ALAMEDA -- The Coast Guard cutter Waesche set out Tuesday to take part in an international military exercise in the waters around Hawaii.
Before the Waesche left San Francisco Bay and began its journey to San Diego -- the first stop in its voyage across the vast Pacific -- the crew performed one final ceremonial duty.
As the ship passed Yerba Buena Island and the home of Vice Adm. Charles Ray, the Coast Guard commander for the Pacific area, the crew gathered along the starboard side and saluted.
"We are rendering honors," said Dustin See, a lieutenant junior grade and deck watch officer aboard the Waesche. "The crew of every cutter does it when it passes."
Forty-six vessels from more than 20 countries will gather in Hawaii between June 26 and Aug. 1 for the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, or RIMPAC, the world's largest international maritime warfare exercise.
The event gives the crews from the various countries an opportunity to train and discover how well they work together as they carry out practice engagements, vessel boardings, amphibious landings, air sorties and other activities.
The Waesche will lead a group of 10 ships, including those from China, Japan, Brunei, France and Mexico.
"The whole focus of this is to demonstrate our 'interoperability' and our ability to work with other nations," said John McKinley, the Waesche's captain, as the ship approached the Bay Bridge on its way to sea.
But McKinley also noted that Hawaiian authorities plan to review their disaster relief plans around the islands during the event and to find ways to improve them.
This will mark the first time that China has taken part in the military exercise, which is held every other year and hosted by the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet. It's also the first time for the Royal Norwegian Navy, which is sending a Fridtjof Nansen-class frigate.
"It's a way for us to see their tactics and how they do things," See said. "But it's always an interesting experience when you get to interact with maritime services from other countries."
A Virginia native and Coast Guard Academy graduate, See said he's also just looking forward to the trip across the Pacific and visiting Hawaii for the first time.
"When you are at sea, you fall into a routine," he said. "It makes life a little easier. You miss home a little bit, but I have always enjoyed my time at sea."
The 418-foot Waesche, homeported at Coast Guard Island in Alameda, was commissioned in May 2010 and is the second of the Legend-class National Security Cutters. It is named in honor of Adm. Russell Waesche, the Commandant of the Coast Guard from 1936 to 1945.
Among the ship's approximately 130 crew members is Bosun's Mate 1st Class John Savastano, whose duties Tuesday including raising the U.S. flag as the Waesche pulled away from the pier.
"This is my last time getting underway from Alameda," Savastano said as the flag snapped in the breeze. "Next time you see me I will be at Station Sandy Hook, New Jersey."
Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter @Peter_Hegarty.