Good News in Tough Times

When other groups are cutting budgets and abandoning projects, Coast Guard supporters charge ahead like bull dogs.

New Leadership 44

Workers at Morris Yachts install the interior for Hull Number 1, the first of eight new Leadership 44s being built for the Coast Guard Academy.Courtesy of the Coast Guard Foundation

Whenever I see one of those videos of Coast Guard rescue swimmers jumping from a perfectly safe helicopter into towering waves to go save someone who probably shouldn’t be out to sea in the first place, I can’t help but think about perseverance in the face of adversity.

So, I probably shouldn't be all that surprised that in what's been the stormiest economy in say the last three quarters of a century or so, supporters of the Coast Guard Academy have in less than two years found a way to raise enough cash from private donors to sign on for seven new Leadership 44s, David Pedrick-designed sloops that are being built by Morris Yachts in Maine. And they're predicting they'll have enough for an eighth boat—meaning there'll be one for each company at the academy—before spring comes.

Two years!

"You don't know how exciting this is for us," said a very enthusiastic Procurement and Fundraising Committee chairman, Bob Hallock, when I spoke with him this week to ask about progress on the boats. At this time two years ago, his committee hadn't even started plotting a way to replace the four Luders 44s that have been used for sail and leadership training for 40 years and counting. Hallock says the first sizeable pledge came in October 2009, from the academy's class of 1953. Since then, parents and alumni groups and the Coast Guard Foundation have brought in donations or pledges of $4.6 million, putting the fund-raising drive on the final leg of its mission to raise $6.4 million.

In December, Hull 1 was pulled from its mold. Now it’s in the Morris completion shed with its keel mounted and its internal components in. The deck is set to be dry fit this week. Meantime, the mold is being readied for Hull 2.

Hallock estimates the first Leadership 44 should arrive at the academy in New London, Connecticut, in June, with Number 2 right on its heels. By this time next year, six boats should be on the docks, with the full fleet ready for the 2012 training season.

Historically, only about half the 1,000 cadets have been able to do a tour on one of the sail-training boats during their four years at the academy. With the new fleet in place, every student will go through the program, which is a big part of their overall leadership experience.

“It’s been a really great partnership,” says the foundation’s Lisa Reed, describing how the three groups have come together for fundraising. In addition to alumni, parents and the academy leadership, backing has come from private donors and companies in marine-related industries. A group of individuals and firms in Houston, Texas, came forward and pledged funds for half a boat, for instance, and a similar group came together in New Orleans and is close to raising the other half.

“The good news is we’re coming down the home stretch, says Reed.

With a hint of irony, Hallock notes, “There couldn’t have been a better alignment of the stars for this thing than this economy."

With an overall slowdown in the marine industry, prices have come down, so they’ve been able to attract the talents of designer Pedrick and Morris Yachts, when otherwise they might not have.

Another example of the perversely perfect timing is the fact that Hall Spars was able to come in with a bid for carbon rigging that was less than what was budgeted for aluminum masts and booms. The result: the boats will have a significantly higher righting moment and will be that much safer at sea.

Says Hallock, “All in all, you can’t beat this project.”