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PUBLISHED: 5:21 PM on Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Group wants 'Queen of the Fleet' returned to Juneau as museum
One of the most storied Coast Guard vessels in Alaska's history may soon find a permanent home in Juneau as a maritime museum.

The Storis, a 230-foot Coast Guard cutter commissioned in 1942 and which served in Alaska waters for 59-years, set sail on its final voyage to California a year ago to be decommissioned. But rather then be scrapped for parts or sunken to form an artificial reef, a loyal committee of maritime enthusiasts and Coast Guard veterans are fighting to bring the icebreaker home to Alaska.


courtesy photo
  The Coast Guard cutter Storis, an icebreaker commissioned in 1942, is shown sailing underneath the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco on its way to be decommissioned in February, 2007. A group of supporters hope to return the Storis to Juneau as a maritime museum.
The Storis, which means "great ice" in Scandinavian, performed search and rescue missions and law enforcement in Southeast Alaska waters from 1948-1957 before spending the next 50 years in Kodiak. The Storis is better known in some Coast Guard circles as the "Galloping Ghost of the Alaskan Coast" or "Queen of the Fleet."

The Storis made nautical history while sailing in Alaska, which is why Jim Loback, president of the USCG Cutter Storis & Alaska Maritime Museum, wants the vessel returned to Juneau as a testament to Alaska's history at sea.

"If the Storis isn't made into a museum, it will probably be scrapped," said Loback, who was a crew member aboard the Storis in 1957 when it became the first vessel to navigate the Northwest Passage.

The successful 1957 voyage concluded a 450-year search for a northern crossing route through the Arctic Ocean for large ships. After returning from Greenland through the Panama Canal later that year, the Storis then became the first U.S. registered vessel to circumnavigate North America.

Loback said he has received positive feedback from Coast Guard officials and expects the Storis to be turned over to the non-profit company he and four other members formed. But first an act of Congress must transfer ownership from the Coast Guard, which Loback anticipates will happen in early 2009. Plans to bring the vessel to Juneau are tentatively scheduled for 2010.

Joe Geldhof, a Juneau attorney and secretary of the Storis Museum board, said Juneau's role as the hub of Southeast Alaska tourism is why the Storis will port in the capital city rather than Kodiak.

The Storis will be located downtown near the North Ferry Dock, where the City and Borough of Juneau intend to build and develop new cruise ship docks.

"Hundreds of thousands of people will be walking a few hundred feet from the museum," Geldhof said. "We need more things of substance for people to do when they first walk off the cruise ships."

Geldhof said plans for the Storis are currently intertwined with Juneau officials pushing forward with new cruise ship docks. But if new cruise ship docks are pushed aside for too long, plans to bring the Storis to Juneau may have to be tossed overboard. Location is key for the museum to be successful, Geldhof said.

"Now is the time to incorporate the Storis," he said. "Why shouldn't Juneau aspire to have a maritime museum ship? We'll have an excellent chance of bringing (the Storis) back. It's up to Juneau to push forward with new cruise docks."

Plans for the museum include interactive displays, handicap accessibility and guided tours. Geldhof said the Storis would be open during the peak tourism season and also for local events, such as school tours or social functions.

"We want to integrate the museum into the local community," he said.

Geldhof estimates the cost of bringing the Storis to Juneau, and getting the vessel ship-shape for museum duty, could cost $1.3 million. The museum board has been collecting donations and wants to avoid asking city officials for taxpayer dollars. The Storis board is currently working with cruise lines about marketing the museum.

Doak Walker, a retired Coast Guard communications chief with 29 years of service, is one of the local veterans pushing for the museum.

"The museum can help educate ... people about the Coast Guard's history," he said. "The Storis spent almost all of its time in Alaska and served many functions, from supporting outlying villages to transporting law enforcement, doctors and supplies."

To learn more about the Storis or to make a donation, visit www.storismuseum.org.

museum, it will probably be scrapped," said Loback, who was a crew member aboard the Storis in 1957 when it became the first vessel to navigate the Northwest Passage.

The successful 1957 voyage concluded a 450-year search for a northern crossing route through the Arctic Ocean for large ships. After returning from Greenland through the Panama Canal later that year, the Storis then became the first U.S. registered vessel to circumnavigate North America.

Loback said he has received positive feedback from Coast Guard officials and expects the Storis to be turned over to the non-profit company he and four other members formed. But first an act of Congress must transfer ownership from the Coast Guard, which Loback anticipates will happen in early 2009. Plans to bring the vessel to Juneau are tentatively scheduled for 2010.

Joe Geldhof, a Juneau attorney and secretary of the Storis Museum board, said Juneau's role as the hub of Southeast Alaska tourism is why the Storis will port in the capital city rather than Kodiak.

The Storis will be located downtown near the North Ferry Dock, where the City and Borough of Juneau intend to build and develop new cruise ship docks.

"Hundreds of thousands of people will be walking a few hundred feet from the museum," Geldhof said. "We need more things of substance for people to do when they first walk off the cruise ships."

Geldhof said plans for the Storis are currently intertwined with Juneau officials pushing forward with new cruise ship docks. But if new cruise ship docks are pushed aside for too long, plans to bring the Storis to Juneau may have to be tossed overboard. Location is key for the museum to be successful, Geldhof said.

"Now is the time to incorporate the Storis," he said. "Why shouldn't Juneau aspire to have a maritime museum ship? We'll have an excellent chance of bringing (the Storis) back. It's up to Juneau to push forward with new cruise docks."

Plans for the museum include interactive displays, handicap accessibility and guided tours. Geldhof said the Storis would be open during the peak tourism season and also for local events, such as school tours or social functions.

"We want to integrate the museum into the local community," he said.

Geldhof estimates the cost of bringing the Storis to Juneau, and getting the vessel ship-shape for museum duty, could cost $1.3 million. The museum board has been collecting donations and wants to avoid asking city officials for taxpayer dollars. The Storis board is currently working with cruise lines about marketing the museum.

Doak Walker, a retired Coast Guard communications chief with 29 years of service, is one of the local veterans pushing for the museum.

"The museum can help educate ... people about the Coast Guard's history," he said. "The Storis spent almost all of its time in Alaska and served many functions, from supporting outlying villages to transporting law enforcement, doctors and supplies."

To learn more about the Storis or to make a donation, visit www.storismuseum.org.

Charles Westmoreland is managing editor of the CCW and can be reached at editor@capweek.com


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