By Gary Paul Bryant
In the recently released movie “The Finest Hours,” Petty Officer Bernard Webber and his all-volunteer crew battled frigid New England weather to assist the tanker Pendleton, which had split amidships during a 70 mph winter gale.
The movie, based on an actual rescue that happened in February 1952 off the coast of Massachusetts, reenacts the mission. Piloting a 36-foot wooden boat with a single outboard engine through impossible seas, Webber and his crew were able to rescue 32 survivors.
While not every auxiliary coastguardsman has these kinds of heroic experiences, all are in the business of saving lives and protecting our waterways.
Collectively, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary contributes over 4.5 million hours of service each year and completes nearly 500,000 missions to support the Coast Guard. Every year, auxiliaries help to save
approximately 500 lives, assist 15,000 distressed boaters, conduct over 150,000 safety examinations of recreational vessels and provide boater safety instruction to over 500,000 students.
In Whatcom County, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary participates in a variety of programs from boater education to sea patrols and vessel inspections. The local Coast Guard Auxiliary oversees a variety of initiatives intended to improve boating safety in the area. One example is the “Confidence in Boating” course on May 14 at the Blaine Boating Center. Members will offer free vessel inspections by appointment and during opening day festivities at most marinas in Puget Sound.
Hoyt Hatfield probably wasn’t thinking about how much his contribution to the Coast Guard Auxiliary would mean when he left his home in New Mexico to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. After a stint in the Army Special Forces and a successful career in technology sales, Hatfield found himself retired in Semiahmoo with time on his hands. Now he’s an avid boater and the current district captain for the Puget Sound sector of the auxiliary.
“When I first arrived at Semiahmoo, I joined everything,” Hatfield said. It was serendipity when he learned that the Canadian Coast Guard often responded to emergency calls off the shores of Birch Bay and Blaine. A friend convinced him to create a local unit of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and thanks to his prior military experience, he was put on the fast track and soon found himself with an important responsibility.
The local chapter, under Captain Hatfield’s leadership, is directly responsible for improved navigation aids in Semiahmoo Bay and Drayton Harbor. Additionally, vessel inspections and boater safety classes have significantly improved the quality of boating in the area and are a direct result of the local auxiliary efforts. According to Hatfield, the auxiliary has administered more than 1,000 vessel examinations to date.
The local auxiliary has approximately 40 members and is always open to more.
“You don’t need to own a boat or even get out on the water,” Hatfield said. “In addition to sea patrols and vessel inspection, members can be trained and serve in a variety of ways, from public education
The auxiliary meets the first Saturday of the month at the Blaine Boating Center located at Blaine Marina at 235 Marina Drive in Blaine. For more information on how to join, visit cgaux.org.
Originally published at SemiahmooMarina.com