Coast Guard Cutter Cypress arrives in Kodiak, looks ahead to a busy summer

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The Cypress has a few vague similarities to some of Alaska’s more impressive crab boats- a wide hull, a crane, a bridge positioned to the aft of the boat with a view of the deck. There are some key differences however; it’s twice the size, run by uniformed officers, and has a complement of law enforcement agents on board.

Ensign Brian Holmen is responsible for keeping the Cypress on course- or at least, he’s one of five people onboard who take turns guiding the ship. He says it’s his most important role on the Cypress.

“Of course as an ensign, I’ve got plenty of good coaches on board. And so people kind of looking over to the ship… of course the captain and the XO are always here. And we have a whole team on the bridge when we’re conducting these evolutions,” Holmen said.

The ship has a basic rudder and speed control, but for finer movements a joystick on the far wings of the bridge allows the helmsman to approach buoys in a very precise way.

“A lot of times I like to think of it as you know, driving Cypress is like playing a video game in a way so it’s kind of cool. But once we have that whole heading engaged, essentially what we can do is if we just want to drive forward all we’re doing is just moving the joystick forward if we want to move the whole ship laterally to port we just move the joystick to the left and you know we can also just go forward and left and everything in between it’s pretty cool,” Holmen said.

Once the Cypress gets lined up, then it’s the deck crew’s turn. An enormous crane with a heated control cabin latches onto a navigation buoy, and hoists it on deck.

The anchor chain is then detached from the buoy, and linked to a roller drum, which then winches up the anchor chain, followed by the buoy’s anchor- typically a 20,000-pound block of concrete called a sinker.

Anchor chain is often in need of replacement, so the Cypress carries a large store of reserve chain. The buoys themselves often need lights replaced, electronics and computer systems maintenance, occasional welding work- these are seen to by the Cypress’ complement of onboard electricians and engineers.

There’s going to be a lot more of that maintenance work going on in 2022. When the Cutter SPAR left Kodiak last winter for required maintenance, the two other 225-foot buoy tenders in the Alaska area did their best to take on her workload. That left some of the less critical maintenance deferred to this summer season, so there’s more work to be done.

Lieutenant Commander Daniel Davis says he’s looking forward to it.

“It’s a job that has a lot of tangible and immediate gratification, I think you get to see the product of your work as you do it, as opposed to some of the other missions, which can be sometimes a little bit less tangible, like law enforcement, or things of that nature. And this is a mission where we just get dirty, do the work, get to see a nice buoy or properly working at navigation,” Davis said.

He has one of the harder deployments to work in as buoy tender. Some have more aids to navigation to maintenance, but few work in such intense weather, and none have as large an area to cover as the Aleutian Chain.

“The weather is probably the most challenging factor. We have limitations in terms of how the ship maintains its position on its navigation. So sea state, and wind are always factors here, save for maybe a few months of the summer, and even then things can change very rapidly,” Davis said.

The Cypress is being operated by the same crew that ran the SPAR, and that means that some of her crew left friends and family behind in Kodiak nearly a year ago.

“We have a pretty robust work schedule ahead of us. But also we’re excited about engaging the local community, reestablishing some of the ties that were lost as we spent almost a year preparing for this whole process and going through it. And I know the crew was certainly happy to get back to their families after being gone,” Davis said.

There’s more maintenance work to do dockside in Kodiak, but Davis is hoping to get the Cypress working in Alaska’s waters as soon as January.

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