Training a comin’

Coast Guard Station Noyo River boatcrews heave rescue line during training.

Coast Guard Station Noyo River boatcrews heave rescue line during training.

Story by PA1 Bill Colclough; Thanks to Master Chief Petty Officer Christopher Wright for contributing information

“COAST GUARD IN SHELTER COVE, THE SKIPPER IS HAVING A SEIZURE. HE’S BLEEDING FROM THE MOUTH. HE’S DYING!”  A seismic transmission over VHF-FM crackled distress with decibles as steep as sequoias on the Noyo River July 21. Just ten minutes before the call quaked anyone within earshot, a Coast Guard Station Noyo River 47-foot Motor Lifeboat crew took the fishing vessel Kay Bee in tow after it became disabled. Six-foot swells and sunny skies deceived and delighted the senses as a nice, easy tow on a hilly road in Sonoma County might. Towing a disabled vessel is not supposed to degrade into a full-blown 911 medical emergency. The might, should, could and that-would-never-happen-out-here but actually can and do happen keep Coast Guardsmen on their steel toes.

“There was no search since we knew exactly where they were, and towing is something our crew performed hundreds of times, both in training scenarios and actual disabled vessels,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Christopher Wright, officer-in-charge of Station Noyo River. “The reason for this continuous training is the simple fact that there are no routine SAR [search and rescue] cases.”

Every case as different as handwriting, the cove blocked nearly all of the swells, but the winds picked up early and blew toward shore. The boatcrew passed over a radio to ensure good communications for the five-hour tow back to port. All that remained was for the Kay Bee to pull in its anchor and have the MLB crew pass over a tow line. The first hiccup occured when the Kay Bee could not retrieve  its anchor since the engine powered the hydraulic winch.

The 47-footer went ahead and passed over the tow line; the crew hoped, that by towing the boat over their anchor, the two crewmen aboard could pull in the anchor by hand. However, the anchor stuck fast to the bottom. The captain of the Kay Bee cut the anchor line, then tied a afloat to the end so they could come back after repairing the engine and retrieve their anchor.

The roughly 90-mile trip home began with 600 feet of tow line. Then, the radio call that rocked the Richter scale. One 47-footer crewman went below to get the first aid kit, and another radioed a helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay. The remaining boatcrewmembers retrieved the tow line they just payed out minutes earlier.

The easiest thing is not necessarily the right thing to do, as the Kay Bee could not just disconnect the tow line and anchor; its anchor was a quarter-mile away and still attached firmly to the bottom. With the winds gusting up to 25 knots, the MLB crew could not disconnect the tow line without the danger of the Kay Bee getting blown onto the nearby shore.

A Coast Guard Station Noyo River 47-foot Motor Lifeboat crew underway in Humboldt Bay.

A Coast Guard Station Noyo River 47-foot Motor Lifeboat crew underway in Humboldt Bay.

Due to the rigging on the Kay Bee,  the aviation survival technician swam the length of a football field to reach the captain, who was also in the water – on purpose – in a survival suit. This was the safest method available as the MLB crew towed the Kay Bee away to a safe distance for the rescue hoist. The captain now safely off his boat, the MLB crew returned to its “routine” case and towed the Kay Bee back to Noyo River.

“Our boatcrews train relentlessly on towing disabled vessels, dewatering sinking boats, assisting injured crewmembers, recoving people in the water and many other distress scenarios,” said Wright.

No matter the hazard that is furthest or closest or great or small, the American public trust the sharpest are on lookout for whatever comes down the pike. Look alive and get ready.

There’s training a comin.’



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