ALAMEDA -- The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Stratton returned home to Alameda on Sunday after a 97-day deployment in the eastern Pacific Ocean, where its crew seized about 500 kilograms of cocaine and disrupted the transportation of an additional 1,650 kilograms valued at more than $70 million.
The crew boarded two boats suspected of carrying the substance, seized one boat and sank the other off Central America during the cruise.
"Gunfire," Capt. Andrew Sugimoto said. "That's what we used to send it to the bottom."
The three suspected smugglers who were aboard the sunken 30-foot Panga-style boat were detained before the Stratton opened fire. The crew also launched two interceptor boats, and an aircraft circled above during the action in February.
"Everything came together perfectly," said Sugimoto, who lives in Walnut Creek. "It was like a Coast Guard commercial."
The crew turned over the approximately 500 kilograms of cocaine to the Drug Enforcement Administration in San Pedro on Friday, before the ship continued the final leg of its voyage up the California coast.
In all, the vessel traveled 22,000 miles since setting out Jan. 6.
This was the first operational deployment for the Stratton, a Legend-class cutter commissioned in March 2012 and named after Capt. Dorothy Stratton, who directed the Coast Guard Women's Reserve during World War II.
Trip highlights included a stopover in Panama, where the 145-member crew helped paint and refurbish an orphanage and rescued a sea turtle that was entangled in fishing line about 500 miles off the Panamanian coast, before releasing it back into the ocean.
Lt. Cmdr. Morgan Holden said she kept in touch with her family in Alameda via email while at sea. She especially missed her 3-year-old son, Zachary.
"That was the hardest part," Holden said after she stepped onto the dock, lifted the boy into her arms and hugged her husband, David Holden.
Sally Quijano, whose husband, Chris Quijano, serves as a petty officer second class aboard the Stratton, said the separation is difficult for those at home.
"Sometimes, you need a helping hand, or someone to talk to," Quijano said as she stood with the couple's sons, Baylen, 5, and Caleb, 14 months, and watched the 418-foot vessel arrive. "It can be a little stressful. You can feel temporarily like a single mom."
Many who gathered for the homecoming on Coast Guard Island in the Oakland-Alameda Estuary carried signs or American flags. Quijano waved a large cutout photo of her husband's face. Her husband's nickname, "Q," was in blue duct tape on the reverse.
"I wanted the crew to know who it was in case they could not make out his photo from the ship," the Concord resident said.
Jeanette Lester brought her three miniature schnauzers, Emma, Scout and Riley, to welcome back her boyfriend, Matthew Brown, the Stratton's executive officer. His return on Sunday marked the third time she has greeted him after a deployment.
"It gets better and better each time," said Lester, who lives in San Francisco. "It's likes waiting for Santa Claus."
Contact Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654. Follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.