sea for the rest of the trip.
Boudreaux noted the trip would be normally be quicker in the summertime, but he wanted to allocate more time should rough weather hit. And, of course, the Anacapa could be called for a search and rescue mission during the course of the trip.
Normally, the crew of the cutter Liberty hosts the drive, then tows the gifts to the villages, but since Liberty is in dry docks in Ketchikan for six months, the crew of Anacapa took the helm.
On Sunday, the crew loaded up the presents onto the boat, squeezing presents anywhere that they would fit on board — under benches, in the captain’s quarters, and inside lockers on the deck of the boat.
“I would describe it as a small mountain” of gifts,” Lt. j.g. James Dooley of Station Juneau said as he looked at the piles of toys before they were stashed on the cutter.
The majority of the items were packed into fish totes secured to the bow of the boat. Boudreaux estimated that there were about 400 small bundles of blankets, coats and toys, and that the gifts would fill up a total of 16 fish totes.
“We’re thinking about 200 cubic feet of stuff, maybe more,” he said.
The Coast Guard have hosted the coat, blanket and toy drive since 1993, Command Chief for Sector Juneau Senior Chief John McGowan, one of the founding members of the drive said in an earlier interview. The Coast Guard had asked community leaders if they needed or wanted anything, and one of the first responses was coats and blankets, McGowan said.
Today, the Coast Guard still collaborates with the mayors and leaders of each of the towns several months ahead of time to see if there is anything in particular that is needed or wanted, Dooley said. And then, the items are either delivered at community halls or in schools. Santa Claus even makes appearances.
The drive is always a success because of the people of Juneau who donate the goods, the crew said, noting that Alaska Laundry and Dry Cleaners volunteered to clean all the items donated and Les Schwab Tire Center providing heavy-duty tire bags to keep them dry during delivery.
Collection bins for the drive were placed outside grocery stores and the Juneau Federal Building for a couple of weeks last month, and the response was overwhelming, Dooley said. They even shut down the drive earlier than usual since so much had been donated.
“It’s really great how Juneau pulled together, and it’s a tribute to Juneau,” the cutter’s executive officer Lt. j.g. James Toomey said. “We’re just doing a small part of a bigger thing.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.