Coast Guard's Kukui Puts on Quite a Show

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (02/06/99)
By Ray Pendleton

Loyal Water Ways readers may remember that just over a year ago, this column featured a new Coast Guard cutter that had just arrived in Honolulu Harbor.

Its name, Kukui, was not only fitting for a vessel stationed in Hawai`i, but it was also the third time a Coast Guard ship had been home-ported here with that name.

The first was a 190-foot tender which serviced buoys and lighthouses in Hawai`i and Pacific waters from 1908 to 1946. The second was a 339-foot cargo ship used from 1947 to 1972 to supply long range navigation (LORAN) radio stations throughout the Pacific region.

Such stations were subsequently made obsolete by the global satellite navigation system (SATNAV).

This new Kukui was another buoy tender, but with a significant difference. It was one of a new class being built for the Coast Guard as one of the world's most sophisticated sea-going buoy tenders.

At the time of her dedication ceremony at Coast Guard Base Sand Island last year, I had the opportunity to go aboard Kukui for a guided tour, but at dockside, I could only imagine its capabilities.

Naturally, I was thrilled last week when I was among a dozen or so people invited aboard Kukui for a live offshore demonstration of its state-of-the-art design, engineering and equipment.

Our hosts for the half-day cruise were Rear Admiral Jim McClelland, Commander of the 14th Coast Guard District, and once we boarded, Kukui's skipper, Commander Mike Cosenza, and his 42 officers and crew.

Kukui's primary mission is to install, maintain and replace those sign posts of the sea, our aids to navigation, buoys. And as we witnessed, part of the job is highly technical and part still requires old fashion brute strength.

For our demonstration, the Kukui replaced one of the outer entrance buoys to Kewalo Basin, which indicates to mariners where the channel is and, just as important, where the reef isn't.

Once the skipper brought the 225-foot Kukui into position along side the buoy, keeping that position eventually became a hands-off operation.

With its Integrated Ship Control System - an interaction of the ship's radar, SATNAV, and computer-generated charts with its single variable pitch propeller, rudder, and bow and stern thrusters - the ship can maintain station within a 5-meter circle without human assistance.

But, lifting the many-ton buoy, and some 40 feet of the chain anchoring it to the bottom, and bringing it on deck, relied on the strength of a 120-ton hydraulic crane mounted on the foredeck. It also relied on crew members well-versed in manipulating and securing such objects on a constantly lurching deck.

In less than an hour, the old buoy was unshackled from the chain, the new one was attached, and all was lowered back into the water.

Baring collisions with passing ships or heavy storms, the new buoy should last for about another six years before requiring reconditioning.

"It is one of our less glamorous missions," Admiral McClelland said, "yet it so important in ensuring our commercial and recreational harbors are properly marked to provide a safe and efficient waterway system."

Because this operation was only one of many demonstrations performed for us by the Coast Guard last week, and is but one of the many missions Kukui can be assigned to, look for more in next week's column.

Last week's Column -|- More Water Ways

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