Coast Guard Cutter Stratton, San Pedro, CA
I'm back from my deployment on the National Security Cutter Stratton. I met the ship in San Pedro, CA last week. After being assigned a room with 5 other members of the crew I was give a tour of the ship by Bosun's Mate Macdonald. Mac would answer all of the my questions and generally watch out for me while on board. I was allowed to go about the ship snapping photos on my own for the rest of the cruise up to San Fransisco. I think the crew were not as interested in me being on board as they were in getting to Alameda, the ships home port. Some of the crew had been working to bring this ship here for up to a year and the others were pretty much gone from home to bring the ship home 3-6 months. The crew wanted to go home and I don't blame them.
Myself and Bosun's Mate Macdoanld
We left the following morning which was great since I needed a towel and forgot my comb. There is no supply room on board so I took the shore leave van into downtown Long Beach and bought what I needed at WalMart. There were going to be 12 other civilians on board and the next day they were doing what they could to come up with towels for them...lucky me. I talked to one of the crew and when he first boarded a ship he had forgot his towel and had to go a week using his shirt to dry off.
On the bridge of the Stratton
The next day we headed up through the Santa Barbara channel which is pretty busy with ship, fishing boat and pleasure boat traffic. As we neared Pt. Mugu Captain Cashin brought the Stratton up to 30 knots and maintained that speed for 2 hours. This was not a situation to be painting en plein air up on deck. I was glad I did not bring painting gear. Over the next few days the weather and ocean swells would have made plein air painting too challenging for me. The winds alone would have made painting a chore and you need to be out of the way of the crew at all times. In older ships they had side decks to move about the ship. These new cutters do not have side decks so you are constantly heading below decks to move forward or aft. There are also no portholes so once inside you see no ocean or land...Mac said it is a lot like a submarine that runs on top of the water. If you tend to get seasick being inside one of these for most of your days would drive you crazy.
Sunset off of the Central Coast
Steaming up the Santa Barbara Channel would be the last of our smooth seas. Once out on the open Pacific we would have stronger winds and heavier swells. Some of the machinery I needed to photograph was either not on board or non operational at this point. This is more of a delivery than a Coast Guard mission so that was expected. I took shots at what was available and that will have to work for me. The good part of being on board was being able to really know how the ship feels and acts, what the equipment looks like up close and how it all relates. Understanding how the crew works and what is happening on a daily basis also helps to portray this ship on canvas. Going on board will help immensely to give a more accurate account to the paintings later. I'm thankful for the opportunity from the Coast Guard as well as the kindness and courtesy with all of my questions to the Captain, XO and crew while on board. It doesn't get any better than this.
Rolling with the swells before dawn
Sunrise and chilly weather as we moved north.
Sunday was cold and grey with clouds moving in. I would wake up usually about 3 times a night and finally get up around 5:30 or 6am...my choice. The ships crew operates 24 hours a day so it is hard not to be wakened by the sounds of doors shutting in long narrow companionways or crew members getting dressed to pull their watch. Although there were 6 of us in our stateroom there were never more than 3-5 in there at any one time due to the strange hours of their watch or duties. The strong swells also kept you rolling around in your rack the further north we travelled.
Docking in Alameda, CA
After heavy swells all Sunday night we arrived at our destination. Even I was happy to reach nice steady land. I didn't get sick so that was a bonus. I was able to snap a gazillion shots. I took my sketchbook but the situation to sketch never came up. Early on I was too busy hunting down my shots and later the swells were too strong and it was too cold. I probably could have used the desk in our room to sketch but the guys needed that and I didn't want to get in their way. Being on board the ship for that length of time made it easy to make mental notes for painting and I also made notes in a small notebook I kept so I feel I'm good to go there. Speaking to the crew members about life on board and their duties is also very helpful to me. Understanding the crews point of view helps make sense of a lot of things that might come out in some of the paintings later.
The CGC Morgenthau is a Hamilton Class cutter. The CGC Bertholf, the first built Legend Class Cutter that will replace the Hamilton Class ships. These ships along with the NSC Waesche were waiting for us in Alameda when we arrived.
In the darkness before dawn I would talk with one of the crew while he checked the operations of the deck cranes used to launch the small boats. You get a feel for that type of duty when you are actually standing there watching it be done. If I choose to paint that I will do so while understanding the procedure and really knowing the cold and dark conditions it is done in.
Lowering the Colors
The crew of the Stratton hooking up the fresh water lines to use while in port and fill the ships tanks. The cutter Waesche in the distance.
With the crew mostly off the ship and me staying another night I was able to finish up getting photos I wanted without getting in the way. I checked my painting notes and once satisfied began to pack my gear for the trip home early the next morning. Mac was still aboard so I was able to ask more questions too. Mac is a great guy and helped me immensely. Very professional and dedicated to what he does for a living. If I wanted to see something he always offered to take me there. There were other members of the crew too, who I ashamedly cannot remember their names, who helped me also. They gave me their point of view and voice and things they said I have no doubt will work its way into my work. Overall my time on board was an awesome opportunity for an artist to get first hand reference material, observations and background info. This material will help in future works and I'm sure help to produce better paintings to submit. I enjoyed the trip, a chance of a lifetime for me, and can't thank the following people enough for the chance to do it....
Mary Ann Bader
Rear ADM Schultz
Captain Charles Cashin
CDR Laura Collins
Crew of the CGC Stratton.
and my pal BM Macdonald
Now to paint....