Coast Guard decommissions longtime Southeast Alaska cutter Anacapa

a Coast Guard cutter
The Coast Guard cutter Anacapa at anchor (Courtesy Josh Rathmann)

When Josh Rathmann was a petty officer second class boatswain’s mate aboard the Coast Guard cutter Anacapa, there was no EMT onboard – he was the designated “medical guy.”

“Everyone was like, okay, Josh, you’re up,” he said. “I’m like ‘(expletive)’ you know. And so this dude is – I mean – he’s, in and out of consciousness, he’s stopping breathing…”

The U.S. Coast Guard decommissioned the Anacapa at a ceremony in Port Angeles, Wash. on April 26. In its more than three decades stationed in Petersburg, the Anacapa responded to a lot of emergency situations. The crew went on search and rescue missions, responded to natural disasters and rescued fishermen from a sinking ship

This time, a crewmember on another Coast Guard vessel was having a medical emergency. 

Crew transferred him to the Anacapa, which was faster than the other boat. They headed full steam for Ketchikan.

Now, Rathmann is Petersburg’s Emergency Services Coordinator, but he didn’t have all that medical training in 2017. Still, he knew a little bit. More than anyone else.

“I was giving them sips of orange juice because I thought maybe low blood sugar or something,” he said. There were guys that were coming down and running and getting supplies for me. It was a great team effort.”

Partway there, they were met by a third, even faster, Coast Guard boat, which brought the man to Ketchikan to be medivaced.

“It worked great,” Rathmann said. “Everybody worked together tremendously, seamlessly. You know, all the guys on our ship, all the guys on the other ship.” 

Rathmann said he found out later that the man was in septic shock and on the verge of death. He said the Coast Guard’s teamwork saved the man’s life – and made him proud of his Anacapa crewmates and fellow coasties around Southeast. 

Besides conducting rescue missions, the Anacapa crew also acted as marine law enforcement, disentangled whales, delivered a Christmas tree to the state capital, and even used its cannon to sink a derelict Japanese ghost ship off the coast of Southeast Alaska after the Fukushima tsunami.

But Rathmann said it wasn’t all work.

“We’d fish for halibut, and if we’d catch halibut, we’d filet it up and our cook would cook it up the next day and make halibut tacos. We would take the small boat over to shore and we’d go deer hunting. And one of the guys got a deer the one time – brought it back on board, strung it up on the back deck,” he said.

Rathmann wasn’t surprised to see the Anacapa decommissioned. He said the boat had quirks.

“It never failed, every time it went underway, we had some issue,” he said. “Every single time we had an issue…we ended up calling it the Ana-crap-a, we’d joke about it,” he said, laughing.

The service life of the Anacapa, like all Island Class cutters, was designed to be about three decades. But Mike Salerno, a Coast Guard public affairs officer, said older boats get more and more difficult to maintain.

“The boat was built in the 1980s. So, just like an old car takes a little bit more work to stay in pristine conditions, you know, the older a ship gets, the more maintenance it’ll require,” he said.

He said sometimes it’s tough to do that maintenance because parts just aren’t available.

“You know, manufacturers sometimes will stop making parts that they used to make in abundance – now they’re much more sparse,” he said.

The Coast Guard had planned to decommission the ship at the end of its 32 years in Petersburg, but it got a couple more years of use in Port Angeles, where it replaced a vessel in worse condition. 

The Anacapa is now on its way to Baltimore, via the Panama Canal. It’s headed to a place called the Cutter Transition Division, where decommissioned vessels go to get prepped for their next phase of life. Salerno said sometimes the Coast Guard sells the boats to other countries for use in those nations’ militaries. And sometimes the cutters are stripped for parts.

“The Coast Guard will reintroduce the parts and equipment back into the Coast Guard, and sometimes Navy, supply chains for use on ships that are still operational,” he said.

Salerno said he can’t be sure, but the Anacapa’s ultimate destination will likely be one of those two.

Josh Rathmann, who was honorably discharged from Coast Guard in 2019, is one of several former Anacapa crewmembers who have made Petersburg their home. He said it’s bittersweet to see the ship go.

“I mean, it was a good boat. I think it’s a living legend, you know, especially in Southeast. It’s served the community and the region for years and years and years,” he said.

The Coast Guard Cutter Pike, an 87-foot patrol boat, replaced the Anacapa in Petersburg in June of 2022. 

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