Sea History 170 - Spring 2020

Page 32

Siempre Preparado

US Revenue Cutter Algonquin in Puerto Rico, 1902–1917 by J. Edwin Nieves, MD, US Coast Guard Auxiliary

The gratitude of the inhabitants of the city of San Juan be expressed to the officers and men of the Revenue Cutter Algonquin for their gallant service during the different fires, which have occurred in the city…

library of congress


was reassembled on the other side in Montreal, an armistice was signed with Spain, ending the war. The “Algi,” as she came to be known by her crew, was then stationed in Boston and later was sent to the Gulf Coast to assist in the 1900 Great Galveston Hurricane disaster relief mission. The Spanish Caribbean would be Algonquin’s longest duty station. After providing safety and security in New York Harbor for the 1901 America’s Cup Challenge, she was assigned to the new US territory of Puerto Rico. Stationed at San Juan, Algonquin performed the usual cutter missions of humanitarian assistance, search and rescue, law enforcement, and responding to natural and man-made disasters. Her primary mission was enforcing maritime commerce and customs laws, and in this capacity, she patrolled local shipping lanes and inspected commercial vessels. Algonquin’s crew participated in several medical and humanitarian missions during this time. When the bubonic plague

army & navy register, 1906


hen San Juan City Council passed this resolution of thanks, the revenue cutter Algonquin had been stationed in San Juan for thirteen years, having arrived on its shores just a few years after the island had been made an official American territory. By 1915, Algonquin’s presence had become a regular and reassuring sight on San Juan’s waterfront because she was siempre preparado—always ready—to respond to the needs of Puerto Rico and its citizens. In 1897, the US Revenue Cutter Service contracted with Globe Iron Works to build a 205-foot cutter at its Cleveland shipyard for $193,000. The cutter, christened Algonquin, was commissioned in June 1898 and placed under US Navy control in anticipation of serving in the Spanish American War. Originally intended to serve Detroit and thus built on the Great Lakes, Algonquin had to be cut in half to fit through the narrow locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway. By the time she

—Hon. Manuel Moraza, Secretary, Municipality of San Juan, 9 June 1915

Algonquin’s officers and enlisted men at anchor off San Juan in 1906. broke out in San Juan in the summer of 1912, the cutter’s officers and men helped US Public Health Service doctors contain the disease at San Juan’s Puerta de Tierra (Inland Gate) wharf. Their enforcement of a quarantine, demolition of affected structures, and eradication of infected vermin prevented the spread of this deadly disease to the rest of the island. The crew’s efforts earned them a commendation from the Public Health Service Surgeon General. Algonquin regularly cruised the waters around Puerto Rico. The cutter made frequent stops at coastal towns and the local islands, Vieques and Culebra, transporting local dignitaries and government officials back to San Juan. She towed commercial vessels that ran aground in the treacherous shoals and shifting sandbars bordering the entrance to San Juan Harbor and other ports around the island. For example, shallow-draft caravelones, workboats used by local fishermen and commercial shippers, routinely ran aground or overturned in the rough Atlantic swell north of the island. 1912 saw another potential deadly contagion outbreak when Algonquin responded to a distress signal from a schooner on the southeastern side of the island. The British schooner Success was aground and taking on water when the revenue cutter’s crew arrived on the scene, ready to assist. Algonquin’s boarding party learned that among the stricken ship’s company were US Revenue Cutter Algonquin underway in New York Harbor while presiding over the America’s Cup challenge course in 1901. SEA HISTORY 170, SPRING 2020

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