The Hammerhead, getting to know a ‘salty’ master chief’s cutter

White vessel a common sight to those entering and exiting the Steamship Authority.


The Hammerhead is one of those large white Coast Guard vessels berthed along the wharf at Station Woods Hole that Islanders often spy out their car windows when headed to or from the Steamship Authority terminal.

Technically called a Marine Protector Class coastal patrol boat, the Hammerhead is more simply described as a cutter, and at 87 feet, it’s nearly twice the size of the motor lifeboats at Station Menemsha. Like the Tiger Shark, which it routinely berths with, all the boats in the Hammerhead’s class are named after oceanic predators.

The Times was welcomed aboard the Hammerhead last month by Master Chief Robert Pump, the vessel’s officer in charge and a 25-year veteran of the Coast Guard.

Standing on the aft deck, Master Chief Pump pointed to one of the Hammerhead’s most distinctive features, a boat ramp angled through the deck and out the stern with a 17-foot black and orange rigid inflatable boat secured to it. Unlike some other types of Coast Guard vessels that require cranes or davits and multiple crew members to deploy similar craft, the Hammerhead can ease a boarding party down the ramp with just one person at the launch controls, according to Chief Pump.

Up on the bridge, Chief Pump switched on an infrared camera — what he described as one of the Hammerhead’s primary search and rescue tools. Islanders may be familiar with the gray-washed imagery captured from such cameras mounted on Coast Guard helicopters and planes — shots of the Iyanough when it crashed into a jetty on its voyage from Nantucket to Hyannis, for instance. Chief Pump trained the camera on a small cabin cruiser motoring through Little Harbor, and the glare of the water vanished. The boat was stark white against a graphite plane.

He said the camera is invaluable when hunting for somebody in the water. Absent the camera, “it’s like searching for a coconut in an ocean of blue,” he said.

To illustrate this point, he aimed the camera at a buoy in the harbor and switched the camera between infrared mode, which caused the buoy to contrast distinctly with the harbor, and normal white-light mode, which caused the buoy to practically disappear. In high, stormy seas, he said, the camera makes even more of a difference.

Chief Pump commended the toil of auxiliarist Robert Sabin, also on the bridge. Mr Sabin was at work manually updating ready-service charts — making sure they all have the latest Notice to Mariner corrections. While electronic charts automatically update, the charts Mr. Sabin was addressing did not, Chief Pump said.

“A very laborious and tedious task,” Chief Pump said. “He does a fantastic job.”

While Hammerhead is in port, Mr. Sabin serves with the 11-person crew of the Hammerhead two days a week, according to Petty Officer Nicole Groll.

Guardsmen The Times spoke to said they had tremendous respect for Chief Pump and characterized him as “salty,” meaning his appetite for Coast Guard activities and the sea in general was insatiable. As a testament to how much he loves to be on the water, guardsmen said, as soon as he’s afforded some leave after a series of patrols on the Hammerhead, Chief Pump takes the helm of his private boat and heads back out.