Auxiliarist Volunteers aboard Norwegian Minesweeper

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Alta Broadside: Royal Norwegian Navy vessel KNM Alta.  USCG Auxiliary photo.

Gus Karlsen is a USCG Auxiliary Interpreter from Naples, Florida.  He is fluent in Norwegian, French and German.  Gus spends his time between homes in Florida and Maine, never very far from the sea.  Every couple of  years, or so, Auxiliarist Karlsen visits family in his ancestral home, Norway.

Article by Auxiliarists Bill Scholz and Mel Borofsky

During one such visit, Auxiliarist Karlsen was spending time at a pier in Moss, Norway, watching the ships come and go.  On one of those ship-watching days, a Royal Norwegian minesweeper, the KNM Alta, pulled up to the dock and Gus volunteered to help with the lines.  He noticed that some of the deck crew looked a bit mature to be active members of the Royal Navy.  Being fluent in Norwegian he struck up a conversation with some of the crew and discovered that they are members of the “Alta Society,” a group of volunteers, former service navy veterans and merchant mariners.

Auxiliarist Gus Karlsen in his Alta Society uniform wearing the ball cap he designed. All members of the Society now wear this ball cap. USCG Auxiliary photo.

Requirements for membership into the society were former naval or merchant service, an interest in participating and 200 Norwegian crowns (about $35.00). Auxiliarist Karlsen , a retired U.S. Navy Commander had enough money in his pocket, so he joined on the spot.

One summer, the Alta embarked on an eight day cruise from Oslo.  She had two ports of call in Sweden and two in Norway.  “I had the good fortune to participate,” said Auxiliarist Karlsen , “as the ‘new kid’ I was assigned to the deck force, handled lines, stood lookout watches, and slept in a three-deep pipe berth.  It was great to be out on the sea again on a well-disciplined ship.”

The cruise included a venture into Swedish waters where they were greeted by a Swedish minesweeper of 1940’s vintage.  The Alta was of early 50’s vintage therefore it was an unusual, if not unique, occasion of two historic naval ships of different countries operating in company.

Auxiliarist Gus Karlsen, USCG Auxiliary Interpreter Corp. USCG Auxiliary photo.

Following visits to their scheduled ports of call the Alta visited and berthed in Risor, Norway where they participated in an annual wooden boat festival.  Almost all minesweepers of that vintage, including the Alta, are built of wood as protection against magnetic mines, so the ship was qualified and greeted many visitors aboard.  “What a wonderful experience; great shipmates, great food, great weather and a stout ship.  I’m very glad to have that time on board and happy that I volunteered to take Alta’s mooring lines that earlier day.”

Auxiliarist Karlsen has crewed on additional voyages, the latest in 2012.  He has earned the right and qualifications to act as navigator and signalman aboard the Alta.

In 2010, Auxiliarist Karlsen read an article expressing a need in the USCG Auxiliary for foreign language interpreters.  His language skills and interests in foreign languages drew him to the organization, and he subsequently joined and became a member of the USCG Auxiliary Interpreter Corps.

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  1. Allison says:

    This is great! What an amazing experience for Mr. Karlsen.

    • Gus Karlsen says:

      Thanks for your reply, Allison. It certainly has been fantastic, and very enjoyable.


      Gus Karlsen

  2. Blake Sasse says:

    Is the “Alta Society” equivalent to the Coast Guard Auxiliary? Was the Alta a currently operational Norwegian Navy ship or a decommissioned vessel being operated by a private group?

    • Gus Karlsen says:

      Hi Blake,

      The “Alta Society” is not equivalent to the CGAUX.

      “Alta”, a coastal minesweeper named for a river in Norway as were her nine sister ships in the Royal Norwegian Navy. Built in East Boothbay, Maine and launched in 1953 as an AMS, later termed MSC. As part of the Military Assistance and Advisory Group program of the US Navy,she was given to the Royal Belgian Navy, where she served actively for a dozen or so years under the name “Arlon”. Norway and
      Belgium, to enhance their naval strategies, arranged an exchange of vessels, and “Alta” arrived in Norway in the sixties. She served actively for thirty years in the Royal Norwegian Navy. Upon her decommissioning she became a museum ship belonging to the Norwegian Department of Defense. The “Alta Society” was launched by a group of interested volunteer veterans of the sea services, who maintain and operate her in the summer along the coast of Norway. She makes port calls, serves as flagship for maritime festivals and expositions receiving many visitors at each port of call. Her support comes from government sources and association dues.

  3. George Barantseff says:

    It’s good to read about the Interpreter Corps activities again. The Auxiliary Manual has provisions specifying the criteria for earning the AUX Cutterman Pin. I wonder if the service aboard ALTA would meet some of the two-year back-to-back 52-hours-per-year requirement? Having earned the right to be navigator and signalman should have some bearing on some of the qualifications. I think it’s worthwhile being looked into. I didn’t find out about the AUX Cutterman Pin until after I stopped being deployed on ALPATs aboard 378’s in 2005, and now it’s too late.

    • Gus Karlsen says:

      Hi George. Thank you for your reply. I would be very interested in pursuing answers to your questions regarding eligibility for the AUX Cutterman pin. We lived aboard M314 Alta and operated at sea for 6-10
      days per cruise. That is quite a few hours.

      Thank you for your service.


      Gus Karlsen

      • George Barantseff says:

        Hello, Gus – The AUX Cutterman Pin requirements are spelled out in the Auxiliary Manual. You can access it on line. Some of the criteria can be satisfied at the Auxiliary level, e.g. Emergency First Aid, Navigation, etc. but some of it has to be satisfied aboard a cutter, e.g. watchstanding. One specific requirement is that you must have served aboard for at least 52 days – not hours – per year (sorry for the previous typo on that issue,) but the days need not be consecutive in each of the two back-to-back years. If there is a break in between and the two years are not contiguous, then all of the time is not counted towards meeting the requirements. The AUX Manual is very specific about this. Congratulations on your successful and continuing outreach with the ALTA Society. GB

  4. George Barantseff says:

    I should have mentioned that I was deployed as a member of the USCG Auxiliary Interpreter Corps (Russian-Japanese-English) from 1999 to 2005. There were other CGAUX Russian-English interpreters similarly deployed in the Alaskan and Antarctic waters.

  5. George Barantseff says:

    Norway’s equivalent to the USCG Auxiliary is the Norwegian Sea Rescue Society.

  6. Nancy Johnsen Kaye says:

    Hi Gus,
    I’m with C.G. Aux Flotilla 19 in Blaine, WA. On my Dad’s side of the family 1/2 were from Moss, Norway and the other 1/2 from Tromso. I visited Moss one Christmas about 40 years ago. Glad for your experience.

    • Gus Karlsen says:

      Thank you for your reply, Nancy. Glad you had a chance to visit Norway. Christmas is really special there.


      Gus Karlsen

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