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AFSC Historical Corner:  Cripple Creek,  Very Brief NMFS Service

Early Pioneers
Research and Mgmt.
The Albatross, 1882
Early BOF Patrol Boats
FWS Vessels
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Cripple Creek
The Cripple Creek threatened by ice after a severe storm hit Kodiak, Alaska, in January 1972.
Doyne W. Kessler (NMFS), photographer.  NOAA Photo Library.

Vessel Details
Year built: 1953
Location built: San Diego, CA
Builder: National Steel & Shipbuilding (?)
Designer: unknown
Other names/id: T-446  (Army, 1953-?)
Curlew  (USFWS, since 1970s)
Length: 65'
Original engine: D-375 Caterpiller
Known skipper: Augustine Barcott  (1972)
NMFS service: 1971-73
Disposition: excessed in 1973

This steel-hulled vessel was built in 1953 for use in the Korean War by the U.S. Army. Designated the T-446, she was originally designed for running rivers, harbor tug work and transporting passengers and cargo.

Information about the boat's ownership and activities after her construction is lacking until the latter 1960s. At this time she was the property of the Bureau of Mines Marine Technology Center (BMMTC) stationed at Tiburon, on San Francisco Bay in California. Extensive modifications were made to the vessel by the BMMTC for conducting ocean undersea siesmic mineral exploration surveys.

By 1967, the vessel was being used significantly for testing various equipment on open sea cruises off the U.S. West Coast. Because of her design, however, the BMMTC felt that the boat was too unstable of a platform to continue using her for this work.

In 1969, the Cripple Creek – named after a famous mining camp – was acquired from the BMMTC by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for use by its Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife (BSFW). After obtaining the boat, the BSFW put her to use in Alaska for an eagle survey project. Following this work, she was sent to Seattle, Washington, where extensive renovations were made. The Cripple Creek then returned to Alaska to be based out of Juneau where she was used considerably as a base for bird work in Southeast Alaska, under the Raptor Management Program.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) acquired the 65-foot vessel around April 1971. She was brought to Seattle where most likely the stabilizers (or rolling shocks) she had were installed to minimize the rolling problem she experienced. The boat then returned to Alaska, arriving at her Kodiak headquarters on 11 August. She was used briefly in Prince William Sound before being deemed too unstable for open ocean work and consequently docked where she remained unused for well over a year.

  Cripple Creek with ice
An axe is used to remove ice from the stern of the Cripple Creek.  NOAA photo.

On 17 January 1972, while being moored at the Kodiak Naval Station pier, the Cripple Creek found herself severely listing from ice – built up over two feet in places – after exposure to a violent storm of sustained 70-mph winds (see photos on this page). Staff at the Kodiak laboratory had to brave the cold and spent several hours chipping away the ice to prevent the vessel from keeling over.

The Cripple Creek was excessed by NMFS in 1973 and the USFWS reacquired her only to find she had badly deteriorated while being idle. Extensive icing had caused damage. The engine, generators, bathroom and other systems no longer worked. Garbage and filth had accumulated from the transients who had been living aboard. The vessel saw new life when she was completely retrofitted inside and out. She also received a new name, the Curlew, after the endangered shorebird, Eskimo curlew.

Since the early 1970s, the USFWS Ecological Services Division has operated the research boat. Some of the work done with the Curlew over this time has included: transporting game, studying shipwrecks to understand coldwater deterioration and effects of wrecks on marine environments, sampling marine sediment for mining contaminants, and conducting numerous bird surveys.

The Curlew was in use by the USFWS until 10 October 2012, when she was sold at auction in Juneau for $92,015.

The USFWS vessel M/V Curlew.  Charity Haring, creator.  USFWS National Digital Library photo.

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