A challenge by any other name

As one of the Coast Guard’s surf stations, Station Noyo River faces the full gamut of challenges every day. Located along California’s north coast, 150 miles north of San Francisco, their proximity to the Pacific and rugged coastline offers picturesque views and is home to some dramatic rescues. A recent rescue showcased just how demanding their rescue missions can be.

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Station Noyo River's two boat crews escort the Miss Kelly II. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
Station Noyo River’s boatcrews escort the Miss Kelly II through the river’s two jetty tips. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A challenge by its very nature serves as a call to arms; a contest of skill or strength. A challenge can come from a competitor, a friend, a colleague or even Mother Nature herself.

As one of the Coast Guard’s surf stations, Station Noyo River faces the full gamut of challenges every day. Located along California’s north coast, 150 miles north of San Francisco, their proximity to the Pacific and rugged coastline offers picturesque views and is home to some dramatic rescues.

A recent rescue showcased just how demanding their rescue missions can be. It started as many a rescue does – with a cry for help. The Miss Kelly II had a collapsed fuel line and was unable to start their engines two miles south of the river’s entrance. The 80-foot fishing vessel, the largest in the area, was adrift.

The Miss Kelly II had a collapsed fuel line and was unable to start their engines two miles south of the river’s entrance. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
The Miss Kelly II had a collapsed fuel line and was unable to start their engines two miles south of the river’s entrance. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Now, the Coast Guard tows vessels all the time. On first glance, the tow wouldn’t seem anything more than routine. But Noyo River’s jetty tips are only 90 feet at their widest with about only 50 feet of what boatcrews call “good” – or navigable – water. Add to that the 143-ton fishing vessel, and calling this case a challenge is almost an understatement.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Bobby Myers was the coxswain of the first rescue boat and was responsible for ensuring Miss Kelly II’s safe passage through the jetty tips. He also had to ensure once the Miss Kelly II had cleared the jetty, it could stop. Adding to the complexity, it was Meyer’s first tow as a newly qualified coxswain.

Petty Officer 1st Class Rick Stoltzfus, coxswain of the second crew on scene, relied on his experience to empower his fellow coxswain to succeed.

“As a lifeboat coxswain, we are used to being in control of every situation and we call on our past experiences to complete each mission,” said Stoltzfus. “It is very important to allow our junior coxswains to have the opportunity to go beyond their comfort zone, make small errors and then work through the problem with their crew to find a solution.”

To prevent the fishing vessel from running aground, the second crew was positioned behind the vessel. Petty Officer 3rd Class Louis Turcio, engineer aboard the second boatcrew, threw a line over to the Miss Kelly II. Once the line was tied off, both crews backed down as hard as they could to stop the ship’s forward momentum.

“With both lifeboats acting against the Miss Kelly II’s momentum, it was an amazing challenge for both crews to overcome, in a very short period of time, in an unforgiving river entrance,” said Turcio.

Once stopped, the fishing vessel presented one more challenge for the crews to overcome: placing the Miss Kelley II alongside the pier, in a narrow river, with wooden fishing boats along the way.

The Miss Kelly II arrives safely back into homeport. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
The Miss Kelly II arrives safely back into homeport. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

It was an eye-opening experience for Petty Officer 2nd Class Jack Fielden, a break-in crewmember who is new to the station; it was his first case and first tow.

“From my eyes the most challenging part had to be bringing the Miss Kelly II into side tow and then maneuvering her around other moored up vessels and finally getting her moored up,” said Fielden.

Due to the high superstructure and size of the Miss Kelley II, Myers and his crew could not see where the boat was going.

“Petty Officer Myers did not have the room to make a mistake. He had to be in complete control of both boats or risk running into a parked boat and smashing it,” said Noyo River’s officer-in-charge, Senior Chief Petty Officer Donald Miterko. “Driving a boat with a huge fishing vessel like that in side tow means you constantly want to turn in one direction and it is difficult to control.”

Despite these monumental obstacles, the crews relied on the one thing they knew would get them through this last challenge: eachother.

“Team communications were crucial for this part of the evolution,” said Myers.

And so, whether the crewmembers had decades at the wheel, or were experiencing the river’s hurdles for the first time, each monumental challenge was met; Miss Kelly II was safely moored to the pier. In a match up against Noyo River, teamwork prevailed.

5 comments on “A challenge by any other name”

  1. Well done shipmates!! You guys continue to impress us all with your dedication and desire to keep the ‘tip of the spear’ sharp. keep up the hard work. – CMC Rob Bushey

  2. BZ, job well done! That’s a big boat to tow and safely maneuver. As a former Coastie, who is now in the private commercial marine assistance towing business, I can attest to the difficulty and challenges which come with assisting and towing boats on a daily basis. I recently did a similar tow for a 77 foot fishing vessel in Cape Cod Bay and it was no easy feat.

    Great job to the crew of Sta Noyo River (a station I had never heard of before this article…).

  3. What about when the dorado transited 14hours down to noyo to pick up TWO boats and tow them in? Where was station then?

  4. Very awesome, very impressive. The USCG is so much more than so many people realize! We are proud that our son is a member of the USCG and is a new member of the team at Noyo River Station – Ft. Bragg, CA. – Proud Mom in KY

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