This special edition of the Why I Serve at Sea series recognizes Capt. Patrick Culver. The Ancient Mariner program was established in 1978 to honor those who have chosen to accept the responsibilities of serving as a Cutterman and following the path of life at sea. This designation not only recognizes seagoing longevity but also extols the officer and enlisted Cuttermen whose personal character and performance standards honor the most venerable practitioners of seamanship and reflect our core values. The Gold (officer) and Silver (enlisted) Ancient Mariner designees hold this distinction until retirement, release from active duty, or upon display of unsatisfactory performance or conduct. Culver was relieved by Cdr. Donald Stiker as the Gold Ancient Mariner on June 26.
Name: Patrick A. Culver
Rank: Captain from CWO-LT, Chief Quartermaster, and Chief Warrant Boatswain
Hometown: Richmond, Va.
Personal: Married childhood sweetheart, Jennifer Richards Culver in 2018. Five children between us (three me, two her) and 10 grandchildren (four me, six her).
Joined Coast Guard: Oct. 19, 1981
Sea time to date: Just shy of 14 years of sea duty
Current Assignment: Coast Guard liaison officer to Joint Interagency Task Force — South in Key West, Fla. and recently served as commodore of the Commander Task Unit in support of Operation Vigilant Sentry (Jan. 15 to Feb. 26).
Previously served aboard: Coast Guard Cutter (CGC) Point Arena (two tours, 3.6 years); CGC Salvia; CGC Taney; CGC Ocracoke; CGC Dauntless (two tours, 4.4 years); CGC Alert (commanding officer); CGC James (commodore); Station San Juan, Puerto Rico; Station South Padre Island, Tex.; Maritime Safety and Security Team Galveston; Fifth CG District Command Center; Atlantic Area Cutter Forces; Seventh CG District; CG Group Key West Command Center; Quartermaster and Signalman “A” school; and basic training. Temporary duty aboard CGC Padre, CGC Stikinak and CGC Point Glass and a U.S. Navy destroyer and Jamaican Defense Forces Ship Fort Charles.
Why did I join the Coast Guard?
I should’ve been locked up in a military prep school after high school, just to get the discipline and good study habits inherent in the structure of military school. As it was, I signed a national letter of intent to play college soccer, played the season on scholarship, and saw time as a freshman, and left school after the first semester as I needed the military to shape me up. The Coast Guard recruiter was the only recruiter (I spoke to the Navy and Marine Corps recruiters who were over the top), who didn’t try and sell me a bill of goods. It has proven a great and lasting decision.
Was the service what I expected?
Every bit and more. I was assigned to a patrol boat in the mid-Atlantic and we responded to countless heavy weather SAR (search and rescue) cases in nor’easters. Chief Boatswain’s Mate (retired) Michael Cosmo was my company commander. He focused us on details, which proved key to staying alive in the hostile environment of heavy weather. Life at sea aboard a ship with a crew of 10 was demanding and required everyone to pull their weight and understand their role as seconds of miscommunications could create a situation that could end up bad for everyone. Chief Cosmo set the stage where nothing was so stressful that I couldn’t figure it out and get the job done.
How was my first deployment?
Open ocean, 100 nautical miles from land, stars as far as you could see, one little speck in this universe, and cold, and glorious, and unique and so different from anything else I’d ever experienced. I fell in love with the immensity of it all and my role in serving others at sea. I loved feeling small and yet a part of it all in a bigger plan.
Did you ever get seasick?
There are two kinds of people: those who get seasick and those who lie. Just kidding. I’ve been sick about five times in 42 years. Don’t eat chocolate and shrimp in heavy weather on an 82’ (patrol boat). Don’t stand next to a shipmate puking his guts out and wearing puke on his cheek. Eat huge meals with lots of meat and potatoes before going into heavy weather. Stay away from red sauces.
When was the moment you knew the Coast Guard was for you?
When I saw the sunrise at sea and smelled the salt air, I was home. That’s the stuff dreams were made of for this lad. My mates. The adventures. The shared glories, and tragedies. The camaraderie. You don’t experience this life ashore. No way.
Do you prefer big ships or small ships?
I like them all, but command of a large ship is the absolute bomb. Commodore duty was with two of my longstanding shipmates, the captain and operations officer were old friends and serving alongside them aboard JAMES was an honor and privilege second only to my command of ALERT. But the Point Class boats (82-foot cutters) left an indelible mark on my soul. Hard work. Small crews. Big ships create shipmates for life.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve done underway?
Interdicting pirate boats laden with poisonous drugs. I ran countless SAR cases aboard patrol boats and small boats. A jet crash in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, was a highlight of my time at Station San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1985. We rescued two and recovered one (deceased) and one went down with the aircraft. But the circumstances were the stuff of legend. Just cool and different work all around. We had a whale swim alongside the ship for five minutes in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (2016) and it looked up at us, rolled over, looked up at us, rolled over, completely chill, and then it sounded but it was less than 20 meters away from us and it was truly communing with nature.
What advice do you have for new recruits going to sea?
Get qualified at all watch stations as quickly and safely and thoroughly as possible. Your value goes from “another boot — uggh!” to “super boot” and you become a fully-vested member of the crew. Appreciate the “hard” of the nature of life at sea. Easy was yesterday. You belong to something bigger than yourself. It is not about YOU. It is about US. It is about looking out for your shipmates and them looking out for you.
What’s next for you?
Graduate school in Monterey, Calif., for another master’s degree. I was accepted to the Middlebury Institute of International Studies where I’ll study International Trade and Economic Diplomacy with the goal of entering the private sector to influence normalization of relations with Cuba. Or maybe I’ll just retire to our farms … you know, put an oar over my shoulder, and start walking inland, and when someone asks, “What’s that wooden thing over your shoulder, sir?” I’ll know I’ve arrived, and no nor’easter will ever get me recalled again.
In the News:
“The impact we have globally and in our communities” - Why CPO Gentry serves at sea > United States Coast Guard > My Coast Guard News (uscg.mil)
“The ocean is your office” Why Chief Llamas serves at sea > United States Coast Guard > My Coast Guard News (uscg.mil)
"I like a challenge" - Why CPO Sharina Komen serves at sea > United States Coast Guard > My Coast Guard News (uscg.mil)