Written by Petty Officer 1st Class Krystyna A. Hannum.
A mere blip on the chart just 26 miles off the southern coast of Cape Cod, Mass., the island of Nantucket greets the Atlantic Ocean as it makes its assault on the East Coast. Discovered in 1604, Nantucket has a rich maritime history of whaling expeditions and life-saving efforts aboard doomed ships. Volunteer lifesavers on the island in the 18th century later became members of the U.S. Life-Saving Service and eventually the U.S. Coast Guard, now operating at Station Brant Point.
As a reminder and a way to celebrate their local history, Station Brant Point’s officer-in-charge, Senior Chief Petty Officer Matthew T. Welsh, coordinated with the Egan Maritime Institute and ReMain Nantucket, two local organizations focused on preserving history, to bring the community back to its maritime roots.
“[The station] is great and we rely pretty heavily on them for the festival,” said Samantha Stillings, festival co-project manager. “In general, their participation allows the community to have a better understanding of [the Coast Guard’s] function.”
The station crew offered an open house of the station’s grounds and vessels, performed demonstrations in knot tying, heaving line throwing and opened up the Brant Point Lighthouse to the public – a once-a-year occurrence.
Visitors were also allowed to try their hand at an obsolete rescue method, the breeches buoy, which the Life-Saving Service utilized to recover people from ship-to-ship or ship-to-shore. The process used what today is called a zip line, with an attached buoy and trouser – also called britches – combination that victims would ride to safety in.
One attendee, Brian Gill from Brooklyn, N.Y., easily maneuvered the breeches buoy strung up at the station’s side yard.
“It’s very important to remember these maritime techniques,” said Gill, a self-proclaimed maritime history buff visiting the island with his wife Sherri.
Gill explained the station’s involvement with the event provides a perfect opportunity to mingle with the public and appreciated how the Coast Guard respects its past.
Festival visitors chatted with station crewmembers, who used the opportunity to tell the Coast Guard story. Station personnel also showcased current rescue tactics from the unit’s 47-foot motor lifeboat as well as answer boating safety questions.
As an officer-in-charge of a small boat station, and former crewman aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle, Welsh said he believes preserving Coast Guard history through community involvement is essential.
“Since the building of the first lighthouse on the island in 1746 and the establishment of the first huts of refuge in 1790, the tradition of lifesavers and the Coast Guard on Nantucket has been a long and storied one,” said Welsh.
“For us on station, knowing that we have a chance to display that heritage for the community, to demonstrate what we used to do, and to educate them on the equipment and boats we have now, is a great opportunity,” added Welsh. “Coordinating our open house and breeches buoy display at the Nantucket Maritime Festival makes it a lot fun for the community and the crew.”