Beachcombing

By: 
Jay Beeler

Captain Charlene Downey of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) will never forget the September 2014 call from a boat pilot who was docking at Marina del Rey. He stated that one of its four members had fallen overboard after leaving Santa Barbara Island.

“It was like finding a needle in a haystack or a coconut in the ocean,” she told members of the Rotary Club of Long Beach at a recent luncheon meeting aboard the Queen Mary.

The responding Coast Guard Sector for Long Beach covers 350 miles along the California coast, from San Clemente to Morro Bay, extending 200 miles from the shore.

Joe Blushtein from New Jersey was the man who fell overboard while attempting to scoop a bucket of water for cleaning fish. His brother, Igor, was at the helm while the others slept below.

Drawing from their resources of four large cutters, three small boats, two helicopters and “scientific models” for situations like this, the Coast Guard began its search as Igor also back-tracked toward the island.

Brother Joe spent nearly seven hours fighting for his life in the frigid water. He could see the helicopters overhead and watched as the boats executed a back-and forth pattern.

He whistled and shouted at one of the small boats and was heard by a rookie enlistee. “It was like winning the Super Bowl when the command center was told he was found,” Downey said.

A native of Fort Wingate, N.M., Downey is a 1993 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy with a Bachelor of Science in management and Master of Science in 2000 from the Florida Institute of Technology.

Downey was promoted to commander of Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach in June 2016, a job that has broad legal authority for maritime safety, security and stewardship. She wears five hats as captain of the port, federal maritime security coordinator, marine inspector, search and rescue coordinator and federal on site coordinator for incidents like the May 2015 oil spill off Santa Barbara.

“It really doesn’t matter where I am stationed because of the great professionals in the USCG who are doing amazing work 24-7,” she said, “I am proud to represent them.”

The organization has about 36,000 active duty, 7,000 civilian and more than 7,000 reservists in their nine western-hemisphere districts, which are broken down into 39 sectors, such as LA-LB.

Downing states that the only function that is not performed locally is ice breaking.

Its federal budget is approximately $11 billion and, according to its website, on an average day, the USCG:

  • Conducts 45 search and rescue cases
  • Saves 10 lives
  • Saves over $1.2 million in property
  • Seizes 874 pounds of cocaine and 214 pounds of marijuana
  • Conducts 57 waterborne patrols of critical maritime infrastructure
  • Interdicts 17 illegal migrants
  • Escorts five high-capacity passenger vessels
  • Conducts 24 security boardings in and around U.S. ports
  • Screens 360 merchant vessels for potential security threats prior to arrival in U.S. ports
  • Conducts 14 fisheries conservation boardings
  • Services 82 buoys and fixed aids to navigation
  • Investigates 35 pollution incidents
  • Completes 26 safety examinations on foreign vessels
  • Conducts 105 marine inspections
  • Investigates 14 marine casualties involving commercial vessels
  • Facilitates movement of $8.7 billion worth of goods and commodities through the Nation’s Maritime Transportation System.

Founded in August 1790 as the Revenue Cutter Service upon the recommendation of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, it was renamed the U.S. Coast Guard in 1915.

Their slogan is “Semper Paratus – Always Ready.”

Our hearts are aching over the passing last Friday of my nephew’s wife, Stephanie Honodel of Waynesboro, Pa., who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was always a fun person to be with at family reunions, bubbling forth with little witty, sarcastic observations and revelations.

In recent years Stephanie achieved her 15 minutes of fame for creating Puppy Wear – clothing for dogs. At her shop in Gettysburg, Pa., she sold Civil War outfits in both Union and Confederate styles, garnering local television and print news coverage.

When we head east in July to attend another family wedding, Stephanie’s absence – and her memory – will be with us.

publisher@beachcomber.news

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