Martha’s Vineyard refloats Island Coast Guard Flotilla

U.S. Coast Guard officials and members of newly chartered Flotilla 11-9 posed for a photo at the Menemsha boathouse following the ceremony Thursday. — Photo by Cathryn McCann

Amid low-key pomp and circumstance befitting Station Menemsha in November, in brief ceremonies Thursday Coast Guard officials formally recognized the establishment of Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 11-9, one of numerous auxiliary units made up of volunteers who assist Coast Guard operations across the country.

For years, Island volunteers were part of Woods Hole Flotilla 11-2, because it had been about 20 years since there were enough Island members to support a separate unit. Over the past five years, a total of 18 Island residents enrolled in the Martha’s Vineyard detachment, a subgroup of the Woods Hole charter. Having met the minimum number of members for an established flotilla, the USCG held a chartering ceremony at the new Coast Guard Boathouse in Menemsha to formally recognize the 11-9 Flotilla and all its volunteer members.

Before an audience of auxiliary members, friends, families, and USCG active-duty members in the packed boathouse, Coast Guard officials spoke about the importance of volunteerism within the community.

“This is extremely positive in a lot of ways,” Commander of Sector Southeastern New England Capt. John Kondratowicz said. “This is a great, great story for today. This is a part of history. This is a part of the Island.”

He said the USCG could not operate without the help of the auxiliary flotilla members.

“We can’t do what we do without you … and we’re truly blessed to have you,” Captain Kondratowicz said. “What you do is essential for this community.”

Island members of Flotilla 11-9, wearing their official blue uniforms, were formally recognized and pledged an oath of service. Former 11-2 commander Chris Scott of Edgartown, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust, was recognized for his dedication to public education and five years of member service.

David Pothier of Oak Bluffs, owner of Cars Unlimited garage in Edgartown, was recognized for his service as former detachment leader, and awarded a red flag by Senior Chief Robert Riemer, officer in charge of Station Menemsha.

Flotilla 11-9 Commander Timothy Carroll of Chilmark, Chilmark executive secretary, was recognized for his completion of the Operations Auxiliarist program.

A reception followed the ceremony, and all attendees flowed into the back of the boathouse to celebrate the achievement with snacks and beverages.

Third time’s the charm

Those present acknowledged the efforts of Mr. Pothier. When he joined the Woods Hole flotilla, there was only one other Vineyard member, as far as anyone knew. After sifting through records, however, Mr. Pothier discovered two more members. To build up membership from there, he held a number of open houses to generate interest in the organization. It worked; membership grew from two to 16 in a matter of four years.

“On the Vineyard, everybody likes to volunteer; some people like boating, and this is a good way for them to keep boating and help the public,” he said. “We allow the active-duty members to do their job while we do the mundane stuff.”

The passion Mr. Pothier has for the auxiliary is clear. “It’s a good organization,” he said. “I just have a lot of fun.”

One of Mr. Pothier’s recruits is Mr. Scott. The first established Martha’s Vineyard flotilla was during World War II, and then another in 1968, which eventually “ran out of momentum,” he said.

“This time, the third time’s the charm,” Mr. Scott said.

The flotilla plays a large role in boating education on the Island. Mr. Scott helps teach a 13-week boating course at the high school, in addition to giving boating-safety presentations at town schools and libraries.

Other members help with food services, work at the watch station, conduct vessel safety checks, and aid training exercises for pilots over the water, among other duties.

“I think between that and the public education we do, there’s a real service to the recreational boaters on the Island,” Mr. Scott said. “Safety is something we take really seriously.”

Mr. Scott, who spent the past two years as 11-2 flotilla commander, said the establishment on the Island is very helpful. Members will no longer have to travel back and forth.

“It was an overnight once a month every time we had a meeting,” he said. “I also think this is going to help with recruitment.”

A labor of love

“It’s a labor of love; it’s infectious,” Coordinator of Sector Southeastern Region Arnie Geller said. He had traveled from East Providence, R.I., to show his support at the ceremony. “I’ve been in the auxiliary a very long time; my parents were auxiliarists, my kids are auxiliarists, and I just recruited my wife. It’s a family affair.”

Director of USCG Auxiliary First District Northern Region Commander Carissa April said she likes to ask auxiliary members what inspired them to get involved as volunteers. She said the answer is often that joining the flotilla is a great way to be involved in boating and promote boating safety. The work that they do is imperative to the operation of the active-duty USCG, she said.

“The auxiliary will cook for us, they take on some staff duty for us, they help construct things, and fix things,” Commander April said. “They just do a little bit of everything.”

The importance of their work is especially evident during holidays such as Thanksgiving, which Commander April said is “just another day” to the active-duty members, who are required to be on base standing watch and ready to respond. The auxiliary members may cook a Thanksgiving meal, for example.

“That’s really kind of what’s beautiful about the auxiliary,” Commander April said. “They are local members of the community supporting the active-duty members. Active-duty members are usually transient — they’re here for a couple years, and then move on. But the auxiliary is the community on the Island.”