ANT San Diego and the Colorado River “Mardi Gratta”

 

ANT San Diego hauled their 26-foot TANB seven hours over mountain passes and through the desert for the event. Photo courtesy ANT San Diego

ANT San Diego hauled their 26-foot TANB seven hours over mountain passes and through the desert for the event. Photo courtesy ANT San Diego

Story by Petty Officer 1st Class James Coleman

Question: What do Mardi Gras, the Arizona desert and the U.S. Coast Guard have in common?

Answer:  the 7th Annual Bullhead City River Regatta.

An estimated 29,000 people rafted along a four-mile stretch of the Colorado River aboard Mardi Gras-themed tubes and makeshift rafts as the crew of Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team (ANT) San Diego kept watch during “Mardi Gratta” in Bullhead City, Ariz., Aug. 10, 2013.

“The Bullhead City River Regatta is unlike anything I’ve done in my career,” said Chief Petty Officer Melvin Zebrowski, the officer in charge of the ANT.

The regatta presented many challenges, from the sheer number of people under the influence of alcohol to the navigation of the swift-moving and treacherous river.

An estimated 29,000 people rafted along the Colorado River as Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team (ANT) San Diego kept watch . Photo courtesy ANT San Diego

An estimated 29,000 people rafted along the Colorado River as Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team (ANT) San Diego kept watch . Photo courtesy ANT San Diego

 Each morning, local authorities raise the river’s level by releasing water from the Davis Dam, located just upstream from the primary launch site for the regatta, causing the water to move faster and making the rapids rougher. 

“Combining fast-moving water with people on rafts — many who are drinking and not wearing life-jackets — can be a dangerous situation,” said Zebrowski. “We had to transfer several people from their rafts to a boat headed for shore because they were just too intoxicated to safely complete the regatta.”

In addition to helping participants to shore, the five-person crew assisted local law enforcement officials.

The crew, who hauled their 26-foot Trailerable Aids to Navigation Boat (TANB) seven hours over mountain passes and through the desert for the event, hosted two local law enforcement officials aboard their boat. Having the officers aboard the TANB provided a platform from which they could make informed decisions about current river conditions and lowered response times for first responders. While aboard, the officers arrested several intoxicated and disorderly regatta participants.

 “The coordination between the local law enforcement and the Coast Guard was vital to ensure that everyone had a good time, and that it was done in the safest manner possible,” Zebrowski said. 

The regatta presented many challenges. Photo courtesy of ANT San Diego

The regatta presented many challenges. Photo courtesy of ANT San Diego

That teamwork played a key role in the overall safety and success of this year’s regatta, as well as the 2011 and 2012 regattas, where no fatalities were reported.

“I was very impressed with the Coast Guard crew,” said Bullhead City Police Lt. Jeff Sessions.  “The crew operated seamlessly in our incident command structure and coordinated with 16 other boat crews and 22 professional lifeguard teams representing local, county, state and federal agencies from around the area. As commander of the river division of this event, I can say that the Coast Guard has shown me that they are an integral part of the success of this event and I hope to see them again next year.”

Sessions and Bullhead City Fire Department Battalion Chief Bill Kinsey have worked with the TANB crew on this event for three years and have built a close professional working relationship, which allowed the Coast Guard to work with local authorities to make numerous changes to the overall planning, operation and execution of the regatta.  These changes allowed for quicker response times to emergencies, better crowd control, and a dramatic increase in life jacket use on the river, as well as maintaining an exceptional event safety record despite the growing number of participants since the first regatta in 2007.

In addition to participating in special marine events like the regatta and speedboat races on Lake Havasu, the five active duty members and three Reservists of the ANT are responsible for maintaining 60 lighted aid-to-navigation from San Mateo Point, Calif., to the Mexican border and east to the Arizona-New Mexico border.

Tags: