Coast Guard Auxiliary keeps eyes on the water

The Coast Guard cutter “Swordfish’ was part of the escort fleet for the U.S.S. Seawolf making its way through Rich Passage Thursday. -
The Coast Guard cutter “Swordfish’ was part of the escort fleet for the U.S.S. Seawolf making its way through Rich Passage Thursday.
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Coast Guard Auxiliary members Jim Beyea and Tom Lindsley had barely motored out Eagle Harbor Marina Thursday afternoon when they were waved down by a mariner on an anchored yacht.

He was gesturing to something in the water nearby. The culprit was a private buoy bobbing mostly submerged in the water, lying in wait to snarl a passing boat prop.

While Lindsley idled his 26-foot Glacier Bay alongside, Beyea secured a bright red float to the buoy to warn boaters, and made a note to call the harbormaster.

Like most of the tasks performed by the 24 members of Auxiliary Flotilla 48, which serves Bainbridge and North Kitsap, it’s a necessary job but not glamorous one. The flotilla’s role is as a civilian support group to the Coast Guard and a force to educate the public on water safety.

Members hold outreach programs at local schools and teach children about the danger of the Puget Sound’s cold waters and the importance of wearing life jackets. They also host the annual Boater’s Fair.

The Flotilla executes frequent patrols of coastlines around Bainbridge, Rich Passage, North Kitsap and Seattle, and can be called out to assist in Coast Guard search and rescue missions.

The red banners on their boats and the USCG-style uniforms they wear help increase the Coast Guard’s presence on the water but also leads to confusion.

Auxiliary members receive Coast Guard training, but they make their rounds armed with information pamphlets rather than firearms. They can’t make arrests but they do make frequent reports to USCG, local police and harbor officials.

“People don’t get that we’re a volunteer force, out here to help the public,” Beyea said. “Even if it’s just a little thing like marking that buoy.”

Flotilla 48’s volunteer force consists of both men and women, ranging from high school students to retirees. Most live on Bainbridge. Some have maritime backgrounds, while others are just eager to learn.

Beyea and Lindsley were both introduced to boating through sailing; Beyea on Chesapeake Bay, Lindsley in Kansas (yes, they have navigable water there).

The Auxiliary, they say, is an opportunity to help people and a good excuse to get out on the water with a little help from USCG.

The Coast Guard pre-approves their patrols, and picks up the tab for fuel and insurance while they’re in its service.

On Thursday, after securing the buoy, Beyea and Lindsley patrol the ferry terminal area to make sure no boaters are straying too close to the green-and-white behemoths. Once out of Eagle Harbor, Lindsley turned his boat south and motored toward Fort Ward State Park while Beyea scanned the water and shoreline for unusual activity.

Often they give a tow to a fisherman whose engine has quit, or rescue an inexperienced boaters drifting after dark without lights or communication devices.

“It’s scary the things you’ll see out here,” Lindsley said.

After turning the corner into Rich Passage, the patrol hit a traffic jam: two 85-foot Coast Guard clippers and two tug boats flanking a black attack submarine.

Lindsley made radio contact with the clippers and eased by. No need to check Rich Passage that day.

In Bremerton, they scanned the ferry terminal as they had in Bainbridge, then kicking the boat into high speed, they zoomed across to Seattle. There they nosed among the cargo ships and gillnetters lining the mouth of the Duwamish River.

Then it was north for stops at Colman dock and the Ballard Locks before pointing west toward home.

Under overcast skies, a few sailboats and seiners were crawling across the Sound, but the water was mostly quiet. In September, yachting season is fading fast, but Beyea says the Auxiliary crew stays busy year round.

Their work is the sum of the little things done, on and off the water. Beyea and Lindsley have faith that those little things add up.

“If you save a kid’s life because you taught them how cold the water is, or to wear a life jacket, you’ll never know it,” Beyea said as Lindsley maneuvered the boat back into Eagle Harbor. “You don’t need to know it.”

Box: USCG Auxiliary Flotilla 48 meets at the Bainbridge Commons on the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. For more see or call Jim Beyea at 780-9995.

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