The Coast Guard’s leadership says that the commissioning of the first new Sentinel-class fast response cutter (FRC) is ushering in a long-awaited and critically needed Coast Guard capability.
That era officially dawned on April 14, 2012, as the service brought the first ship in that class, the Bernard C. Webber (WPC 1101), into the operational fold in a ceremony in full view of downtown Miami, Fla., and into the shadow of commercial shipping and passenger vessels over which the Coast Guard routinely watches.
The ship was put into service by its crew of 23 Coast Guard crewmembers commanded by Lt. Cmdr. Herb Eggert, who has been working on the fast response cutter program since the service first started designing the ship in the mid-2000s.
Looking on as the ship hoisted its traditional commissioning pennant was a large contingent of senior city and senior government officials, as well as many friends, acquaintances, and admirers of the ship’s namesake, Chief Warrant Officer Bernard C. Webber, USCG (Ret.).
The ship’s sponsor is his daughter, Patricia Hamilton, who helped bring the ship to operational status.
“I can’t help but think that he’s looking down on us today and wondering what all the fuss was about,” she said. “He was a very low-key guy, but I do believe that today deep down, he’s also smiling, too.”
Webber was a first class boatswain’s mate assigned to the Coast Guard in Chatham, Mass., on May 9, 1952, when the 503-foot tanker S.S. Pendleton broke in half off Cape Cod due to 60-foot seas and 70-knot winds.
Braving the elements, Webber and a crew of three other Coast Guard personnel got under way from Chatham to cross a sand bar to reach the sinking ship, and saved 32 of a 33-man crew. All four were awarded the Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving Medal.
Webber joined the Coast Guard in 1946 and passed away in 2009. His 20-year career included not only extensive smallboat experience, but also a tour in Vietnam.
The entire class of fast response cutters will be named for the Coast Guard’s enlisted heroes and the first 14 of the expected 58-ship class have been named already.
The $88 million, 154-foot Webber is bigger and far more advanced than the older 110-foot Island-class patrol cutters that have been in service since the mid-1980s.
“I do love that new cutter smell,” said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp. “Standing here, in front of a new ship is a significant milestone for the Coast Guard. I’m excited to have the first of our new class of patrol boats commissioned. Recapitalizing our fleet is a priority for our service.”