As the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Grand Isle makes its way back to Gloucester after seven months and $2.7 million in repairs, it is also working its way toward replacement.
All of the 110-foot cutters in the Grand Isle's class are scheduled to be replaced by the Coast Guard within the next few years, Guard officials say.
The Grand Isle is one of 49 Island Class cutters built from 1986 to 1992, though only 41 are still in use. There are six Island Class cutters homeported in New England, part of the Coast Guard First District.
The Coast Guard plans to replace the Island Class cutters with the brand new Sentinel Class cutters, also known as the Fast Response Cutter.
The Sentinel Class boats will be 154 feet long, according to the Coast Guard, and capable of speeds of 28 knots per hour. The cutters should have space for up to 24 crew members, compared to the 18-man crews on Island Class cutters such as Gloucester's Grand Isle.
Beyond the size, the two classes of cutters are fairly similar; they reach similar speeds and both are built to endure five consecutive days at sea. As far as weapons go, the Sentinel Class cutters have one stabilized, remotely-operated 25mm chain gun and four crew-served .50-caliber machine guns, to the Island Class's one 25 mm chain gun and two .50 caliber machine guns.
The first Sentinel Class cutter cost $88 million and has just begun service out of the Coast Guard station in Miami. Subsequent cutters will cost an estimated $60 million each, according to the Coast Guard, and the first will arrive in New England in 2016 or 2017.
The Grand Isle, meanwhile, is returning to service after undergoing repairs in Baltimore. It cost $2.7 million to replace 530 square feet of the vessel's hull, which was badly pitted and 85 percent deteriorated.
That damage was why the Grand Isle, originally scheduled for eight weeks of repairs to cost $1.6 million last summer, remained in Baltimore for so long. But the Station Gloucester boat's problems were hardly unique among Island Class cutters.
"The majority of this class have undergone these sort of repairs," said Capt. Richard Murphy, commanding officer of the Baltimore Coast Guard Yard.
In 2006, eight Island Class cutters had to be scrapped following upgrades that left the hulls prone to splitting.
The Coast Guard has plans to replace its 140-foot ice-breaking Bay Class tugs, built between 1979 and 1988, as well.
Other boats based out of the First District, which ranges from the Canadian boarder to New Jersey, are generally newer than the Island Class and Bay Class boats, except for the 65-foot harbor tugs.
Those tugs, eight of which are in service in the First District — and which are used exclusively on the East Coast — are the oldest boats in the First District fleet.
They are also the only boats built before 1996 that are not on the Coast Guard's "to replace" list, based on information provided by the Coast Guard.
The harbor tugs were built between 1962 and 1967 and do not seem to have systemic problems, Coast Guard officials said.
Stephanie Bergman can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.