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On The Bridge Of The USCGC Mackinaw: Driving A Coast Guard Cutter

Posted at 8:31 AM, Aug 01, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-05 09:19:47-04

GRAND HAVEN, Mich. — As part of the feature “Let Robb Drive” on FOX 17 Morning News, I have been allowed to drive a number of vehicles ranging in size from a motorcycle to a recreational vehicle the size of a bus. I’ve always wondered if I would be allowed to drive the US Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw.

The answer: no. One reason: I was too intimidated to ask.

I was allowed aboard the cutter through the kindness and cooperation of the Coast Guard and the organizers of the Coast Guard Festival in Grand Haven. Once aboard, I talked to Lt. JG KatIe Braynard, the crew member assigned the task of taking the Mackinaw up Grand Haven channel to the cutter’s berth, where she would be parked for a week of public tours.

(Those tours are not to be missed. This ship, launched in 2005, is state of the art and a fascinating work of American engineering. Ship tour schedule.)

The controls of the ship are an astonishing computerized network that doesn’t just steer the ship left and right (ahem, starboard and port) but also gauges the waves, the current, the winds, and more to keep the ship on course.

There is no helm (the wheel we are used to seeing on the bridge of ships). The ship is steered with a joystick. That seems appropriate, since most of the crew members I saw were of an age where that must have grown up with computer games.

(Photography and editing by FOX 17’s James Baetens.)