Coast Guard ship shines with manager's pride


March 28, 2000|By Nancy Gallant | Nancy Gallant,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WHEN THE newly commissioned Coast Guard cutter Healy made its way up the Chesapeake from Norfolk to Baltimore last week, Crofton residents Gregory and Sharon Johnson were aboard -- and for him, in particular, the trip held special pride.

Gregory Johnson had helped give birth to the Healy.

A Coast Guard captain, Johnson spent the past five years as program manager in charge of building the 420-foot vessel, designed for double duty as an icebreaker and a floating science lab that will enable researchers to work in Arctic settings.

The ship, built in New Orleans, stopped at Annapolis briefly to take on guests and then called on Baltimore en route to its ice trials off the coast of Greenland.

Despite rainy, dreary weather as the Healy made the first leg of the bay cruise from Norfolk to Annapolis, Sharon Johnson called the trip "fabulous."

"When you've been involved in a project like this five years and you know how much goes into making it work, to sail on this ship -- it was fabulous. What an experience!"

Gregory Johnson described his role in overseeing the Healy's construction as "a naval engineer's dream."

A 1972 graduate of the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., Johnson earned a master's degree in naval architecture from the University of Michigan.

He spent most of his Coast Guard career repairing and modifying ships. He served as chief engineer of the Coast Guard cutter Mellon for five years, and spent seven years overseeing maintenance and repair of the Coast Guard fleet in the Pacific.

In Seattle, Johnson became familiar with the Polar Sea and Polar Star, a pair of 400-foot Coast Guard icebreakers. One of their major jobs is to keep open a supply channel to McMurdo Sound in Antarctica, supporting scientific research and other endeavors.

During the past 20 years, interest in Arctic research has grown considerably. Laboratory equipment had been added to the icebreakers to support the work, but it had become clear that a vessel designed primarily for scientific research in Arctic waters would be immensely useful. So plans for the Healy began.

In May 1995, Johnson assumed his role as manager of the project. He traveled to New Orleans about once a month to oversee progress. He also worked closely with Coast Guard and Navy headquarters in Washington, with the shipbuilders in New Orleans and with a company in England that designed the ship's electronics.

In November, construction was complete and Johnson signed the papers to receive the Healy for the Coast Guard. During the past few months, the ship has been furnished and manned, and its seaworthiness and science equipment have been tested. Now the ice awaits.

Johnson explained that an icebreaker encounters different problems than an ordinary vessel. Breaking ice causes vibrations to run through a ship, and it is important to ensure that they do not affect the performance of the scientific equipment -- much less the working of the ship's propeller and propulsion system.

Even though the Healy is 20 feet longer than the Coast Guard's other ice breakers, it is so highly automated that it can run with a crew half the size of the 150 needed for a traditional icebreaker. To manage the technological complexity, the Coast Guard will continue working with the company that designed the ship's electronics.

From the most remote reaches of the ocean, the ship will be able to transmit computerized data by satellite to the firm's base in England, where experts can analyze it and help deal with any problems that arise. Over time, Johnson hopes that the data analysis system will enable engineers to predict and prevent problems.

From Greenland, the Healy will travel to its home port in Seattle, where it is scheduled to arrive July 29, Sharon Healy said, adding that she and her husband will be there.

Johnson plans to retire, and the couple will be moving to Portland, Ore. They have loved their stay in Crofton, where they moved in 1994. Son Ben, now 20, attended Annapolis Area Christian School. Another son, Paul, had been ill and died shortly after their arrival here.

Many of their relatives live in the Portland area, and Gregory Johnson would like to be close enough to visit Seattle from time to time to keep watch over his ship.

Jazzy honor for students

Twelve Arundel High School students have been named to the 1999-2000 All County Jazz Band. The young musicians -- trumpeters Shannon Argy, James Mulherin and Ben Elliott, alto saxophonists Benjamin Britton and Roman Ott, trombonists Brad Genson and Mike Lollis, drummer Tom Harold, guitarist Will Howard, tenor saxophonist Tim Paesch, string bassist Nathan Robb and vibist Greg Tsalikis -- have all been active in their high school's music program.

Anne Arundel's All County Jazz Band will present its annual public concert at 7 p.m. Saturdayat North County High School.

Teen Venture event

Jessup Teen Venture will hold its annual Spring/Easter Craft and Bake Sale from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 8 at Jessup Community Hall, at Route 175 and Ridgely Avenue.

Proceeds will benefit area schools and the April Horn-Hallet Memorial Scholarship Fund. Vendors will be selling items including birdhouses, jewelry, toys, cosmetics, sweat shirts and Beanie Babies.

Information or table reservations: Dana Herbert, 410-796-7999.

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