A Dual Mission For The SPAR -WLB-403 back in "1966''
The Origins of SPAR’s Great Adventure

​The attached document is the official order that sent USCGC SPAR (WLB-403) and her crew on what would be a memorable adventure far different from her usual occupation of tending buoys in Southern New England waters, and thousands of miles from her home port of Bristol, RI. This mission came about for a number of reasons. A year or two earlier, the US General Accounting Office (GAO)—the government’s “bean-counting” agency—had done a study that concluded there were two more seagoing buoy tenders in the First Coast Guard District than were needed to effectively carry out the Aids to Navigation mission in New England. There were then five: LAUREL (Rockland, Maine), COWSLIP (Portland, Maine), CACTUS (Boston), HORNBEAM (Woods Hole), and SPAR (Bristol).
About the same time, there was a good deal of change in the air for the Coast Guard; the Ocean Station program was coming to a close, the service was soon to be transferred from the Treasury Department to the new Department of Transportation, and Oceanography was becoming more important as a potential new mission. Cold War tensions were high in the wake of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and the US Navy was deploying ballistic missile submarines (SSBN’s) to patrol arctic waters near the USSR; for this it needed highly accurate charts of the sea bottom so that submarine commanders could navigate safely to and from their assigned missions with minimum chance of detection.
Threatened with the prospect of losing 40% of its buoy tender fleet in the First District, the Coast Guard saw an opportunity to support the Navy (and enhance its military role) by using these capable ships as oceanographic platforms. Thus SPAR’s 1966 mission came about. Not long after she returned from the Norwegian Sea in October 1966, she was replaced by CACTUS (the oldest of the 180 Class), which was subsequently reclassified as WLB(O)—for Oceanography—and SPAR (as one of the newest of the class) went to Boston. The LAUREL was similarly reclassified not long afterward. Beginning in 1967, CACTUS’s missions were
​almost exclusively in support of the US Naval Oceanographic Office.

​​​​Author, U.S.C.G. Captain David Wood (Ret.)

Click here for Document CGD1 OpOrd 8-66.PDF

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