Lake Superior Journal: Baptizing the Alder
Baptism of U.S. Coast Guard cutter, Alder, came with quite a big splash and a lot of appreciative gasps from the crowd at Marinette Marine Corporation at 10 a.m., February 7, 2004.
The invitation was unlike any I’ve ever received. The commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard and the Marinette Marine Corporation requested “the honor” of my presence at the christening and launching of an incredible U.S. Coast Guard vessel.
Alder, built in Marinette, Wisconsin, is the 16th and last of the 225-foot Juniper “B” Class Seagoing Buoy Tenders launched into the Menominee River.
My wife and first mate, Jan, and I quickly accepted the invitation, working with Mary George, who planned the entire round trip through the Lake Superior Marine Museum Association. Two busloads of people from Duluth, Minnesota, had two special reasons for wanting to make this journey.
The first was because Alder will replace our beloved Sundew, the Coast Guard cutter constructed in Duluth in 1944 and that served many of its 60 years in its birth port.
The second reason was reflected in the name of our road trip, the Tim Slattery Memorial Tour. This launching would be part of remembering the talented and personable Duluth photographer who drowned in the harbor last fall. All of us on the buses knew without a doubt that Tim, the “unofficial official photographer” for the Coast Guard, as he often said, would have been with us except for that tragic accident. Perhaps he still was.
Even for those of us who are seasoned sailors, the big splash of the side launch of Alder into the Menominee River left us in awe.
“I didn't expect the surge of emotion that struck me as the Alder plunged into the river,” says Davis Helberg, retired as executive director of the Duluth Port Authority. “The realization that a ship had suddenly sprung to life and the spontaneous roar of the crowd sent chills down my spine. Donn Larson was standing not far away and I blurted out something about witnessing a ship’s birth and Donn, eyes full, said, ‘Can’t talk ... too choked up.’”
Maritime historian and author Frederick Stonehouse, though he’s been to several launches, still finds them impressive.
“Before the launch (of Alder), Coast Guard Cutter Mobile Bay had to clear thick ice from the river along the launch ways. Considering her assignment to Lake Superior, this was a fitting baptismal,” he says. “It was also fitting that as Alder hit the water her big cousin Mackinaw II was taking shape in the assembly building. I wonder how many times they will meet again in calm water, stormy seas or deep in winter ice? Having these two ships, built in the same yard at the same time, is indeed remarkable.”
Alder started its life with something of a history already. It is named for a one-of-a-kind, 72-foot vessel built in 1917 for commercial services and that in 1924 joined the Light Lifesaving Service, when purchased by the Department of Commerce for $9,690. (The new Alder cost about $30 million.)
Ken Newhams / DuluthShippingNews.com
Lake Superior Journal: Baptizing the Alder
The author, Jim Marshall, waits for Alder to make its debut onto the pages of history at Marinette, Wisconsin. The launch went off without a hitch, a good beginning for a new vessel.
The new Alder certainly overshadowed its namesake in size and power. It even overshadows the Sundew that it replaces.
With almost four times the power and 225 feet instead of the Sundew’s 180-foot length, Alder embodies improvements learned over the years and comes with state-of-the-art everything. Broader and more stable for rough water, it features sophisticated computer navigation and communication systems. It also has a significantly reduced onboard crew, which will allow retention of some crew members to handle on-shore tasks while the cutter is under way.
The one advantage Sundew has over its replacement is its ice-breaking bow that lets it rides up on the ice to break it. Alder’s reinforced ice belt, by contrast, stops below the bow so it cannot ride on the ice and must push through it instead, says its future captain, Lieutenant Commander Steve Teschendorf.
Berthed in Duluth, Alder will be of service all over the western and central Great Lakes. As for Sundew, it is slated for retirement to Duluth for permanent display.
If water traffic is not part of your everyday life, please realize that vessels move much of our commerce, and that they depend on good water depth and visible navigation aids. Alder joins its sister cutters, now operating worldwide, as technically advanced, highly capable buoy tenders. It is also equipped to perform search-and-rescue operations, law enforcement, pollution response and domestic icebreaking missions.
After a few shakedown tours, Alder will arrive on Lake Superior in late fall, just in time to collect some buoys and prepare for its winter chores. Then we will celebrate a new chapter in this history of our lake.