Coast Guard Crew Works to Keep South-Central Louisiana Navigable for Mariners

BY PA3 TOM ATKESON

New Orleans- It’s a dirty, difficult job keeping the various channels and waterways easy and safely navigable for mariners and recreational boaters in south-central Louisiana. That job is spear-headed by the hard working crew of Aids to Navigation Team, Dulac La. who take pride in the long hours, hard work and dedication it takes to finish the mission.

Long hours are not unusual for an ANT, which may initially get underway to fix only a handful of discrepancies only to find more aids off-position than expected.

The day started early with a 6 a.m. work-out. Petty Officer 1st Class Karyn Boxwell, executive petty officer of ANT Dulac, led the crewmembers through the exercises, which included sit-ups, push-ups and a one and a half mile-run around a track.

After quick showers, the crew left the gym for their station to prepare their 27-foot Trailerable Aids to Navigation Boat (TANB) for the days work. Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Upchurch lifted buoys off their racks with a fork lift and placed them gently on the TANB.

Once the TANB was loaded with all the necessary gear and provisions, a brief was conducted to ensure all members of the crew knew what the mission objectives were for the day and a safety brief was also conducted.

The TANB was launched into the water at the ANT’s boat ramp at approximately 8 a.m. and Boxwell, the coxswain for the mission, began to navigate the boat through Bayou Grand Calliou and the Houma Navigational Channel to repair the Houma rear-range light B, which helps guide ships into the Houma Navigational Canal. To repair the light, Upchurch had to climb the 75-foot tower to access the light at the top.

By 11 a.m. the crew had traveled through Timbalier-Terrebone Bay, Lake La Graisse, Lake Berre to Lake Felicity, where photographs were taken of Lake Felicity Light 1 for records and future repair operations. A temporary aid was deployed to supplement the damaged aid as well as a new buoy at Lake Felicity Light 2. They continued to work an aid to navigation, which they found in the middle of the channel that did not belong in that particular channel. The buoy and its anchor were lifted into the TANB by Upchurch and Seaman Michael Collasion, its anchor, a 250-pound piece of cement, was pulled from the bottom by hand.

“It was a pain to pull up. That’s a large weight to pull through the water and into the boat,” said Collasion.

Most fifth-class temporary buoys weigh 115-pounds and have a 130-pound dormor anchor to keep them on station, said Collasion.

The crew then transited back to Timbalier-Terrebone Bay, trough Havoline Canal and Bayou Lafourche to Belle Pass, where Collason went onto the Belle Pass Buoy 1 and made necessary repairs to the solar panel, which charges the battery for the buoys light, and replaced a damaged battery. Since the buoy was also off of its assigned position and too large for the 27-foot TANB to lift, a temporary aid was placed in the proper position to mark the channel and keep mariners and recreational boaters alike in the proper channel until a larger buoy tender or aids to navigation boat could reposition the buoy.

Vandalism and aids being accidentally run over are the main causes for discrepancies, said Boxwell. We can go out and fix an entire channel’s aids and the next day the channel has discrepant buoys again, said Boxwell.

The crew worked into the late afternoon photographing aids in Caminada Bay for documentation. Most of the aids were destroyed or damaged during hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the channel, which the aids marked had been filled with sediment and silt and was no longer a useable channel. The aids still standing were slated for removal.

The crew trailered the TANB at Station Grand Isle, La. and headed back to their station as the sun set beyond the western horizon, but the work was not quite done. Old aids, which had been pulled up earlier in the day had to be placed on the holding racks and cleaned. The TANB needed to have the saltwater and debris cleaned off its decks and fittings before the day was done for the hard working crew of ANT Dulac at approximately 11:30 p.m..

“You feel good, at the end of the day. You accomplished something,” said Boxwell. “11-hour days don’t happen frequently but if we have discrepant aids we work until they are all fixed.”

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