BANGOR, Wash. -- Coast Guard cutters turned water cannons on a ragtag fleet of anti-nuclear blockaders Thursday and cleared a path for the first Trident submarine to reach port and take on an arsenal ofhydrogen bombs.
The USS Ohio steamed past the waterlogged peace protesters to a hearty welcome by several hundred Navy personnel and their families at its new home base at Bangor.
An attempt by 43 peace activists to halt or slow the sub ended quickly and wetly as the Coast Guard drove six crewmembers off the deck of a trimaran and swamped several small boats with deluges from two-inch high-pressure hoses.
Seventeen persons were arrested and only one small boat got close to the massive black sub as it moved steadily down the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Hood Canal.
'It was our objective from the beginning to keep anyone from getting drowned, killed or injured,' said Rear Adm. Clifford DeWolf, commander of the 13th Coast Guard District, who supervised the operation from a helicopter. 'You might say we did them a favor.'
A Navy band played and several hundred military personnel and their families, including 154 members of the sub's alternate crew, cheered, whistled and waved as the 560-foot sub tied up at a flag-decked dock at Bangor.
At the base, the $1.2 billion black behemoth will be loaded with two dozen multiple-warhead nuclear missiles, which carry enough firepower to destroy every large and medium-sized city in the Soviet Union.
Rear Adm. Marvin Kauderer, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet's submarine force, praised the Coast Guard escort and defended the Trident system 'as the most credible and invulnerable deterrent to nuclear war.'
But protesters criticized the Coast Guard for driving the 'Peace Blockade' out of the sub's path before the 18,700-ton Ohio reached restricted zones on Hood Canal and accused Guardsmen of overzealous use of their water cannons.
'Everybody was outside the restriction zone,' complained John Williams of Seattle, who was on one of the smaller boats. 'The Coast Guard went crazy.'
'This is in the same line of thinking as the machine we were trying to block,' said George Callies of Seattle, who was on a Greenpeace medical boat. 'The Trident is the most awesome death machine ever created and they were following suit with a real awesome display of aggressive over-reaction and violence.'
Despite the ignominious end of the blockade, spokeswoman Morna McCloud said it had been 'a great success -- to the effect that it's brought people together and made people a lot more aware of this monster nuclear weapon that's living in their backyard.' A confrontation between the Ohio and the anti-nuclear protesters was thwarted by the Coast Guard's tactics.
Cutters moved in on the blockaders an hour before the Ohio reached them and boarded their two biggest boats, the 40-foot Canadian Lizard of Woz trimaran and the 54-foot Australian Pacific Peacemaker sailboat.
The water cannon were turned on the Lizard after crewmembers refused to let officers board the sailboat. Six protesters jumped into the water and the 11 people aboard were arrested, handcuffed and laid out on the deck of the cutter Point Glass.
The water cannon were brought out again to scatter a dozen small boats which had gathered around the Pacific Peacemaker. The crew of the Australian sailboat yielded to the Coast Guard.
A rubber boat succeeded in making an end run around the tight Coast Guard security and entered the 1,000-foot security zone around the submarine.
The small boat sped close to the wake of the 560-foot sub and circled all the way around it, taking two Coast Guard cutters and a helicopter on a wild chase. But a cutter cut the boat off and a Coast Guardsman jumped aboard to end the cat-and-mouse game.
The Coast Guard arrested 17 persons and a spokesman said most will be charged with failure to stop, failure to obey federal officers and ramming a Coast Guard cutter. They were taken on a cutter to Seattle for appearances before a federal magistrate.
'As far as we know, all boats and people are under arrest and so the Peace Blockade has been effectively stopped by the Coast Guard,' said Steven Hall, a spokesman for the protesters.
'I think everyone here is totally amazed. We're just dumbfounded,' added Peace Blockade spokeswoman Shelly Stewart.
The 43 peace activists from the United States, Canada and Australia had hoped to slow or halt the first Trident, which they describe as a 'first strike' weapon system. The Navy calls the Trident the best deterrent against nuclear attack in the U.S. arsenal.
The sub surfaced in the strait -- the water passage between Washington state and British Columbia -- after cruising underwater out of the Pacific and avoiding a Soviet intelligence ship stationed outside the strait for several weeks.
The Ohio, which was built at Groton, Conn., and took its first shakedown cruises in the Atlantic, entered the Pacific for the first time through the Panama Canal on July 30. It continued sea trials on its voyage to Bangor.