Between security escorts for Steamship Authority ferries and two major boating accidents, the U.S. Coast Guard at Menemsha had its busiest summer in recent years on the waters around the Vineyard.
"You'd be hard pressed to find a day this summer when the boat wasn't used," executive petty officer Douglas B. Zook said of the station's new 47-foot motor lifeboat. The state-of-the-art rescue vessel designed to handle rough surf and heavy weather was received last winter.
Looking ahead, the station's role will only be expanding. There are plans to increase the 19-person staff to 24. The station is scheduled to receive a new boat later this week, and construction on a second floor-addition to the barracks is slated to begin next week.
Of the major incidents fielded by the Menemsha station this summer, the most recent occurred Friday, August 26, when the 47-foot lifeboat assisted in a rescue at Sow and Pigs Reef, just southwest of Cuttyhunk. There, a recreational powerboat called Jonathan ran aground and sank. The two passengers aboard were rescued by a passing vessel, transferred to the Coast Guard lifeboat and then transported to Menemsha.
On June 19, a 21-foot boat from station Menemsha was dispatched along with a 110-foot cutter Tybee from Group Woods Hole to Quick's Hole, where a charter fishing boat capsized in turbulent water while being towed by another boat. Quick's Hole is a narrow channel that separates the Elizabeth Islands of Pasque and Nashawena. The passage is due north of Menemsha and, like Sow and Pigs Reef, is notorious for boaters having troubles.
Five people were sent into the water when the boat The Last Call capsized; four were recovered and treated for shock and hypothermia, but efforts by two Coast Guardsmen to revive the captain, Ken Murray of Fairhaven, were unsuccessful.
Menemsha harbor was later used as the staging area for first responders' giving medical attention to the rescued passengers.
Looking back at the numbers since October 2004, the Menemsha Coast Guard station has handled 100 law enforcement boardings, an untold number of safety boardings and 43 search and rescue cases. It also offered ongoing security escort services to SSA passenger ferries running between Woods Hole and the Vineyard. That is a lot of work for a station that only two years ago operated with a skeleton crew of a few people.
Much of the increase in Coast Guard duties came in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The Coast Guard is now under the Department of Homeland Security, with surveillance and protection of the nation's assets on the waterfront among its priorities. Boardings are done to enforce boating safety and fisheries regulations.
"Our boardings have doubled. A lot has to do with the homeland security mission," Mr. Zook said. "We are doing random patrols of New Bedford and Buzzards Bay."
Patrols also include SSA ferry escorts in times of high security alert. An essential part of the escorts' work is tied to being a visual deterrent. Information on the frequency of those trips was not available, but Mr. Zook said in just the past week there were 12 or 13 trips.
The boat expected to arrive this Friday is a 25-foot rigid hull vessel with an all weather cabin. It will replace the Menemsha station's 21-foot rigid hull inflatable boat. The new high-speed vessel, with a crew of two, is powered by two 225 horsepower Honda four Stroke outboards and is capable of going 45 knots.
Work on the barracks is scheduled to begin Monday, Sept. 12.
Currently, the Coast Guard has eight homes on the Vineyard for housing, including the West Chop lighthouse keeper house. To meet the additional need for space, the station will add a full second floor to the barracks.
"They will be doing a total renovation of the barracks," Mr. Zook said.
He explained that the Coast Guard homes are used by personnel who have family, while the barracks is used for single personnel 18 to 24 years old. "We've got a real shortage for housing," Mr. Zook said. With the changes, the barracks should accommodate 13 individuals.
A generator housed in a fiberglass shed will be hauled away and replaced by a new generator. That new generator will reside in a new, yet to be built, shed.
As federal government projects, the renovation project and the new generator work does not have to come before town boards for review.
Mr. Zook said they are looking at the station growing to 24 sometime next year.