Soundings Staff Writer Lisa Healy and Photographer Harry Gerwien recently went under way on the Coast Guard cutter Forward. They jumped aboard during a fuel stop in Puerto Rico for what was supposed to be a quick and easy trip home. Mother Nature had other plans. Here’s a glimpse at their first few days at sea.

Under way, under waves©

By Lisa D. Healy
Soundings Staff


Every sailor knows that an estimated time of arrival (ETA) to homeport is just that — an estimate. And a recent patrol on board Coast Guard cutter Forward, a 270-foot medium-endurance cutter, was no exception to that rule.

The Forward was at the mercy of the seas which weren’t willing to let her get home without a fight. Stories about the incredible Coast Guardsmen who kept this vessel afloat will have to wait until next issue. For now, here’s a story of the Forward’s fight to arrive home on time.

Jan. 24, 2001

Is there any sight more awesome than that of a sleek, white Coast Guard cutter decked out in an international-orange and blue stripe floating in the blue Caribbean water?

You’d be hard-pressed to convince me that there is. I spent 10 years on active duty in the Coast Guard, during which I went to sea on a 378-foot high-endurance cutter. Yet I still find myself in awe of the cutters and the men and women who serve aboard them. As Soundings Photographer Harry Gerwien and I make our way down the extremely long, narrow refueling pier at Naval Station Roosevelt Roads in Cieba, Puerto Rico, my heart is in full flutter mode. This is an awesome opportunity. Not many people get to watch the nation’s finest search and rescue service in action.

Shortly after we arrive on board, the commanding officer of the Forward, Cmdr. Dan Macleod, holds quarters on the cutter’s flight deck. After accounting for all personnel on board, he has both good news and bad news for his tired, homesick crew.

“We’re setting special sea detail and heading home,” he tells an exuberant crew.

“However, standing between us and home is 16- to 25-foot seas,” he added.

Cheers and shouts of “Bring it on” peal across the flight deck. Macleod hopes his crew hears the warning about the possibility of arriving home later than expected. They hear it, but their actions indicate they have faith their captain will get them home as scheduled. There’s talk of being home in time to watch the Super Bowl. Some crew members have taken out their pocket calculators to compute various scenarios to see what the probability is of arriving home on time.

After quarters, the cutter’s crew is at special sea detail, a condition set when entering and leaving port. All personnel on board have a specific place to be during this evolution, and they all communicate with each other using sound-powered phones.

“All back three,” comes an order from the bridge.

“Take in line two,” echoes an order from the bridge down to the line-handlers on the bow.

“Shrill,” sounds a whistle throughout the ship.

“Left full rudder,” orders the conning officer.

“Left full rudder, aye,” answers the helmsman.

Orders from the bridge continue while the crew scurries to put away lines and prepare for sea. It’s time for the Forward to go home, and the crew is ready. It’s been 59 long and busy days under way, and there are possibly only four more days ahead.

“Man the rail,” comes an order from the captain. As the Forward coasts by a Canadian navy ship, the cutter’s crew stop their work on deck and stand smartly at attention, paying respect to another military vessel. The Canadians render a salute in return. It’s as though there is a bond between those who ride the seas, each knowing and respecting the dangers and magnificence of the Earth’s oceans.

After the evening meal, the cutter’s crew begins their underway routine — standing watches. The food service specialists are busy organizing the food they took on board earlier in the day. It’s amazing to see all the food it takes to feed this crew of roughly 100.

Other crew members are busy, too. The yeoman is preparing an updated sailing list. The engineers are preparing for full-power trials. A few off-duty crew members work out on exercise equipment in the helo hangar and some practice Tae-bo.

The Caribbean Sea is beautiful; the water is royal blue, a fitting color for something that commands respect like the ocean does. The seas are calm, and tonight the Forward is a good ride. At least it’s as good as it gets on one of the Coast Guard’s medium-endurance cutters. They don’t have the reputation for offering a smooth ride.

If you ask the Coast Guardsmen on the Forward, they will tell you that what they like most about the Coast Guard is the people. In a service of about 34,000 men and women you are bound to know someone at every unit you report to. That has certainly been true for me.

After graduating from boot camp 19 years ago, I made friends with another recent boot camp graduate. We had similar interests — partying and engineers. We even vowed to name our children after each other some day. Unfortunately, we lost touch with each other two years later. So, I can’t believe my eyes when I glance over at the petite, smiling, first class petty officer standing outside the Forward’s hangar wearing sound-powered phones. There she is — Allison Chandler, my friend from what seems like a lifetime ago. We have a lot of catching up to do. It’s a small Coast Guard family.

As the sun sets on this first day at sea, morale is high. The hours are winding down. The air is getting chilly, a sure sign that home is nearing.

Jan. 25, 2001
The morning begins with full-power trials. The crew hears and feels the cutter speed up. It’s a huge morale booster. The test, required once a year, has been left for the end of the patrol on purpose. Everyone wants to get home a little bit faster. The engineers hope to run top speed, known as “10s,” for two hours. However, unexpected problems shorten the time to about 40 minutes.

After lunch is an integrated training team drill, GQ or general quarters, that encompasses numerous exercises. There are simulated engineering casualties, fires on board, machine gun damage and medical emergencies. The exercises are written to test the crew’s ability to work together solving multiple at-sea emergencies. Behind each team of Coast Guardsmen responding to the disasters is a trainer watching their every move and questioning their every action. The drill takes about two hours to complete and is probably the most important drill they do under way. This is the third time this drill has been run this patrol. Each time the rapid response crews increase their proficiency.

The sun sets with little action on board. There is ominous news ahead; the weather fax shows some rough seas. It could be a long night.

Jan. 26, 2001

The weather fax was correct. The rough seas cause the crew to have a long night. The sea averaged 18 feet and the winds blew steadily at more than 30 knots. The cutter was taking on water over its bow throughout the night and some compartments began flooding after seawater entered the cutter’s supply ventilation system. The gun and laundry compartments sustained the most damage. The bos’n hole flooded, too. The hatch drain was leaking into the control booth in engineering and that shorted out the generator causing the shop to lose power for about eight seconds until the emergency generator took over.

Many of the crew are seasick. Others are tired from working all night to control the flooding, cleaning up the mess from the flooding and from working on the engineering equipment. The ice machine can’t even make ice because the water isn’t still long enough to freeze into cubes.

News is filtering throughout the cutter: Sunday’s ETA is unlikely. Because of the sea state, Forward made less than 5 knots all last night and this morning.

After lunch, we increase our speed to 10 knots. The calculators are back out. The crew is still hoping there is a way to make Sunday’s arrival time. The weather forecast looks good. It doesn’t appear to be getting any worse.

The news passed at quarters is to expect a Monday arrival. No one accepts it, though. The crew is still optimistic. They believe the captain will get them home on time.

Did the Forward beat the seas and make it home before Sunday’s Super Bowl? Did she make it in Monday? Or was everyone wrong, and they were delayed even longer?


Land Ho!

Last week Soundings presented the first half of Staff Writer Lisa Healy and Photographer Harry Gerwien’s trip on the Coast Guard cutter Forward. When the story left off last week, it was unclear if the Forward would arrive home on time or be delayed because of rough seas. Read on to find out how they fared.

By Lisa D. Healy
Soundings Staff

Wondering whether a Coast Guard cutter will arrive home on time is nothing new to me. I was in that position many times during my active-duty years in the Coast Guard. And I’ve also been on the other side, waiting for my husband to arrive home on one of the many cutters to which he’s been assigned. The waiting is never easy regardless of whether you are the one waiting for the ombudsman to call with the ship’s arrival time or if you’re sitting on the cutter waiting for the quartermasters to give you the scoop on the cutter’s arrival time home.

Last week, I relayed how the seas were trying their best to keep the crew of the 270-foot cutter Forward from enjoying the Super Bowl with friends and family. Between the winds and the seas, it was a battle. And we didn’t know until the last night of our trip when we would be back in the loving arms of our family. Here’s the rest of the story:

Jan. 27, 2001
Arriving on time tomorrow is looking good. The Forward has been able to pick up and maintain speed; the captain says we’ve made up for lost time. Today is field day. Everyone is cleaning up the ship to prepare for tomorrow’s liberty.

The seas are rough once again. The bridge watch said they’ve actually buried the bow a couple times. The captain asked the doc, Vincent Jones, a first class corpsman, if the crew is too sick to continue at the speed we’re going. Doc assures the captain everyone can deal with it — they just want to go home.

But for one young Coastie, Jessica Hergenhan, a second class electronics technician, the unruly seas have been unkind. After the captain found her trying to sleep last night on the flight deck inside the helo hangar, he suggested someone find her better living arrangements. Female berthing is located all the way forward and on the lowest deck. It’s the worst ride of the boat. The executive officer decided to put her in the stateroom the crew cleared out for me. However, the ride is only slightly better up on the zero one deck.

