[bead by bead]
Maritime Man
Coast Guard commander has a mission to oversee San Francisco’s waterways
by Kelly Knufken

The television is on, but that doesn’t mean Capt. William Uberti isn’t busy. His hands are occupied with intricate work. By day, Uberti oversees the San Francisco Port. By night, he makes rosaries. While the beads he works with are physically small, the job he’s been given is gigantic. It’s a daunting mission, serving as commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector San Francisco.

“I’m in charge of the maritime security for the San Francisco Bay area, which streches from San Luis Obispo to the Oregon border. We have to defend the coast,” he says. “The threat (of terrorism) is big. That weighs a lot on us. We’re always keeping an eye out for anything unusual. We also depend upon the average citizen — everyday boaters, tugboat operators.”

With the Golden Gate Bridge — a span that could be a top West Coast target — under his charge as well as two airports adjacent to the water, this is a high-stakes mission. His team does daily security patrols by air and on the water. They also work with other federal agencies, including the FBI, to make sure they’re on top of any threats. His authority to raise the port’s security level is a balancing act. He must take threats seriously, but over-reacting could hurt the economy.

Homeland security, along with search and rescue are his two biggest priorities, but by no means the end of his responsibilities, which include controlling ship traffic and overseeing the response to oil spills. He’s in charge of an area that includes six major oil refineries and the fourth largest container port in the country — Oakland — plus a cruise ship terminal.

Uberti joined the Coast Guard in late 1978, after getting his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history from USD. “I use my history degree every day,” Uberti says.

He met his wife, Kathleen (Kuglen), a 1976 USD graduate and former special education teacher, while at school. They’d been in the same social circle, and once he was in the Coast Guard he asked her to Homecoming and they hit it off. The couple has two grown boys and one in high school.

Uberti’s grandmother first showed him how to make rosaries when he was just 8. Later, when she was frail, he would help her tighten the wire rosaries she made for a rosary club. He’s made thousands since then, sending them all over the world.

He crafts a rosary string in about an hour. “If I don’t have meetings, I make one or two a night. That shows you how much TV I watch,” he quips. “I don’t waste my life watching TV; I make rosaries.” He favors shows like ‘Walker, Texas Ranger.’ “You can’t watch anything bad and make rosaries.”

The rosary, a devotion to Jesus through the Virgin Mary, has been an important part of Uberti’s life. He sees a connection between the strong, religious women in his life and seeking guidance from the Blessed Mother.

“It helps you gain peace and perspective, every day. I’ve got all this responsibility, and I want to make the right decisions.”