The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) hosted an open house Dec. 10 at the Carrabelle City Marina for guests to see the newly renovated Gulf Sentry, an 85-foot, aluminum vessel.
The vessel was ceremonially christened on Aug. 17 in Dania Beach and recently arrived in Carrabelle for duty. The vessel and its captain, Lt. Scott Pearce, will patrol the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, focusing on resource protection, public safety and boating-regulation enforcement.
Members of the Franklin County community attended the open house, as did numerous law enforcement officials, retired captains Early Whaley and Richard Miller, who captained the vessel before its renovations, and members of the media.
After a brief ceremony, guests received a tour of the vessel and were taken for a ride.
“While the captain and crew for this vessel are FWC staff,” Col. Jim Brown, director of the FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement, said at the ceremony, “she truly belongs to all of the people of the state of Florida.”
The Gulf Sentry was originally manufactured in 1968 for the U.S. Air Force and was used as a missile-retriever until 1994. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used it next and eventually loaned the vessel to the FWC, which performed federal fisheries enforcement and search-and-rescue missions with it for the next 14 years.
After many years of service as the JJ Brown, the vessel needed extensive repairs to remain operational. In 2008, the vessel was fully transferred to the FWC, and Joint Enforcement Agreement funding was acquired for a major overhaul.
The restoration project was awarded to the Derecktor of Florida shipyard in Dania. The boat, now named the Gulf Sentry, has a new bottom, engines, electrical and plumbing work, berthing area, galley and improved pilot house. There are also numerous “green” features incorporated into the new design. These include C32 ACERT engines that meet tier-two emission regulations, meaning they produce no smoke and have better fuel economy. They also feature air-driven hydraulic systems, which prevent potential loss of oils. Recycled materials were used in construction of cabin interiors; a fuel-fill system was designed to eliminate fuel spills during fill-ups; and the shaft angles, rudders and bottom were redesigned to increase efficiency.
“The vessel has undergone a complete renovation,” Brown said. “She is now environmentally friendly and perfectly equipped for patrolling Florida’s waters and protecting its valuable natural resources and people.”
From its port in Carrabelle, the vessel will operate primarily between St. Marks and Pensacola, out to 200 miles offshore.
The Gulf Sentry is one of the FWC’s Heavy Endurance Class offshore patrol vessels, capable of extended patrol in offshore areas during varying weather conditions. They range from 50 to 85 feet in length and have unique berthing, support facilities and equipment to enable them to operate on multi-day missions without returning to port.
“These vessels aid in our core missions – resource protection, public safety and boating-regulation enforcement,” Brown said. “Additionally, the vessels and their crews provide the state with a valuable service, as they are often the only law enforcement asset on patrol in offshore waters,” he said.