For many Island residents, the Coast Guard is a comfortable, innocuous presence. Coast Guard vessels and boats, usually painted a cheerful white, red and blue, are commonly seen in Vineyard waters. The service’s lighthouses provide guidance for mariners at night, and thousands of photo opportunities for tourists during the day.
In large part, though, the Coast Guard tends to be taken for granted. When out of sight, they are out of mind.
What is often forgotten is how these men and women routinely risk life and limb to save others. They take to heart a saying of those who served with a historical forebear, the U.S. Lifesaving Service: “You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.”
Early last Friday morning, when most Islanders were asleep in their beds, the Coast Guard station at Menemsha received a distress call from the tugboat Canal Deluge, which was in the middle of Buzzards Bay. A fire had broken out in the tugboat’s engine room.
In minutes, a five-member crew was aboard the station’s rescue boat, speeding north to the burning tug.
Passing through Quicks Hole, they could spot the tugboat, which had become a ball of fire.
The Menemsha boat came up to the bow of the tugboat, with the Coast Guardsmen taking the crew members off the burning vessel. All three of the tug’s crew were unharmed.
The rescue boat backed away after the third crew member was rescued — just in time, as it turned out. The Canal Deluge exploded.
“We got them in the nick of time,” coxswain William P. Robertson said. “If we had been a minute too late, the tug would have exploded and we would have been right alongside.”
It was just another day’s work for the Coast Guard, where heroism at a moment’s notice is an inherent part of the job. In a fiery night on Buzzards Bay, the Menemsha crew had lived up to the motto of the Coast Guard: Semper Paratus — Always Prepared.