Coast Guard Auxiliary makes first visit to remote Kodiak Island village

offload 2Members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary sailed to Old Harbor to bring their safe boating message, a supply of children’s life jackets, and a friendly robot to the village July 28-29.

The centerpiece of the Auxiliary outreach, Coastie the Safety Boat, made the trip wrapped in canvas and tarps lashed to the stern of the Sweet Ann II, a 38-foot sailboat belonging to Auxiliarist Bob Hough. On arrival in Old Harbor volunteers lifted Coastie onto the dock, where he met local children, adults and even a trio of friendly dogs.

While Tonya Lee, an information technician with the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, interacted with Coastie and his visitors, Auxiliarist Drew Herman operated the radio remote control and voice synthesizer that allows Coastie to move, blink, talk and show off his lights and horns. Coastie tells children to always wear their life jackets around the water, “reach or throw, but never go” when someone is in trouble, and other safety messages.

The auxiliarists also used the opportunity to start Kids Don’t Float in Old Harbor. In partnership with the Alaska Office of Boating Safety, Kids Don’t Float makes free life jackets available at harbors and other boating launch sites around the state. Jim Cedeno, Old Harbor’s village public safety officer, will monitor the vests there, and the visiting Marines have donated lumber to build storage chests.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary, with more than 30,000 uniformed, civilian volunteers organized in local flotillas nationwide, assists the Coast Guard in a range of missions including public education.

Planning for the Old Harbor outreach mission began more than four years ago, when Hough, a member of the Kodiak flotilla, realized children in the island’s remote communities have little opportunity to learn about safe boating practices, although they spend much of their time on boats from an early age.

To make the Old Harbor visit possible, Hough and fellow Kodiak auxiliarists had to reach high levels of training and qualification as boat crewmembers, raise money to buy Coastie the animatronic tugboat character, and prepare a private boat to the standards of an official Coast Guard facility.

“I saw the magic of it,” Hough said about his first encounter with a Coastie from another flotilla.

The voyage to Old Harbor allowed the Auxiliary to partner with other agencies and Coast Guard units, offering a valuable opportunity to make connections with local officials. Also along for the ride was the Catholic chaplain from Coast Guard Base Kodiak, Navy Lt. John Monahan, a member of the Kodiak Auxiliary flotilla. He took the opportunity to minister to Marine reservists camped at Old Harbor on a training mission.

Commercial vessel examiner Aaron Jessup, a civilian employee of the Coast Guard, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Ben Stixrud, both of Marine Safety Detachment Kodiak, joined the trip to build personal relationships with the many commercial fishermen who operate out of Old Harbor. Good relationships are essential for their function that combines aspects of law enforcement and occupational safety.

“That was one of the things I hoped to do when I got this job,” Jessup said.

While Jessup and Stixrud addressed the working boat side, the Auxiliary offered free vessel safety checks for recreational boats.

Old Harbor, 50 miles southwest of the city of Kodiak, is one of seven small communities around the main island accessible only by air or sea. Now that the flotilla has proved the feasibility of such multi-missions outreach trips, visits to the other remote communities can take place.

The Kodiak Auxiliary team consisted of Bob Hough, coxswain of Sweet Ann II, George Lee, John Monahan and Drew Herman, and was made possible by many other flotilla members and active duty Coast Guardsmen who helped plan and train for the mission.

Tags: , , , ,