BALTIMORE (WJZ)–Most of us have never seen them work. But their job makes the Chesapeake safe for vessels of all sizes.
Alex DeMetrick has a rare look at a hard job, performed in heat and blistering cold.
The Beltway’s drawbridge carries the morning commute. Down below, two dozen Coast Guardsmen are on their way to work aboard the James Rankin.
Their commute: a short ride, given a work area that stretches from Washington, D.C. to the C & D Canal.
The job: make sure 380 navigation buoys are in the right place and working.
“Right now they’re bringing in deep draft vessels up here, with only a foot of clearance between the bottom of the ship and the bottom of the sea bed, so there’s not much room for variation,” said Captain Mark Palmer.
That means hauling buoys out of the water and onto the work deck. The average weight of the load is more than five tons.
“Basically we have to do an annual inspection on the chain and mooring, so we’re going to pull the rock off the bottom and inspect all the chain for wear,” said Shane Yonushonis, U.S. Coast Guard. “Ice is the biggest issue for us and the cold, just having the guys out on deck for so long. It’s always an issue.”
The only heat is from the cutting torch, as worn pieces of chain are removed and new links are joined with a shackle and hot rivet, called a heat and beat.
Then everything goes back in.
“I requested this and didn’t quite know what I was getting into,” said Tonya Mills, U.S. Coast Guard.
The James Rankin is classified as a keeper’s vessel. And like all such vessels in the Coast Guard, it is named after an earlier keeper.
“This one was named after a light house keeper from San Francisco that was known for doing a lot of rescues,” Captain Palmer said.
These keepers are still marking the way.
The crew of the James Rankin also have other duties in the bay, including ice breaking and search and rescue.