WILLOW: Past and Present
The first Coast Guard Cutter to bear the name WILLOW was home ported in Memphis, Tennessee and began her career in the U.S. Lighthouse Service in 1927. The Willow was designed specifically for service on the Mississippi River as a replacement for the tender Oleander. She was 200 feet long and displaced 1070 tons. Powered by a 300 horsepower steam engine, she had a max sustainable speed of 5.0 knots for 1000 miles.
Two main features of her design were the complete plating of the underside of the guards and the longitudinal stiffness of the hull obtained by using a system of guiders instead of hog braces. Her side-wheels were 23.5 feet in diameter, nine feet wide, and had three-foot buckets. Each wheel was driven by a non-condensing, single engine, 27 inches in diameter by seven-foot stroke. There were six boilers, each 28 feet in length by 42 inches in diameter. She was the last side-wheel tender in the Lighthouse Service. She became a commissioned Coast Guard cutter upon the merger of the Lighthouse Service with the Coast Guard in 1939 and received the designation and hull number WAGL-253. During World War II she continued tending aids to navigation from New Orleans to Memphis. On Dec 15, 1944, she was decommissioned and transferred to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The second cutter named WILLOW began as the GENERAL HENRY KNOX, a 189-foot reciprocating steam, twin-screw vessel who was commissioned for service in the Army on April 15, 1942. She served as an Army mine planter until March 6, 1945 when she was turned over to the Navy and renamed the USS PICKET (ACM-8). She served as a WWII minesweeper until being transferred to the Coast Guard on September 20, 1947. Renamed WILLOW, she then served as a Coast Guard buoy tender home ported in San Francisco until her decommissioning on October 10, 1969.
Built at the Manitowoc Marine Corporation in Marinette, Wisconsin, the present-day CGC WILLOW (WLB-202) was launched in June 1996 and commissioned in April 1997. The second of 16 Juniper Class sea-going buoy tenders, WILLOW is equipped with a state-of-the-art navigation package that integrates the ship’s propulsion and positioning systems. WILLOW is one of the most advanced cutters in the Coast Guard fleet today, and routinely conducts it's primary mission, Aids to Navigation, in some of the most challenging and dangerous waterways in New England. WILLOW is responsible for 189 aids between its homeport of Newport, Rhode Island, and Bar Harbor, Maine, and periodically provides support for the maintenance of critical offshore weather buoys operated by the National Data Buoy Center branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
In addition to its primary mission of Aids to Navigation, WILLOW conducts Maritime Homeland Security and Living Marine Resources patrols, responds to Search and Rescue cases and has the ability to perform Marine Environmental Protection in the event of a major oil spill. WILLOW is truly a multi-mission cutter and recently added to its wide range of activities by conducting Alien Migration and Interdiction Operations in the Straits of Florida. Upon commissioning, WILLOW conducted the first trans-Atlantic crossing by a U.S. Coast Guard buoy tender in 33 years. On its 68-day voyage, WILLOW represented the United States in several international festivals and events and made port calls in six countries including Ireland, Portugal, France and Germany.