Coast Guard's Hollyhock crew retrieves lake buoys

 Ship’s main mission is to maintain aids to navigation

By Nicole Hayden
Times Herald (Port Huron)

PORT HURON, Mich. (AP) — The Coast Guard cutter Hollyhock’s recent mission was filled with gingerbread cookies and giggles.

Crew members took the 255-foot ship out into lower Lake Huron to retrieve the buoys that protect the ships traveling through the area. Crew members also retrieved time with their spouses and children.

The Dec. 20 mission was gathering buoys and gathering families together, according to the Times Herald of Port Huron.

Alexander Berry, 10 years old, had an essential role in both parts of the endeavor.

Wielding binoculars from the captain’s spot on the bridge, it was his job to call “land ho” as the cutter made its way home to Port Huron after a day on the water.

Alexander’s dad, electricians mate Michael Berry, savored time with the Hollyhock’s young interim skipper, especially after spending most of the summer away from home while the ship was being overhauled in Maryland.

Sailing off to new horizons is part of life in the Coast Guard, Berry said, but it’s not easy for a family.

“I am hoping we stay here long enough that my daughter will be able to finish high school in Port Huron with her friends,” he said.

“Even though I understand that it’s hard for them to make new friends and adjust to a new school, I think it’s a great way to allow your children to see so many different places,” Berry said. “We have lived in Oregon and Alaska; both are amazing.”

Alexander loves the life. But not so much the job.

“I would like to be in the Coast Guard like my dad, but I just don’t like the motion of the boat,” he said. “It makes me nauseous.”

Mariah Greenwald knew what she was getting into. The man who became her husband was in the Coast Guard when she met him.

“I lived in Alaska, and he was stationed there for the second time. He was set to transfer and he told me he didn’t want to leave without me,” said Greenwald. “So we got married a few months later. We had to plan the wedding around the Coast Guard schedule.”

Her husband is a cook on the Hollyhock.

Greenwald said she always keeps the ship’s comings and goings in the back of her mind.

“It just comes down to: do you really want to be eight-months pregnant and in the middle of a transfer?” she asked. “It’s possible, but I’d rather not.”

When the crew is in Port Huron, Greenwald brings her 4-year-old down to the ship to eat dinner with her husband. Since they were married, there have been periods when he has been gone for half the year.

“We take what we can get. If it means eating dinner on the ship then that’s what we’ll do,” she said. “It’s honestly really hard, but we do it because it’s worth it.”

Edward Rubio, a junior grade engineer, sees the other side. He’s separated by thousands of miles from family, friends and the life he knew growing up.

“Life on the ship is not like a real 23-year-old’s life,” said Rubio. “You don’t have the opportunity to go out and meet someone. If you do happen to meet someone, you just don’t have the time to get to know them.”

Rubio is from New Mexico.

“I grew up in the busiest city in New Mexico, so living here now I don’t know what to do,” he said. “Sometimes you just miss everyone from your life, but these guys on the ship are like family now. We have to be here for each other.”

On the mission, the family was sharing holiday goodwill and hauling in some of last summer’s buoys the Hollyhock maintains on the region’s waterways.

Although it has ice-breaking capabilities, the Hollyhock’s main mission is maintaining aids to navigation. That includes twice-yearly trips to pull up and replace every buoy in its coverage area.

“The fall retrieve takes two to three weeks depending on weather allowances. The Hollyhock is responsible for the buoys in lakes Huron, Erie and Ontario,” said Lt. Jg. Brendan Crowley.

More than 1,900 buoys are collected in the fall, said Capt. Justin Kimura, the Hollyhock’s skipper. On Dec. 20, three buoys were retrieved, with a few more to go.

In the fall, the Hollyhock crew pulls summer buoys and replaces them with smaller, hardier winter markers better able to survive ice, cold and rough weather. In spring, the summer buoys go back out.

“The buoys are there to show mariners where they are and to assist them in getting from point A to point B. They also mark the hazardous parts of the waters,” said Kimura. “The buoys help keep the waters safe.”

Without buoys, the safety of the cargo ships would be compromised.

“The buoys are essential for commerce in the Great Lakes region,” Lt. Jg. Dan Kubasch said. “They literally create a highway in the waterways to allow ships to deliver their cargo safely.”


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