When the crew of Coast Guard Cutter Mako left Baltimore en route to their homeport of Cape May, N.J., they knew the transit through the ice-covered C&D Canal would be challenging. However, they didn’t anticipate the normally seven-hour trip would take 30 hours to complete. Along the way, the crew’s bond strengthened when their training kicked in and they relied on each other’s expertise to get home.
“Everyone stepped up, including the most junior members,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Anton Mohammed, a boatswain’s mate and the first lieutenant aboard the Mako. “I’ve never seen such an expert display of communications, training and professionalism come into play for a real-life scenario. It all came together, and we made it home safely.”
The 87-foot coastal patrol boat spent approximately three months in Baltimore at the Coast Guard Yard, from Nov. 11, 2013, to Jan. 24, 2014. Cutters like the Mako undergo dry dock maintenance availabilities every several years to maintain readiness. When it came time for the Mako crew to depart the Coast Guard Yard, it took a lot of coordination due to icy conditions and an impending offshore snowstorm.
“We had a lot of conference calls and planning meetings to determine our best route home,” said Master Chief Petty Officer William Hollandsworth, the officer-in-charge of the Mako. “We knew we couldn’t delay our departure due to the ripple effect it would have had on so many other cutter crews.”
The complex patrol and maintenance schedules are planned far in advance and are strictly adhered to, so the decision was made to push forward. It was now a choice between either transiting the ice-covered C&D Canal or heading offshore in rough seas with heavy weather rolling in.
The choice was made to transit home through the canal, but not without the help of a couple of Coast Guard ice-breaking tugboats — first, the Baltimore-based cutter Chock, and later, the Philadelphia-based cutter Capstan.
“The Chock and the Capstan crews really came together to get us home,” said Mohammed. “We had to stay about 100 yards behind the icebreaker because the ice was reforming so quickly. We hit some ice that stopped us in our tracks and made us consider turning around, but we already made it halfway so we continued to push forward.”
The crew was under constant pressure as they made their way toward Cape May.
“The stress level was pretty high for everyone,” said Hollandsworth. “It just isn’t a natural sound, ice hitting the hull, especially for the engineers working below deck.”
The crew constantly battled the ice on deck as well. As water sprayed on deck, it froze rapidly, compromising the cutter’s stability.
“Every hour we had to turn the boat away from the wind so crewmembers could chip the ice away without getting sprayed themselves,” said Mohammed. “It was painfully cold working on the slippery deck. The wind hurt but we were mentally able to overcome the pain knowing we were heading home.”
Hollandsworth commended the unity of effort between so many Coast Guard units in completing the mission. He said the efforts by the people of the 5th Coast Guard District, Sector Baltimore, Sector Delaware Bay, the cutter Chock, the cutter Capstan, Station Cape May and especially his own crew proved the importance of teamwork when working toward a goal.
When they finally reached their homeport, the crew enjoyed some much needed rest and family time, knowing they would be underway again soon to carry out crucial Coast Guard missions. This time, they would be doing so with a little more experience in each crewmember’s toolbox.