U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Spar WLB - 403 out of Bristol RI.
Information on the Spar and buoy
tenders in general.
"Information on Buoy Tenders"_(180's)
Page No. 25
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By the early 1970's the 180's had reached their thirtieth anniversaries as Coast Guard cutters. It was during this decade that the buoy tender inventory began to shrink. Appropriately enough, the first to go was Cactus, the first built. Cactus ran hard aground in 1971 and the damage was so extensive that the government decided to decommission the vessel rather than repair her. The USCG decommissioned the first of the 180's two days shy of the thirtieth anniversary of her launch. Two more 180's left active duty, albeit less traumatically and according to longstanding plans, the following year. A fourth vessel left service in 1973 and two more followed in 1975. These vessels, even Cactus, went on to second careers in the hands of foreign governments or private owners.
Only one buoy tender was decommissioned by design in the 1980's. Sagebrush left active duty in April 1988, more than forty-four years after her commissioning. It was, however, a hard decade on the 180 fleet. On 28 January 1980, Blackthorn collided with a commercial tanker in Tampa Bay, Florida. The collision holed and capsized the buoy tender and it sank quickly, killing twenty-three members of the crew. In December 1989 Mesquite grounded on a rock pinnacle jutting from the bottom of Lake Superior . The crew safely abandoned ship in lifeboats, but the vessel suffered severe damage after pounding against the rocks during winter storms. USCG planners decided to decommission Mesquite soon after the accident and a commercial salvage company scuttled her in 1990. Three of the buoy tenders became Medium Endurance cutters (WMEC) during the 1980's. These conversions entailed the removal of the buoy handling gear and reassignment to predominately LE and SAR patrol duties.
The US Coast Guard decommissioned fourteen buoy tenders in the 1990's and seven more in the early years of the next decade. In early 2002, eight of the thirty-nine 180's remained in service as USCG buoy tenders. One other 180 remained in commission as a cutter, but operated in the role of a training and support vessel. Few of the decommissioned cutters have actually been destroyed or dismantled. Instead, they can be found throughout the world. A number were transferred overseas under the Foreign Military Sales Program and serve the navies of countries friendly to the United States . Two have embarked on careers as fishing vessels. One serves as a mobile base and supply ship for a missionary group working in the Pacific. Even Cactus, first of the 180's, first wrecked, and first decommissioned, still exists. The remains of the tender built in 1941 serve as a barge in the Pacific Northwest . The 180's that have passed out of use entirely were sunk as reefs or ended their lives as targets for naval munitions tests.
Renovating and improving the 180's bought time, but it did not ameliorate a basic problem facing the service. The US Coast Guard would eventually need to replace the 180's. While a steel vessel can be kept functioning almost in perpetuity, the cost of doing so eventually reaches a point where replacement is the preferred option. The savings can be measured in monetary terms as well as improved efficiency resulting from fewer breakdowns, less frequent yard periods, and the use of more advanced technologies. By the 1990's it was time to begin the lengthy process of creating a successor for the vessels one authority called, ". . . quite possibly the most versatile and useful cutter ever built for the Coast Guard," and, ". . . clearly the most multi-mission capable ship in the Black Fleet." An initial planning and consultation period ended in January 1993 when the USCG awarded a contract to Marinette Shipbuilding for the production of a new class of seagoing buoy tenders. Marinette Shipbuilding won a second contract in June 1993 for the construction of a new class of coastal buoy tender. The new seagoing tender class took the name of the prototype vessel: Juniper. The coastal tenders became the Keeper class, each named for a well-known lighthouse keeper from the past. The Juniper class vessels measure 225 feet in length, 46 feet in beam, and are propelled by two diesel engines driving a single reduction gear and a Controllable Pitch Propeller (CPP). Marinette builds them with both a bow and stern thruster, which combined with the CPP makes for a maneuverable platform. Like the 180's, they can handle limited ice breaking duties. ew seagoing tender incorporates many advances in maritime technology that allow the tenders, though larger than their predecessors, to operate effectively with a smaller crew. Perhaps the most significant advance is the use of a dynamic positioning system (DPS) to help keep the tender on station. The DPS involves computerization of the systems that maneuver the vessel, namely propulsion and steering, combined with the latest in satellite navigation technology. This system allows the Juniper class vessels to maintain position within a 10-meter radius in 30-knot winds and 8' seas. Juniper passed from Marinette Shipbuilding to the USCG in 1996. Projections call for a total of sixteen Juniper class tenders. Keeper class tenders measure 175 feet in length and have a beam of 36 feet. They are the first USCG cutters propelled by a twin Z-Drive. This propulsion system is essentially a propeller installed within a nozzle that can rotate 360 degrees. This means thrust, in any amount manageable by the vessel's diesel engine, can be applied in any direction. The Z-Drive system, popular with many newer tugboats, combined with a bow thruster ensures the Keeper class tenders have excellent maneuverability and station-keeping qualities. Each vessel also carries dynamic positioning systems, honing the vessel's ability to hover on station even further. As of 2002 the USCG has fourteen Keeper class tenders in service. As the new seagoing and coastal tenders have entered service, the US Coast Guard has decommissioned the older 180's. At the beginning of 2002 there were nine of the old buoy tenders still in commission. They will phase out slowly and tentative plans call for Acacia to be the last in service with a decommissioning in 2006.
In 1966 Spar was assigned the mission of performing an undersea oceanographic charting expedition in the northern Atlantic. During this trip the cutter visited Newfoundland, Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Germany and Northern Ireland, logging over 17,000 miles.The cutter's home-port changed again in April 1967, to Boston, where it and CGC Cactus traded captains and crew. In March 1973, Spar was stationed at South Portland, ME. Since its arrival here, the Spar's primary duties have been the maintenance of approximately 200 aids to navigation off the coasts of Maine and New Hampshire, logistical support of lighthouses, search and rescue, and enforcement of laws and treaties.
Spar had the distinction of having set the record at Refresher Training in Little Creek, VA in 1981, for the highest marks ever achieved by an ocean-going buoy tender. In subsequent years the cutter returned from Little Creek with outstanding marks, and proudly displayed a gold "E" with three gold service stripes for eight consecutive overall excellent scores in operations and seamanship training. Spar was recognized by VADM Paul Welling, LANTAREA commander, as
"The cutter with the most gold" in the Atlantic fleet".
Spar's operational area for servicing navigational aids ran from Portsmouth, NH to West Quoddy Head on the northeastern tip of Maine, a distance of some 227 miles. Much of the year was dedicated to servicing approximately 200 floating aids and providing logistical support to several lighthouses. Some winters the ship was also tasked with breaking ice in Cape Cod Canal and Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts.