Alaska’s battle aboard the black hulls

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Heat and Beat
A CGC Maple crewmember heats the pin to a shackle during the “heat and beat” competition at the Buoy Tender Olympics. Coast Guard photo by PA3 Jon-Paul Rios

For Alaska’s Coast Guard buoy tenders participating in the buoy tender roundup, this past week has been one of intense training and exercises. But, along with the imperative training, there was camaraderie and fellowship. One such team building event, that is also a highlight of the week long assembly, is the Buoy Tender Olympics.

The buoy tenders, or “black hulls” as they are commonly referred to because of their distinctive black hull paint, contended in five events dating back to a tradition that started in Kodiak, Alaska in 1982.

The “boom spot” is a game of accuracy in which a crane operator tries to place a water-filled 5-gallon bucket, hanging from the ship’s boom, on a 1-foot by 1-foot “x” taped on the deck. Another event is more about brut strength where a team of 5 people compete in the “chain drag” pulling a buoy chain weighing 2,000 pounds 30 yards. Focusing again on strength, the crews compete in a traditional tug-of-war challenge with 10 crewmembers on each side. Exhibiting their endurance, the crewmembers must then compete in a 60-yard swim in the icy 55-degree water wearing their survival gear, such as an immersion suit. The crews are then asked to race time in the final event, the “heat and beat,” in which crewmembers join two lengths of steel chain together by heating a thick stainless steel pin with a torch and then flattening the heated steel with sledgehammers.

CGC Hickory competes in the tug-of-war
Crewmembers of the CGC Hickory, exhaust their strength in a tug-of-war match during the Buoy Tender Olympics. Coast Guard photo by PA3 Jon-Paul Rios

And the victory win goes to…. Drum roll please….: CGC Hickory.

“It’s good to see our training and the hard work we put in everyday translate into being the winners of the roundup,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Adam Season, a Boatswain’s Mate aboard Hickory. “It’s great to have won three of the last four buoy tender roundups especially when competing with such an elite group of buoy tenders.”

Training and camaraderie aboard the black hulls is vital due to their significance to Alaska’s coast. Collectively, the buoy tenders service 1,250 navigational aids along 33,000 miles of coastline while still supporting search and rescue, oil spill response, law enforcement, homeland security and ice breaking missions.

The five buoy tenders that participated were CGC Hickory homeported in Homer, CGC SPAR homeported in Kodiak, CGC Maple homeported in Sitka, CGC Anthony Petit homeported in Ketchikan and CGC Elderberry homeported in Petersburg. CGC Sycamore, homeported in Cordova, was unable to attend due to the crews deployment to the Gulf of Mexico supporting efforts for the Deepwater Horizon response.

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