Canadian and U.S. Coast Guard work together to protect mariners

PORT ANGELES, Wash. – The crew from the Canadian Coast Guard Buoy Tender Provo Wallis, homeported in Victoria, British Columbia, cross trained with the crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Henry Blake, homeported in Everett, Wash., today in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The crew and cutter arrived in Port Angeles, Wash., Sunday, and are part of the 2009 Pacific Unity exercise. The crew joins the other North Pacific Coast Guard Forum partner nations, China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. Pacific Unity is about fostering good relationships with the nations that share the Pacific Ocean.

The Provo Wallis worked with the Henry Blake, and shared not only ideas on how to maintain and service buoys and navigational aids but also swapped crews. Each buoy tender took turns pulling and placing the other nation’s buoys in the water.

“This is the first time that I have seen an exchange like this for operations,” said 2nd Officer Jim Garrett, the acting executive officer in charge of the Provo Wallis and a Salt Spring Island, Canada native.

The crews used the cranes on their respective decks to lift the six-ton buoys from their boats and set them in the water. The buoys are held in place by a more than three-ton concrete or steel anchor, known as the rock, attached to the buoy with a thick chain. Once the buoy is set in the water and separated from its connection point on the crane, the rock is then lifted by the crane and placed in the water. After both the buoy and rock are in the water, the chain is released from its shackles on deck with a sledgehammer. The weight of the buoy and rock force the freed chain screaming across the deck into the brackish water, allowing the rock to fall and the buoy to set.

Buoys are brought on deck through a reverse process and are tended by line handlers to ensure the crew has positive control of the wet buoy at all times. Cross training with the U.S. Coast Guard is important, said Garrett.

“Its good to get the different perspectives. Some times an outsider can see something that we are doing, and offer advise on how to do things better, and vise versa,” said Garrett.

“If a disaster strikes, and we are unable to service the Canadian aids, the U.S. Coast Guard will have some familiarity with how our aids work, and would know what needed to be done,” said Garrett.

The Provo Wallis is a red-hulled boat with the large maple leaf painted on the white super structure, and one of the largest ships in the West Coast fleet. At more than 210 feet in length the 24 person, mixed-gender crew is underway 11 months a year, servicing and working on the Canadian navigation aids on the British Columbia Coast, from Juneau, Alaska to Washington State.

The Provo Wallis is out to sea for 28 days at a time, and while underway the crew services more than 200 buoys a year. They replace buoys that get knocked out off station, replace bulbs, change batteries, and conduct routine maintenance vital to protecting mariners and providing continuous accurate and navigation service.

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