White Holly, 1947

July 15, 2020

White Holly, 1947

WAGL / WLM 543; YF-341

Any of numerous trees or shrubs of the genus Ilex, usually having bright red berries and glossy evergreen leaves with spiny margins.

Builder:  Basalt Rock Company, Napa Company

Commissioned: 1943 (USN); 1 December 1947 (USCG)

Decommissioned: 30 September 1998

Disposition: Donated

Length:  132' 10"

Beam:  30'

Draft:  8' 9" max

Displacement: 600 tons

Propulsion:  Diesel electric; 2 x direct-reversible 06 Union diesels; 600 BHP; twin propellers; 3 rudders (as launched); 2 x Caterpillar D-353-E diesel engines (1974)

     Max: 10.5 knots (1948)
     Economic: 7.5 knots; 2,830 mile range (1948)

Deck Gear: MARCO (Marine Construction & Design) hydraulic boom with a 15-ton topping lift, 10-ton main purchase and 4-ton relief purchase.  Hydraulic powered winch.

Complement:  1 warrant, 20 crewmen (1948)

Armament:  None

Electronics: A/N SPS-52 radar; 


White Holly was the former Navy lighter, YF-341.  The Coast Guard acquired a total of eight of these former Navy YF-257-class lighters between 1947-1948 for conversion to coastal buoy tenders.  They were needed to complement the larger seagoing buoy tenders in servicing short-range-aids-to-navigation, typically those placed in coastal waters and harbors.  

They were built entirely of steel and were originally designed to carry ammunition and cargo from shore to deep-draft vessels anchored off-shore.  These lighters were well suited for a variety of coastal tasks because their hull design incorporated a shallow draft with a solid engineering plant.  All of these 133-foot lighters had sufficient cargo space for storing equipment and an open deck and boom for handling large objects.  They proved to be capable and useful buoy tenders.  Each was named for a plant, shrub or tree, prefixed by "White."


White Holly began her career as YF-341.  She was built for the U.S. Navy by the Basalt Rock Company, Inc., in Napa, California.  The Basalt Rock Company, Inc., was formed in 1920, with its main operations centered on a small rock quarry which supplied rock, sand, and gravel.  In 1938, after difficulty in finding a sufficient number of commercial barges to distribute their raw materials, their Black Rock Unit started building steel barges to supplement their own fleet.  In 1940 the company bid for its first Navy contract.  In addition to supplying materials to the Navy, Basalt was initially contracted to build cargo barges, oil barges, open lighters, and one self-propelled freight lighter— YF-295.

YF-341 was the third YE-type vessel built at Basalt Rock Company under Contract NObs-808.  The overall contract included YFs 339-341, 420-421.  (YF-339 would later become sister-ship White Bush.)  YF-341's keel was laid on 3 August 1943, and she was launched on 8 April 1944.  Her trials were held in San Francisco Bay on 5 June 1944, and she was delivered and placed in service the next day.  YF-341 was assigned to the Fourteenth Naval District after being ouffitted at the Navy Yard at Mare Island, California. By 10 July 1944, YF-341 was ready for her assignment in the South Pacific and was sent to Pearl Harbor.  She operated out of Honolulu with a complement of eighteen men.

After the completion of World War II, YF-341 was acquired by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1946. The fourth vessel in her class, White Holly was commissioned into the Coast Guard as WAGL543 on 1 December 1947, and on 5 December, she was taken to Seattle. Once commissioned into the Coast Guard, her colors were switched from Navy grey to Coast Guard black and white.

According to White Holly's "Ship’s Characteristics Card”" dated 3 January 1966, she was 133’-feet’ in overall length, 132-feet in length between perpendiculars, 30' 8" in extreme beam, 12' 4" in depth of hold, 8’' 6" in draft forward fully loaded, and 5' 3" draft forward with a light load.  Her one mast was 56’' 3".  The vessel displaced 600 tons and had a maximum speed of 10 knots, fully loaded.  Her hull, decks, bulkheads, frames, and superstructure were constructed of steel.

