PUBLISHED: 12:51 PM on Wednesday, July 5, 2006
Juneau Coast Guard auxiliarists rescue recreational boaters in Sitka Sound

  Courtesy photo With teamwork, common sense and training, the Pacific Star was kept from becoming another recreational boating statistic.
It doesn't always happen on the nicest of days, or in your own back yard. Auxiliary Vessel Noreen Kay made the 160-mile trip from Juneau to Sitka for the weekend to serve as a platform for the Alaska State Trooper Academy to practice recreational vessel boardings and also to visit with the Sitka Flotilla.

The journey to Sitka itself was uneventful, leaving Douglas Harbor on Thursday evening, June 15, spending the night in Funter Bay, timing the tide in Sergius Narrows and arriving in Sitka around 1700 on Friday after a calm day on the water. The line at the fuel dock was about 20 boats deep so the decision was made to fuel the next day.

Tying up at the Coast Guard Cutter Maple dock alongside Sitka Air Station's 41' training boat, the vessel's crew was greeted by the Cutter's BM1 Floyd Hone, mostly to make sure they knew whose dock they were tying to. It was confirmed that the Air Station had given the District 17 Auxiliary Commodore permission to raft to their boat. Little did the crew of the Noreen Kay and BM1 know at the time that the next day they would be working together and become friends.

Saturday morning brought blustery weather, but since the mock boardings weren't going to take place until Sunday, Noreen Folkerts anticipated a lazy day aboard; while COMO Mike Folkerts spent the day at the Trooper Academy - it would be a good chance to catch up on a little computer work.

At 9:03 a.m. the day's plans changed. An Urgent Marine Information Broadcast was aired by Coast Guard Juneau Radio for the 42-foot M/V Pacific Star, adrift in Hayward Strait, approximately nine miles out of Sitka, in danger of grounding on the rocks. Within 15 minutes the Command Center in Juneau was on the radio to the Noreen Kay and the cell phone to COMO Folkerts. Noreen took the radio call, copied the coordinates of the distressed vessel, fired up the GPS and as she plotted the location, picked up the cell phone to call Mike. Not realizing the Command Center had called him on the cell phone at the same time they called her on the radio, she explained the situation. He calmly said "I'll be there in two minutes" as he jogged down the dock toward the boat.

As they stowed excess gear to get underway, BM1 Hone came down the dock and offered his assistance in plotting the location of the vessel. Being 160 miles away from their normal area of operation, the crew of the Noreen Kay immediately invited the Coastie to join them and share his local knowledge. As he grabbed his gear, the Auxiliary crew themselves geared up and made final preparations to launch.

Within minutes the Noreen Kay was at the fuel dock. Having heard the radio calls, the attendant handed over two hoses and simply said, "Catch me when you get back to pay for the fuel." Within 15 minutes of the original call the facility was on its way to Hayward Strait.

As the crew left Sitka Harbor it became readily apparent that the weather was not going to be in their favor with 20-25 knot winds and six-foot confused seas. Realizing the inside of the islands would be a smoother ride, the facility changed course. As they proceeded to the scene, the radio traffic revealed that a 26-foot vessel in the area heard the calls and decided to try and help keep the distressed vessel from grounding on the rocks. Pulling for all they were worth, they achieved their goal, but in the process broke the tow line that found its way under and to the stern of the Pacific Star. Now, not only did they have a mechanical problem, they also had a line wrapped in their free-wheeling prop. The water depth was too much for their anchor to hold, the drift was taking them back to their original location and their next radio transmission indicated that they were in "heavy seas."

The crew of the Noreen Kay contacted the Command Center with an update. Even though the Noreen Kay was comparable in size to the Pacific Star, if the seas were as bad as when they first left the harbor, there could be a problem hooking up to the much heavier vessel. The first thing a coxswain needs to consider is the safety of his own crew and asset. Monitoring the radio, the vessel Prime Time, diverted from Olga Strait in case they too could be of assistance.

As the facility approached the Pacific Star, it looked like the "little train that could." The 26' Just for You had again hooked a short tow line to the distressed vessel to help keep them from drifting closer to the rocks. Within minutes of arriving on scene, this tow line, too, parted. Sizing up the situation and the sea conditions, the decision was made for the Noreen Kay to take the vessel in tow. In no time, the tow was set and the distressed vessel was slowly towed from five-foot seas of Sitka Sound into calmer water and safely on into Sitka.

If it hadn't been for quick thinking of the Command Center in Juneau, realizing they had an Auxiliary asset in Sitka; the good samaritans aboard the motor vessels Just for You and Prime Time who were willing to offer their assistance; the cooperation of the Sitka fuel dock understanding that getting to the aid of fellow boaters is more important than a few gallons of fuel and the teamwork of the auxiliary and active duty working together, the outcome for the Pacific Star may not have been as bright. As it was, teamwork, common sense and training kept the Pacific Star from becoming another recreational boating statistic.