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By MATT ARMSTRONG
Daily News Staff Writer
As the U.S. Coast Guard fast response cutter John McCormick rounded the northern tip of Pennock Island and started to slowly make its way south to dock at Base Ketchikan for the first time, a family member of one of the crew members joked that she thought the boat was supposed to be fast.
The John McCormick arrived in its homeport of Ketchikan for the first time just before 10 a.m. Friday with a crew of 24, many of whom had not seen their families since leaving for Lockport, Louisiana, in October. A sizable crowd of wives, girlfriends, children and fellow Coast Guard members outlasted cold winds to welcome the boat and crew home.
Tarah Statham and her husband, Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Andrew Statham, moved to Ketchikan from Maine about eight months ago. Andrew Statham has been away from his family and on the John McCormick for about five months, his wife said while waiting with the couple’s children, Setra, 8, and three-year-old Lennox.
“We saw him in December. ... He came home for a week,” Tarah Statham said, adding that they’ve never been apart for that amount of time.
The family was excited for Andrew Statham to get back, and planned to “hang out at home and enjoy having him home,” Tarah Statham said.
The John McCormick, after leaving Lockport, went to Key West, Florida, for training. Following training, the cutter traveled 6,200 miles in 40 days — with eight port calls and more than 400 visitors in various ports — before arriving in Ketchikan, according to Capt. Shannan Greene, commander of Coast Guard Sector Juneau.
A second fast response cutter, the Bailey Barco, also will be homeported in Ketchikan. Both cutters were constructed at Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport.
The John McCormick is the Coast Guard’s 21st fast response cutter and the first such boat to be stationed on the West Coast, let alone Alaska. Fast response cutters are 154-foot boats, unlike the 110-foot cutters Naushon and Chandeleur that were previously homeported in Ketchikan.
The fast response cutters have the same mission as the older cutters, but the new boats feature increased durability and can stay out for longer periods of time, according to Greene.
“They have a larger crew, obviously a much more modern ship, and so their endurance for being able to go not just (in the) Inside Passage but outside into the Gulf (of Alaska) is much better,” Greene said Friday morning. “ ... They will both be homeported here in Ketchikan, but they serve all of Southeast Alaska. They will be on patrol throughout Southeast Alaska and, when needed, we shift the cutters around to cover different missions, so I would not be surprised if they do get an option — as we did with the 110s — to go up and patrol in the Anchorage (area of responsibility).”
In addition to seeing friends and family after months at sea, several crewmembers received special recognition on Friday.
The John McCormick’s engineering department received a meritorious team commendation for the actions its members took on Feb. 20 when the cutter was about 25 nautical miles off the coast of Mexico and received a high bilge alarm.
The engineering department reported to the engine room and found six inches of water in the bilge with a rapid rise. The department members located the source of flooding — a blown plug for a cooling system — and closed the cutoff valve to secure the flooding. Approximately 500 gallons of water came into the engine room’s bilge — reaching a level of 14 inches — in less than three minutes, according to the commendation.
“(As) a direct result of the quick response and effective initial actions, the casualty was isolated and the flooding secured before it could damage critical engineering equipment,” the commendation stated. “ ... In what could have been a catastrophic event, the team not only saved the cutter, but managed to keep operational readiness at full mission capability through an extremely significant emergency. The dedication, pride and professionalism displayed by the engineering department are in keeping wbg ith the highest traditions of the United States Coast Guard.”
The incident came as a surprise to some of the family members, according to Greene.
“The training, the teamwork, the awareness and the ability to react swiftly and with decisiveness, that’s what we train for. And that’s what this team did,” Greene said. “ ... You did exactly what we would expect and responded in great fashion, so well done.”
There will be a commissioning ceremony for the John McCormick on April 12 at Base Ketchikan. The Bailey Barco will be commissioned later this year in Juneau.