The U.S. Coast Guard Buoytender Fir slips into Tongue Point ahead of scheduleAfter a 10,000-mile maiden voyage, the crew of Astoria's newest buoytender rested Saturday.

The U.S. Coast Guard Buoytender Fir replaced the Cowslip, which was decommissioned in December. The ship will maintain the giant buoys that guide ships into the Columbia River - "home to the most hazardous sea and bar conditions in the United States."

The Fir set sail for Astoria in July from Lake Michigan. For 68 days, it journeyed through the Great Lakes, along the Eastern Seaboard, into Central American, through the Panama Canal and up the West Coast.

Brandon Alani greets his daughter Danyeil Bertolani after his ship, Buoytender Fir, arrives in Astoria.

JENNIFER COLLINS - The Daily AstorianThe ship moored at Tongue Point Saturday, five days ahead of schedule.

The weather and a few closed ports aided the swift transit, said the captain, Lt. Cmdr. Hal Pitts.

Nearly 50 men and women aboard stopped in several ports - Halifax, Nova Scotia; Cozumel, Mexico; and San Diego, Calif.; among others.

Rear Adm. Jeffrey Garrett, who commands the local administrative district, addressed the crew aboard the Fir as they neared port Saturday.

"You have taken it from a piece of iron being built in the yard back in Marinette to a fully-fledged Coast Guard cutter," he said.

On June 27, the crew officially became "plank owners," which means they took the helm.

The Cowslip originally had the hefty motto: "No bull bartender." Members of the Cowslip's crew have been searching for a new catchphrase.

"We haven't come up with that part of the motto," Pitts said. "That will be one of our goals between now and the commissioning."

Chief Petty Officer Tim Stentz said he hopes another part of the motto - "No bar too tough, too rough, too far" - will follow the crew to the Fir.

"It's kind of hard to be creative with a tree," he said.

While he's fond of the new ship, Stentz said he was looking forward to being back home in Astoria.

This will be the first time Petty Officer 1st Class Elsa Sandoval has been stationed near her home in two years. Sandoval served aboard an icebreaker, which sails on seven-month transits to the North and South Poles. Sandoval's son Zachary, a Hilda Lahti Elementary fifth-grader, encouraged her during the relatively short Fir voyage.

"This time, he said, 'Mommy, it's only three months,'" Sandoval said.

She said the crew was anxious to get home.

"We've had channel fever," she said. "Everybody's just been so stoked."

The crew will return to the ship full time in early October and train in law enforcement and other operations before the Fir is commissioned Nov. 8.

The Cowslip was originally scheduled for decommissioning in 2001, but its service was extended after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In January, the Cowslip was transferred to members of the Nigerian Navy, which will use it for training. Some members of the crew followed the Fir to the Great Lakes for training.

JENNIFER COLLINS - The Daily Astorian

Petty Officer 1st Class Elsa Sandoval waves to her family as the buoytender Fir arrives at Tongue Point Saturday.Chief Warrant Officer Eric Olson worked on the Cowslip when it moved to the Columbia River in 1997. Olson directed the Fir into port Saturday, but he still felt loyalty for his former ship.

"She was a pretty good ship over 60 years of service," Olson said. "You become attached to the ship."

Olson said he won't miss the cramped quarters and will enjoy the technological benefits.

The Fir was named after another World War II-era ship homeported in Seattle. The new ship is equipped with state-of-the-art systems that allow it to remain in position and check its location by satellite.

The ship was launched Aug. 18, 2002, into the Menominee River in Marinette, Wis. The Marinette Marine Corp. built the 225-foot long ship - 45 feet longer than the Cowslip. buoytender to be commissionedU.S. Coast Guard Buoytender Fir will be commissioned at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 8 at the Columbia River Maritime Museum. The ship will be open for tours Nov. 8 and 9.At 60-years old, the ship named for a flower, was the oldest in the Coast Guard when it was decommissioned Dec. 13. It is better equipped than the older vessel to hoist buoys, which weigh thousands of pounds aboard for maintenance and repairs.

The Fir is the 13th of 30 ships that will replace an aging fleet of 37 during the next few years. The effort began in 1993. Using 500 fewer crew members, the Coast Guard estimates it will save $14 million a year, said Rear Adm. Errol Brown, who commanded the district when the Cowslip was decommissioned.

Buoytenders from San Francisco and Alaska managed the Columbia River while the Fir was traveling.

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