Dominating the gray-painted control room was a gleaming new propulsion control system, which monitors the 25-year-old cutter’s engines as well as propellers’ speed and pitch.
The computerized gear replaces a version dating from the 1970s that constantly needed fine-tuning, especially when a big wave smacked the Tahoma.
“It’s like you had an Atari (1980s video game console) before and now you’ve got an Xbox,” Hillman said.
The fuel purifier also is being replaced. It was so old that parts were no longer available for it, he said.
Docked nearby was the Harriet Lane, another cutter built in the 1980s and with a history of equipment trouble. In one case, a broken gear on its anchor windlass was so old that a new part had to be custom built, causing a six-week delay.
Admiral Robert Papp, the Coast Guard commandant, told Congress in March that equipment breakdowns in the 77-vessel fleet were so common that the biggest cutters go to sea more than half the time with major gear out of order.
DRUG BUSTS, BREAKING ICE
The Coast Guard’s 11 missions range from busting drug smugglers to icebreaking. In the last fiscal year, it carried out 20,000 search-and-rescue missions, seized 75 tons (tonnes) of cocaine, detained almost 200 smugglers and conducted more than 10,000 vessel inspections.
The burden falls mostly on the fleet of 378-foot (115-meter) high-endurance cutters, 270- and 210-foot (82- and 64-meter) medium-endurance cutters, and 110-foot (33.5-meter) patrol boats. Some may be twice the age of the sailors on board. The service also operates about 1,400 boats under 65-feet (20-meters) long.