Unfortunately, moving sleeping quarters doesn’t help Jessica. Medication has failed to keep her from dehydrating further. The doc decides to start an IV of fluids before she gets any sicker. Starting an IV on a ship that is being tossed around like a cork isn’t the easiest thing to do — especially on a dehydrated patient. After two failed attempts, doc calls on a crew member for help. The first class yeoman on board is a paramedic in Elizabeth City, N.C. She gets the IV in on her second attempt.

There are some on board who can still hold down their chow. Tonight’s scheduled morale event could change that: The wardroom is preparing dinner. The officers have decided on a meal of pizza, wings and nachos. There are even free sodas. Channel fever is setting in; the crew is wired with excitement. On the mess deck there is talk of seeing families waiting on the pier. Some say they won’t be able to sleep tonight. There are also a lot of card games going on. Today a James Bond movie marathon is playing on the television to help the crew get through the final hours of the patrol.

After doc finishes the evening meal, he’s back in our stateroom to check on his patient. He’s put two bags of fluid into Jessica and some medication through her IV. She’s able to keep a little food and liquid down so he’s removing the IV. Her shipmates meander in and out checking on her. I’ve noticed over the last few days that this is a tight crew.

Cape Hatteras is nearing quickly. That will be the big test. If we get through with no problems, we are good to go.

Jan. 28, 2001
Homecoming Day is here. The hours suddenly slow to a crawl. Isn’t that how it always is when you’re excited? We sailed through Cape Hatteras last night with no problems. That’s a relief. Virtually every Coastie will tell you that getting through Hatteras is oftentimes the most difficult part of the transit home. The weather is almost always bad. We’re still on schedule for our 1300 arrival time.

Jessica is well enough to get up and eat some breakfast. She’s been busy this morning. The ship lost power earlier, which caused a problem with the radar’s software. Her co-workers have been asking her how to trouble-shoot the equipment. She knows the gear inside and out. She’s able to write all the instructions out for the other electronics technicians.

On the bridge there is casual conversation and a lot of smiles. The long bridge watches are almost over. It’s obvious from the scenery we are nearing Hampton Roads. Currently there are seven visual contacts — all tankers in the shipping lanes headed out to sea. The horizon is outlined with hotels on the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.

The cooks are serving brunch today. Other crew members are scurrying everywhere, preparing for their long-awaited arrival home. The yeoman and storekeepers are finalizing paperwork, especially for those who are going on leave today. The officers are finishing up their last-minute reports. Everyone is waiting for the bridge to make the pipe to set special sea detail. It’s ironic that the captain tried to prepare the crew for arriving home late, but no one believed it. And now we really are almost home, and the talk is not to get too excited about pulling in until the last line is tied to the pier. Many are recounting horror stories of being recalled at the last minute and watching the faces of their family on the pier when the cutter headed back out to sea.

“Now set the special sea detail,” is finally heard over the ship’s loudspeaker. I haven’t seen the crew move so fast since I’ve been here. It’s exciting to watch them. They deserve this moment, their homecoming after nine weeks at sea.

As we near Integrated Support Command, the Forward’s home port, the long wooden pier is littered with smiling faces and jubilant children. Shouts of “daddy, daddy” float through the air as each daddy on board looks to see if it is their child calling out. The ombudsman is on the pier passing out flowers previously purchased by the crew to give to family members. There are mothers and fathers looking on proudly. There are anxious wives who stand quietly, holding in the emotions that fill their hearts. The children are all giggles; memories of life during the past nine weeks without their mom or dad have disappeared. There are boyfriends and girlfriends who waited for what seemed to be a lifetime for this moment. Balloons and flags sway in the breeze of this sunny and fairly warm January day.

The crew looks down on the pier and waves to their families. Everyone on board seems a bit reserved, maybe not wanting to appear emotional to his or her shipmates.

After the last line is tied and the brow is safely secured, family members flood the cutter’s fantail. Hugs, kisses, “I miss yous,” then more hugs and more kisses replace the long, forlorn faces of the Coast Guardsmen who were so nervous about being recalled before they could get home.

Having been on both sides of the brow, I can say that homecomings are amazing events. Each time a cutter comes home it’s like a new beginning. The children have hours of stories to tell. The spouses gingerly tell their loved ones of new purchases while they were apart and of all the things that went wrong during the patrol.

But for today, everything is right with the world. At least for the next four or five weeks until it all begins again.

©Sounding- Virginia Pilot-2001 Reprinted by Permission

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Under way, under waves© By Lisa D. Healy - Reprinted by permission. The author, a tewn year former Coastie takes a ride on the CGC Forward as she proceeds to her home port.