Auxiliary boats in 1966 included a cargo boat, aluminum outboard, and three seven-man rubber lifeboats.  In 1966, she had her original diesel engines, which were opposed piston Fairbanks-Morse Diesels built by Union Diesel Engine Company in Oakland, California, with two propellers, 300 horsepower each, and two auxiliary diesel generators.   In 1972, White Holly underwent a major renovation at Curtis Bay, Baltimore, Maryland, and her machinery was modernized in 1975.  These modifications included updated equipment to improve her AtoN capabilities.

In addition to her AtoN duties, White Holly performed many assists and rescues.  White Holly'’s motto, “GOTCHA COVERED,” which was prominently displayed on the vessel, ‘described the confidence and pride taken by the crew in the prompt response to any job we are assigned.”  This can be seen in her activities.  In addition to aiding numerous vessels in distress, other more notable events included providing medical assistance in Sitka, Alaska, 16-17 November 1950; fighting a fire in Wrangell, Alaska, on 22 March 1952; transporting the National Guard from Metlakahtla to Ketchikan, Alaska, on 5 October 1953; and transporting aviation fuel to the mouth of Chickmin River in support of relief efforts for an avalanche disaster 43 miles northwest of British Columbia.

Log entries for 22 September 1953 describe a typical call for assistance:

"0430 Launch and crew away to investigate grounded F/V; 0500 Launch returned, F/V Silver Wave found high and dry on rock off Canmand Pt., will attempt to refloat at high tide; 0630 Anchored off Canmand Pt. in 6 fath. of water to 25 fath. of chain. . . . 1120 Anchor away, hove to off F/V Silver Wave, motor launch in water; 1135 Towing line being passed to EN; 1138 Commenced heaving on towing line; 1153 F/V Silver Wave afloat and clear of rock; 1200 F/V passed off towing line and coming along port side."

In November 1971, White Holly began a two-month, 8,000-mile voyage to her new homeport in New Orleans, Louisiana, to replace her sister ship, White Alder, which sank after a collision with M/V Helena on 7 December 1968.  The vessel was outfitted with supplemental communications and navigational equipment for her voyage.  Most of the 22-man crew were transferred with the ship.   As a tribute to her service in Alaskan waters, a proclamation was made in the House of Representatives by the Honorable Nick Begich on 18 November 1971, soon after the mayor of Ketchikan had proclaimed 11 November 1971 as "White Holly Day."  The proclamation stated:

"Whereas, the U.S. Coast Guard had ordered the transfer of the good ship White Holly from its natural and historic role as guardian of the last frontier, and
Whereas, the good ship White Holly has played a spectacular role in policing of international waters against foreign fishery encroachment, has assisted in many search and rescue operations involving America’s finest fishermen, hunters, loggers and miners, has maintained aids to navigation in some of the most hazardous waters of the world, and Whereas, Alaska now has attained statehood, the U.S. Coast Guard has mechanized much of its search and rescue operations by using aircraft to speed up its services to the outlying areas, and Whereas, the officers and enlisted personnel of the good ship White Holly have become outstanding examples of the U.S. Coast Guard, have brought its services and relationships closer to the people of greater Ketchikan than to those of any other portion of America, and Whereas, other portions of the United States of America now need and deserve this humanitarian service long rendered to Alaskans by White Holly, and Whereas, the door to the First City of Alaska remains always open to the White Holly’s officers and crew who will wish to return here for later duty or retirement,
Therefore, in recognition of the service of this vessel and personnel, I proclaim Thursday, November 11,1971 as White Holly Day in greater Ketchikan and by virtue of the authority in me vested, requested all citizens of Greater Ketchikan to pay appropriate tribute to the good ship White Holly and its personnel.
Done under my seal and signature this 5th day of November, 1971."

