Chowder and Chat

USCG Station Menemsha comes calling at the Chilmark library.


There really is no ordinary day at USCG Station Menemsha, that’s what I discovered at the Chilmark library’s Chowder and Chat Saturday noontime series. You never know what to expect coming into work on a day-to-day basis. Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Martyn informed me, “Some days it might be just a regular maintenance day, making sure our boats are ready for any distress call that would happen. Then some days you come in and the next thing you know you’re on a case for a fishing vessel that’s in distress. It keeps things interesting for sure. We don’t want to go out for a lot of distress calls, but if we have to, absolutely!”

The team was involved in January in a mission off Block Island where one crew member was saved, but the others couldn’t be found. However, most missions are “just your regular mom-and-pop type, like [they] lost their battery out in the water. Just smaller things like that or doing escorts, making sure fishing vessels can get back to New Bedford if something happened to them. We want to make sure nothing is going to worsen as they continue on.”

Chowder and Chat Saturdays is a new winter/spring series at the library. It was the brainchild of director Ebba Hierta. “We invite in rotating guests from the community to spend lunch time in the library. We provide refreshments (namely chowder) and an open communal environment,” Hierta says. “The event is meant as a ‘drop-in’ style, a sort of meet-and-greet, where instead of a formal lecture, people can introduce themselves, ask questions, and generally build community through sharing a meal together.”

Leanna McKenna, Petty Officer 2nd Class, like some of the other Coast Guard members in the group, joined right after high school. For McKenna, she knew she didn’t want to go to college. “I had a cousin in the Coast Guard at the time, so I talked to him a lot, and it just sounded like something I wanted to do. I’m a boatswain, so I drive the boat and I’m in charge of the crew. We do a lot more of the painting and rope work, as opposed to the engineers who work on the engines. They call us the jack of all trades.”

Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Smith had an interesting entrance into the Coast Guard: “I started when I was 18 years old. I wanted to do the rescue swimming program, where I jump out of helicopters. Then I was stationed at a small boat station, and I saw that they drive boats and I thought that was cooler [because] I was with them, I wasn’t at the air station,” he says. “I got into the small boat community, and thought, This is what I want to do.” He said satisfying days were “when everything is going smoothly. The boats are running perfectly. No one is rushing trying to fix something.”

When Island resident Marjory Potts was speaking with Martyn, she commented about how it’s sad that the rush of adrenaline in doing thrilling work was unfortunately connected to when people are in need. Martyn responded, “When you have your first few cases where you have to go out, your adrenaline is going when it’s time to save lives. The funny thing is that when you have your adrenaline going, your body doesn’t work as well. So as you do more cases to save lives, you eventually calm down and realize, ‘OK, I know what I need to do,’ and you do it more proficiently. It’s all experience and training.” In fact, all the members spoke about training as essential not only to doing their job well but also for advancement up the ranks.

I asked residents Peter B. Cook and his wife Sally what made them come to the luncheon. “We think it’s a great idea to get together with people, and it’s fun to see what’s going on … The other thing is, especially with a town-meeting form of government, any time you can get more people involved in the community and understand things from a somewhat different perspective and informal perspective, the better off I think everybody is. It helps with communication,” he said.

Hierta said that the series is “aiming for a variety of guests from various organizations or offices in the community. In some instances, we reached out to people, and in other instances they have approached us. For our first event, we had Dukes County Commissioner Keith Chatinover. Coming up we will be having guests from MVTV, Chilmark selectmen Jim Malkin, the Island Disability Coalition, Chilmark Police Chief Jonathan Klaren, staff from Felix Neck, and more.” It was a lively atmosphere as people happily mingled and ate., I had to agree with Hierta, who said, “What better reason to leave the house on a cold winter day than a bowl of hot chowder and some interesting conversation?”

Just as the gathering was informal, Smith wanted readers to know, “If you ever wish to come down and have a cup of coffee, you don’t have to have a set schedule, just come on by and we’d love to have one with you.”

I recommend taking him up on his offer so you can meet our smart, congenial, and dedicated men and women at USCG Station Menemsha. I’m glad they’re there to make sure we’re safe in the water.

You can find out about upcoming Chowder and Chats by signing up for the Chilmark library newsletter at