Reef sharks are typically native to equatorial waters, but now Alaska will be home to at least one, albeit an atypical example of the species.
The Coast Guard cutter Reef Shark, late of Puerto Rico, now calls Juneau its home port, replacing the USCGC Liberty.
The 87-foot foot cutter will serve Sector Juneau with enthusiasm and skill, filling the boots of the Liberty, stationed in Juneau for more than 30 years, with aplomb, said its commanding officer, Lt. j.g. Kane Alletzhauser, in an interview.
“We’re up to the task. I think 87s in particular are the perfect ship for Alaska,” Alletzhauser said in an interview aboard the cutter. “It’s got everything that you need and nothing that you don’t.”
The 87-foot vessel, which has several days of cruising endurance and a crew of 11, will fill the gap between the 45-foot response boats-medium and the larger vessels designated for offshore operations, Alletzhauser said.
“It’s a perfect cutter for coastal sailing. We’ve got a little more legs than a 45,” Alletzhauser said. “It’s a small package but it’s got a lot of teeth.”
The bridge is designed to be operated by a minimal crew, Alletzhauser said, playing to the ship’s maneuverability and responsiveness on the helm.
“When you’re learning to drive on a big white boat, you have to think a couple steps ahead,” Alletzhauser said. “It’s ultra-maneuverable. If we need to get up to some nook or cranny, the draft is about 5 feet.”
That maneuverability will serve well in the Southeast, with its rugged coastal features and powerful currents, Alletzhauser said.
“We could do figure-eights in this harbor and be completely safe,” Alletzhauser said. “It’s going to be super beneficial in this (area of responsibility.)”
The Reef Shark and its crew will support Sector Juneau in any role necessary, Alletzhauser said, but will likely focus primarily on two missions.
“We’ll be doing a lot of Living Marine Resources — fisheries enforcement,” Alletzhauser said. LMR and (Search and Rescue) are our two primary missions.”
The Reef Shark is also designed to be able to launch its small boat from a stern ramp, which is safer and faster than a cradle arrangement like the Liberty had, Alletzhauser said.
Reef Shark was formerly stationed in Puerto Rico, and sailed up to Alaska with her crew from Coast Guard District 7 before Alletzhauser took command as the crew is being completely replaced. The voyage took several months to prepare, including taking on cold-weather gear, and was a distance of nearly 6,500 miles, Alletzhauser said.
“She’s in great shape for doing that,” Alletzhauser said.
New crew for Juneau’s new cutter
Now, the Reef Shark is taking on a new crew, many of whom are already aboard, as the cutter is also slated for some internal refits.
“A lot of people asked- chose to come up here,” said Chief Petty Officer Anthony Horine, the cutter’s engineering petty officer. “I’d never been up here. I figured I’d see what it’s about.”
Alletzhauser came from a rotation in Florida as a deck watch officer aboard a larger cutter, he said — the Reef Shark is his first command.
“It’s a dream come true,” Alletzhauser said. “I’ve wanted to do this job since I was aware it existed.”
The cutter should have its full crew complement soon, Alletzhauser said, as they’re assigned to the cutter and get onboarded with the sector and the vessel.
“I’m happy to be here,” Horine said.
The small crew means every member has multiple responsibilities, Alletzhauser said.
“I’m super pleased with how hard they’ve been working,” Alletzhauser said. “It’s pretty cool to have this group of guys and gals that’s pretty close-knit.”
Once the cutter is fully crewed, they’ll be sailing down to Ketchikan for some refits, including replacing the onboard generators with more eco-friendly ones, Alletzhauser said, as well as looking at replacing the anchor for one more suited to Alaska’s deep water and bottom type.
“We’re currently looking at swapping our anchor,” Alletzhauser said. “The 110s have a heavy duty anchor — it was specifically designed for Liberty and Alaskan waters.”
With that cleared, the Reef Shark will be getting out in the channels and seaways of the Southeast, Alletzhauser said.
“I think it’s going to be AOR familiarization for the crew— and myself,” Alletzhauser said. “We’re glad to be here. Chomping at the bit to go out.”
Alletzhauser said he’s looking forward to getting out into the wilderness.
“It’s a beautiful place to be,” Alletzhauser said. “(I’m looking forward to) seeing the beauty Southeast Alaska has to offer.”