There are about 42,000 active duty personnel in the Coast Guard. But, for small, coastal communities similar to Martha’s Vineyard, the crews that man the Coast Guard’s 47-foot motor lifeboat (MLB) — the men and women who respond to maritime emergencies under the worst weather condition — are at the core of the lifesaving service.
The Coast Guardsmen assigned to Station Menemsha come from all backgrounds and parts of the country. Despite the obvious differences, they share an appreciation for the Coast Guard’s lifesaving mission and the camaraderie among crewmates.
They encapsulate the training, skill, and courage that earn the nation’s smallest branch of the military the public’s highest respect.
The weekend of August 5, a five-member crew arrived at 6:30 am Friday at the iconic Menemsha Station house perched on a hill with its commanding view of the harbor and Vineyard Sound. They remained on duty until 9 am, Monday morning.
That weekend the crew responded to two search and rescue incidents that included a report of a recreational boat that sank with three men on board eight miles south of the Vineyard. A nearby commercial fishing boat picked the men up and transferred the men to the 47-footer.
The Times spoke with each member of the crew. Each was proud of his or her service:
BM2 Chris Seevers, 29 in September, is from the Puget Sound area, Washington State. “I joined, thinking I would do my four years and then I might be ready to go back to college and it would be paid for with the GI bill,” he said. “After four I realized I didn’t want to get out.”
What does he like about the Coast Guard? “It is the military service, yet we are a humanitarian service. It is nice to go out and help people when they need it.”
Mr. Seevers has served in the Coast Guard nine years and has been married for three years. He previously served at bases in Alaska and Oregon. He has lived on Martha’s Vineyard for two years. “The summers are nice, the winters are long.”
He is trained as a heavy weather coxswain. It is a qualification that allows him to operate the motor lifeboat in up to 20-foot seas and 40-knot winds. Once the 47 MLB is underway the coxswain is the man in charge, irrespective of the rank of anyone on board.
“The navigation of the boat, how the crew conducts itself, everything, he is in charge of that entire mission,” he said.
BM3 Nick Meegan, 24, is originally from the Dallas, Texas area. A photo of the 47-footer crashing through waves attracted him to the service. “I wanted to drive boats,” he said of why he joined the service.
He spends off-hours with his two children, ages 3 and 2. He has been in the Coast Guard four and a half years.
What does he like about the service? “All sorts of things. Traveling, I’ve been to places I would never probably go otherwise. Just the work, it’s good work and good pay. Every community is pretty welcoming and the fishermen all respect us, and what we do. All that.”
Mr. Meegan is rated as a basic coxswain. “When he (Mr. Seevers) is in charge I pretty much help him out. I will handle lines, help him navigate, handle radio communication. The coxswain has a lot of responsibility so it is good to delegate.”
MK3 Matt Lawson, 24, is from a small community in the Richmond, Virginia area. Single, he has been in the Coast Guard about six years.
“My best friend joined the Coast Guard and I joined a little bit after he did after he told me how much he liked it,” he said. His friend left the service and he remained.
Next year he will come to the end of his four-year rotation at Station Menemsha. He likes Martha’s Vineyard where he has found most people to be “nice and welcoming.”
Mechanically inclined, Mr. Lawson found a niche. “My first station (Fort Macon, North Carolina) is where I really got into working on the boats. I learned a lot there and took it and ran with it.”
He is an engineer. “Underway, if there’s a problem with the boat I fix it,” he said.
He is the station’s only Honda-qualified technician and maintains the engines that power the 25-foot response boat small, and the station’s mechanical systems, including the generator.
What does he like about the Coast Guard? “I love going out on the water. I mean, my job is to be on the water. Sometimes in the winter it’s cold but other than that there’s no better job in the world.”
FN Luis Santana, 23, is from New York City. He joined the Coast Guard in April and arrived at Station Menemsha in June. He is still getting settled. What was his first reaction to Martha’s Vineyard? “Wow, look at those gas prices.”
Single, Mr. Santana was working in a residential setting with mentally challenged people. He had worked there for about four years, he said, when he decided he needed a change of pace. “To pretty much do something different,” he said.
For now he is still getting used to his new home and responsibilities.
SN Nicole Cancellare, 29, is from Pensacola, Florida. A mother of three, she has been a member of the Coast Guard since March and arrived on May 29. Station Menemsha is her first station following basic training.
Ms. Cancellare said she graduated from college in May, trained to be a paralegal but that prospect did not interest her. Her father-in-law had retired after 28 years in the Coast Guard as a Bosun’s Mate Chief and spoke highly of the service.
“I thought I’d give it a try,” she said.
She had never heard about Martha’s Vineyard before she arrived on the Vineyard. “I have three boys and I’m married so it’s ideal for me,” she said of the Island pace and family atmosphere. Her husband was supportive of her choice and works as a personal trainer at the Y.
As a break-in crewman her job is anything she is asked to do. “Mostly mess cook,” she said with a laugh.
What does she like about the Coast Guard? With a broad smile and a look around at the other grinning crew members, she said, “I like my shipmates. There’s never really a dull moment with them. They keep me laughing.”