Her primary duties at her new location were to position and maintain buoys in an area extending from Gulfport, Mississippi, to the Mermentau River on the western border of Louisiana.  White Holly was responsible for over 190 buoys ranging from small 300-pound buoys marking the bends in the Mississippi river to 13,000-pound buoys placed off harbor entrances in the Gulf of Mexico.  In addition to her AtoN duties, White Holly was available to perform search and rescue, law enforcement, and environmental protection duties.

Existing buoys were maintained by lifting them onto the deck of White Holly, unshackling them from their anchor chains, cleaning and repainting them.  If extensive damage was found, a replacement buoy was used.  Lighted buoys, now powered by solar panels, could require new batteries and an inspection to make sure the new light was operating correctly.  In the Mississippi River, the current often pushed vessels into the buoy as they were making turns or passing one another.  Stray buoys that had broken from their anchor chains were retrieved.

Working aids to navigation on the Mississippi River, one of the nation’s busiest waterways, presented some unique challenges.  Water levels on the river fluctuated with the seasons.  In the spring, with melting ice and snow, the water level could rise 15’, and during the summer, dry spells could lower the water below the 12’ limit.  To warn riverboat masters, buoys were placed to mark those areas of low water.  The bends in the river required that the officer of the watch relay his position to any vessel around the bend in the river avoid potential collisions.  When passing, the tender and the other vessel agreed to pass each other on one whistle indicating port side to port side, or on two whistles indicating starboard side to starboard side.  The light marking mile 195 had special significance in that it marked the position of the White Alder accident in which seventeen Coast Guard crew members lost their lives.

In 1975, White Holly was awarded the National Defense Transportation Association Military Unit Award.  For his 1983 rescue of a drowning girl in a swift current off Fort Pickens Beach, Florida, one of White Holly’'s crewmen, BM1 Stephen A. Cirinna, was awarded a Silver Life-Saving Medal.

The navigation system along the Gulf Coast is frequently disrupted by hurricanes and tropical storms.  In 1985, a newspaper article ran a photograph of White Holly relocating channel markers and reported that damage from Hurricane Elena to the navigational system was $200,000.  The operations commander of Coast Guard Group Mobile was quoted as saying: "One of the requirements that the Coast Guard has after any major storm, whether it be a hurricane, tornadoes in the area, even a major winter storm where you get a lot of surf and tidal surge, is to go out and position check each aid and ensure it's on its position and marking good water for the mariner in transit."

White Holly was decommissioned on 30 September 1998.  She was initially transferred to the Canvasback Missions, Inc., in 1999.  Found to be deficient in size and configuration for the Canvasback programs, she was sold to the Seamans Training Center, located in Vallejo, California, and was stationed at Mare Island.  In July 2005 she was granted Oceanographic Research Vessel status by the Coast Guard.  Between July and September 2005 she completed an 8,000 mile expedition with Scripps Institute to the Line Islands 1,200 miles south of Hawaii.

 "White Holly"
10 October 1954; Photo No. 17CGD-101054-1;
 Photographer unknown.

"CGC WHITE HOLLY (WAGL-543) - Completion of availability at Seattle October 1954."
October 1954; No photo number; Photographer unknown

"CGC White Holly"
24 July 1961; Photo No. 072461-2; Photographer unknown

"133 ft. CG Tender USCGC White Holly (WLM-543) underway near Ketchikan."
11 September 1968; No photo number; Photo by PH1 R. Glenlccki

"White Holly (W543)."
No date; No photo number; Photographer unknown


Cutter History File.  USCG Historian's Office, USCG HQ, Washington, D.C.

Robert Scheina.  U.S. Coast Guard Cutters & Craft, 1946-1990.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990.

U. S. Department of the Interior.  National Park Service. U.S. Coast Guard 133-Foot Buoy Tenders.  HAER booklet.  Washington, DC: National Park Service, February, 2004.  [HAER no. DC-57; Todd Croteau, HAER Industrial Archeologist (project leader); Jet Low, HAER Photographer; Mark Porter, NCSHPO Consultant (historian), and Candace Clifford, booklet design.]