M/V Rum Cay Grace 

USCG Cutter W394 Hornbeam 

Commissioned in 1944, the USCGC Hornbeam was one of twenty "C" or “Iris” Class 180-foot buoy tenders that were constructed for the Coast Guard in the early to mid 1940’s.  These tenders were highly versatile, single-screw vessels capable of tending Aids to Navigation (ATON), conducting Search and Rescue (SAR) operations, towing, carrying cargo, escorting convoys, fighting fires, conducting weather patrols, and limited icebreaking.  In short, they were true Coast Guard cutters; vessels capable of carrying out the multitude of tasks assigned to the vessels of the nation's oldest sea-going service.

 The "C" class tenders included an improved propulsion system over the earlier “A” and “B” class tenders that increased the shaft horsepower from 1,000 to 1,200.  The “C: class tenders also had a larger fuel capacity than their predecessors increasing their range to 17,000 miles without the need to refuel when maintaining an economic cruising speed of 8.3 knots.  Their top speed was 13 knots.

 The Hornbeam was stationed at Woods Hole and Cape May throughout her U.S. Coast Guard career.  She participated in numerous SAR operations, including assisting after the Andrea Doria and Stockholm collided in 1956; temporarily assumed duties on the Nantucket light station in 1954; assisted in the shipping quarantine during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis; freed the research ship Gosnold from the ice near Woods Hole in 1968; escorted the USS Atka, which was taking on water, to safety in 1965; assisted her sister cutter Spar after the latter went aground in 1961; among other notable incidents.  In 1977 the Hornbeam underwent a major overhaul at the Coast Guard Yard as part of a 12-ship life extension program (SLEP) for the Coast Guard’s 180-foot buoy tenders.  This "major renovation" cost $17.5 million and involved the complete removal and overhaul of all mechanical systems including the main engines and the propulsion switchboard.  A bow thruster was added.  The ship was also re-cabled, re-piped, and all habitability spaces were renovated along with a forward hold redesign to increase berthing space.

 She was decommissioned on 30 September 1999 and put up for sale.  She was then purchased by ship brokers and put up for sale in the private market.

The ship was berthed in Baltimore where she sat idle next to the Domino Sugar Factory. In November, 2007, the sugar factory had an explosion and the ship was covered in black sugar soot residue.

 In January, 2009, the Hornbeam was purchased by Integrated Technologies & Systems, Ltd. Six weeks and over $400,000 was spent bringing her back to life.  On February 25, 2009, with the aid of a tug, the ex USCGC Hornbeam, now renamed M/V Rum Cay Grace, departed from Baltimore headed for Rum Cay, The Bahamas. It took 12 hours just to traverse the Chesapeake Bay.

 We sailed down the East Coast of the United States. On the second day, late in the afternoon, the lookout, standing on the Bridge, advised the Captain that he could see something floating in the ocean ahead of us. All the crew was called to station and the Captain ordered the tender to be deployed so that we could see what was floating.

 The tender, with its two crew, hit the water and motored away towards the object. Although it was still some distance from the ship, we could see it floating with the waves. The tender arrived next to it and the crew attached a line to it so that they could tow it back to the ship. As the tender got closer to us, the object took on the shape of a rocket. Once the tender got back to the ship a line was attached to the rocket and it was lifted aboard. Next, the tender was lifted aboard.

 Once everything and everybody were securely on board, all attention was diverted to the bright orange rocket that was now on board. After a few minutes of discussion it was decided that we had retrieved a Navy target drone. This is an automated rocket that is launched from a ship with a preprogrammed pattern. Then Navy personnel try to laser tag it.

 Once everybody had finished examining it, the drone was secured and we were underway again. It took us 5 days to sail down to Rum Cay. While in Rum Cay, more repairs were done to the Rum Cay Grace. She made a few trips to neighboring islands while there.

 At the beginning of July, the Rum Cay Grace headed back to the States. She sailed back up the East Coast, heading for her new berth in Jacksonville, Florida were she sat for six months.

 On January 12, 2010, Port au Prince, Haiti, suffered from the worst earthquake since 1770. Over 200,000 people died, although the true number will never be known. The day after the earthquake, Harry Briggs started reaching out to different organizations offering the use of the Rum Cay Grace to transport emergency relief supplies to Haiti. He finally made contact with the Volunteer Ministers, the outreach program for the Church of Scientology. This is the Church that is famous for its celebrity members such as John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and Kirstie Alley.

 The Volunteer Ministers, in conjunction with 8 other charities, had collected a wide variety of supplies in Miami and were looking for a way to transport everything to Haiti. After about 8 weeks of organization, and 5 days of restoring the systems which had sat dormant for the last six months, the Rum Cay Grace departed Jacksonville and headed to the Miami River to the terminal where all the supplies had been stored.

After a two week stay in Miami, loading as many of the supplies that we could, including an ambulance, a pickup truck to be used as an ambulance, MREs, stoves and wood pellets, and wheelchairs, walkers and crutches, we finally left Miami heading for Haiti.

It was a smooth trip up the river. Once we arrived at the mouth of the river, the pilot disembarked and we were on our own and on our way.

The average trip, depending on the weather, is between 4-7 days. Unfortunately, we hit bad weather off the coast of Cuba. 40 mile/hour winds made it hard for the ship to move forward. For several hours, the winds were pushing us backwards and the waves were rolling over the deck. Nearly all hands onboard suffered from seasickness, including the seasoned hands. After we passed through the rough weather it was smooth sailing from there.

 We finally arrived in Haiti on April, 2010. There was a large group of people from the Volunteer Ministries waiting at the dock for us and when we pulled up alongside the dock everybody cheered!

 Our next mission was to unload our precious cargo. Unfortunately, the VM had not registered their organization in Haiti properly and it took about 5 weeks for them to get their paperwork in order. The supplies, that were so desperately needed, had to sit and wait on the ship. Finally the day that we were all waiting for arrived. The permission needed to unload was given and the process of taking everything of the ship began. All the boxes were taken off and loaded on to trucks, then the wheelchairs, crutches, and walkers were taken next. The last items to go were the ambulance and the pick up truck. It was a great day for all.

 The Rum Cay Grace is still sitting in the harbor in Port au Prince, waiting for her next adventure.


The Rum Cay Grace is currently sitting on the rocks in the harbor of Colon, Panama, after she was taken without permission from Haiti by two old pirates and co-conspirators while only a skeleton crew was onboard. Once she reached the Panama Canal, the old pirates abandoned the vessel once they realized that their plan to smuggle fuel through the Canal was not going to work.

However, while she was sitting in the harbor, a big storm rolled in, broke the moorings loose from another ship, which then dragged 6 other vessels, including the Grace, onto the rocks. She still sits there today, waiting to be cut up and taken away. Sad story, even sadder ending to a fine old ship who served her country and masters well. The former USCG Hornbeam was much loved by those who crewed and sailed on her. We salute them and this wonderful old ship.

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