A challenge by its very nature serves as a call to arms; a contest of skill or strength. A challenge can come from a competitor, a friend, a colleague or even Mother Nature herself.
As one of the Coast Guard’s surf stations, Station Noyo River faces the full gamut of challenges every day. Located along California’s north coast, 150 miles north of San Francisco, their proximity to the Pacific and rugged coastline offers picturesque views and is home to some dramatic rescues.
A recent rescue showcased just how demanding their rescue missions can be. It started as many a rescue does – with a cry for help. The Miss Kelly II had a collapsed fuel line and was unable to start their engines two miles south of the river’s entrance. The 80-foot fishing vessel, the largest in the area, was adrift.
Now, the Coast Guard tows vessels all the time. On first glance, the tow wouldn’t seem anything more than routine. But Noyo River’s jetty tips are only 90 feet at their widest with about only 50 feet of what boatcrews call “good” – or navigable – water. Add to that the 143-ton fishing vessel, and calling this case a challenge is almost an understatement.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Bobby Myers was the coxswain of the first rescue boat and was responsible for ensuring Miss Kelly II’s safe passage through the jetty tips. He also had to ensure once the Miss Kelly II had cleared the jetty, it could stop. Adding to the complexity, it was Meyer’s first tow as a newly qualified coxswain.
Petty Officer 1st Class Rick Stoltzfus, coxswain of the second crew on scene, relied on his experience to empower his fellow coxswain to succeed.
“As a lifeboat coxswain, we are used to being in control of every situation and we call on our past experiences to complete each mission,” said Stoltzfus. “It is very important to allow our junior coxswains to have the opportunity to go beyond their comfort zone, make small errors and then work through the problem with their crew to find a solution.”
To prevent the fishing vessel from running aground, the second crew was positioned behind the vessel. Petty Officer 3rd Class Louis Turcio, engineer aboard the second boatcrew, threw a line over to the Miss Kelly II. Once the line was tied off, both crews backed down as hard as they could to stop the ship’s forward momentum.
“With both lifeboats acting against the Miss Kelly II’s momentum, it was an amazing challenge for both crews to overcome, in a very short period of time, in an unforgiving river entrance,” said Turcio.
Once stopped, the fishing vessel presented one more challenge for the crews to overcome: placing the Miss Kelley II alongside the pier, in a narrow river, with wooden fishing boats along the way.
It was an eye-opening experience for Petty Officer 2nd Class Jack Fielden, a break-in crewmember who is new to the station; it was his first case and first tow.
“From my eyes the most challenging part had to be bringing the Miss Kelly II into side tow and then maneuvering her around other moored up vessels and finally getting her moored up,” said Fielden.
Due to the high superstructure and size of the Miss Kelley II, Myers and his crew could not see where the boat was going.
“Petty Officer Myers did not have the room to make a mistake. He had to be in complete control of both boats or risk running into a parked boat and smashing it,” said Noyo River’s officer-in-charge, Senior Chief Petty Officer Donald Miterko. “Driving a boat with a huge fishing vessel like that in side tow means you constantly want to turn in one direction and it is difficult to control.”
Despite these monumental obstacles, the crews relied on the one thing they knew would get them through this last challenge: each other.
“Team communications were crucial for this part of the evolution,” said Myers.
And so, whether the crewmembers had decades at the wheel, or were experiencing the river’s hurdles for the first time, each monumental challenge was met; Miss Kelly II was safely moored to the pier. In a match up against Noyo River, teamwork prevailed.