- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

HOMER, Alaska (AP) - A formal ceremony that celebrated the end of an era also served as a bon voyage party for the 17 crew members of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Roanoke Island.

She set sail Wednesday morning on a 7,000-nautical mile journey from Homer to Baltimore, Maryland, to the Coast Guard yard where she will be decommissioned. On June 4, in a ceremony at the Homer Elks Lodge, Coast Guard officials formally decommissioned the cutter that has called Homer its home port for all its 23 years of service.

After weeks of preparation, on Wednesday morning the Roanoke Island passed inside the green can — the Archimandritof Shoal buoy — and left Kachemak Bay one last time. Several families stood at the entrance of the harbor to wave good-bye to fathers and husbands. The Roanoke Island’s crew will sail both the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean and pass through the Panama Canal in a once-in-a lifetime, two-month journey.

In a speech at the ceremonies, Cmdr. Shawn Decker of USCG Sector Anchorage recounted some of Roanoke Island’s service since being commissioned in Homer on Feb. 2, 1992:

- 150 search and rescue missions, including saving three fishermen on the F/V Genoa in 2013;

- 40,000 hours underway at sea;

- 1,000 law enforcement boardings, and

- Helping with response to the July 1993 Icicle Seafood fire.

“Twenty-three years of service to Homer and Alaska cannot be recounted in a single day,” Decker said. “To the current crew of Roanoke Island, bravo Zulu, awesome job,” he said, referring to the name of the signal flag that means “well done.”

While Homer loses Roanoke Island, the city doesn’t lose its crew. All but one will return to Homer in August to take over operation of USCG Cutter Sapelo, another 110-foot Island Class cutter. Sapelo currently is in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and while Roanoke Island makes its journey east, Sapelo heads west — possibly passing somewhere along the way.

“She’s going to continue providing exceptional service to the state of Alaska,” Decker said of Sapelo. “We have no doubt Sapelo will continue the legacy of these cutters.”

Roanoke Island’s 12th and final captain, Lt. Michael “Clell” Thomas, also spoke at the decommissioning ceremony and formally read the ship’s final orders.

“I’ve gained a great understanding of who Roanoke Island is and the legacy she left behind,” Thomas said.

At the ceremony, Boatswain’s Mate First Class Michael Roy rang the ship’s bell as part of the decommissioning. The bell itself has history engraved in it — the name of a child of a past crew member christened on the Roanoke Island.

“Although we say good-bye to the Roanoke Island, as a ship she’ll be remembered a long time,” Thomas said. “It’s through these past events Roanoke Island will be remembered for eternity.”

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Information from: The Homer (Alaska) News, http://www.homernews.com

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