EASTPORT, Maine — They share a huge body of water so it makes sense that the U.S. and Canadian coast guards practice rescue missions together, just as they were doing in Passamaquoddy Bay on Wednesday and Thursday.
With their limited resources neither agency knows when the equipment of one country might be needed by the other to save a sinking boat or in some other marine mishap. That is why they practice together at least once a year.
The rescue exercise Wednesday took place about 600 yards off Buckman Head near the city’s waterfront.
The Canadians had their bright red, 52-foot Canadian Coast Guard cutter the Courtney Bay out of Saint John, New Brunswick, and their smaller, 733-foot Zodiac Hurricane from Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The U.S. Coast Guard had its steel-gray, 47- and 41-foot utility boats along with its faster 25-foot utility boat.
U.S. Coast Guard Station Eastport covers an area from Calais to Cutler, but can be called upon to help with rescue efforts in Canadian waters.
The boats from the two countries left the breakwater in Eastport around 1:30 p.m. Wednesday.
U.S. Coast Guard BM2 Tyler Thorton was at the helm of the 41-footer — his first duty, as with the other pilots, to make certain the boats were secure and ready for operation.
Then it was out into the water.
“Watch your ears,” Thorton yelled as he blew the boat’s horn.
The sun was hot. There was some chop, but other than that it was smooth sailing.
There was an energy on board as the three crew men prepared the lines and readied the boat for its rescue operation. The day’s tutorial was a man-overboard rescue along with ship-tow exercises.
The first rescue involved a woman who was with the Canadian Coast Guard.
The water was around 50 degrees; she had been floating in the water for a while. Even though Canadian coxswain Bryna Fraser was in a protective suit, the water was cold. Thornton eased the boat alongside her and two crew members pulled her from the water.
After some discussion, Fraser jumped back into the water. This time the exercise involved ropes thrown from the boat.
The crew on the 41-footer prepared the ropes.
“Everyone ready for a shot?” Thorton yelled.
“I have a shot,” one crew member yelled.
“Line 1, take a shot,” Thorton yelled.
“Heads up,” the crew man yelled as the line with a small metal weight on the end sailed across the water.
“Line 2, take a shot,” Thornton yelled.
The two lines crisscrossed in the water. Fraser grabbed onto one and was pulled onto the boat. It was fast, it was efficient, and it was effective.
Back on the boat, Fraser said this was the second time she has been involved with the joint exercise. She also participated last year.
She said the Canadians arrived in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, on Tuesday night and were in Eastport on Wednesday morning for the start of the exercise. It involved about 20 people.
Chief James Malcolm was aboard the 41-footer during the exercise for some of the rescue operations. He said the day began early that morning with some desktop operations.
“We basically compared notes,” he said. “They can learn some things from us and we learn things from them.” After that, it was down to the docks to review each other’s emergency equipment, followed by an afternoon of practice.
On Thursday, a military helicopter based in Nova Scotia arrived at the Eastport Airport. “We have a Coast Guard Canadian rescue helicopter here. They are actually on the deck in Eastport right now,” Malcolm said Thursday. The chief said the helicopter was a Cormorant, “a big helicopter.”
The morning was spent cross-training on each other’s equipment; the afternoon practicing hoists with the helicopter — taking injured people off the vessel. The waterfront was lined with spectators.
City Manager George “Bud” Finch watched the activity from the breakwater. He said he was very pleased that USCG-Station Eastport had sponsored the joint Canada-U.S. training session on the bay.
“It is great to see both sides working and training together,” he said. “We offer our congratulations to BMC James Malcolm and his crew at Station Eastport for bringing this event together, and to also thank them for the added benefit to locals and tourists alike for the opportunity to view the exercises from the waterfront.”
Safety is everything, Finch said. “For those that make their living on the bay or those who may just enjoy spending some leisure time in their pleasure boats, timing is everything and who gets there first means little,” he said.
“An emergency on the bay is unlike a marine emergency in most places as the swift currents and tidal changes can quickly put a boat in a perilous situation while the frigid waters can cause hypothermia to set in on a person overboard even on a warm summer day,” the city manager said.