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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Aug. 10, 2023

An icebreaker’s summer break on the Great Lakes

By John Saran, Auxiliary Public Affairs Specialist 1, District Captain — Area East, Ninth Coast Guard District Auxiliary (District 9WR)

What does an icebreaking tug do on the Great Lakes during the summer after six months of icebreaking operations? Sailing races, festivals, cadet training, and visiting world class cities, of course (in addition to supporting the Coast Guard’s law enforcement and search and rescue missions).  

It is no wonder that over the summer, the decks of the Coast Guard Cutter Katmai Bay (WTGB-101) are filled with visiting Sentinels from across the country. How could they pass up the chance to experience Chicago in July, with the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac or the fanfare and festivities of the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival and Sturgeon Bay Maritime Week? 

Preparing for the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac 

On July 16, the Katmai Bay arrived at Chicago’s Navy Pier for nearly a week of liberty and events supporting the 2023 Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac.  

Prior to the race weekend, the cutter’s commanding officer, Lt. Michael Overstreet, and crewmembers attended the Warning Gun Party at the Chicago Yacht Club. Overstreet received a race pennant signed by this year’s racing captains as a show of appreciation from the Mackinac Committee and the Chicago maritime community for the Coast Guard’s support of the event.  

The following day, Overstreet took part in the skippers’ meetings to augment the planning for the event, reinforce emergency procedures and answer any questions from the sailors.  

Race day arrives 

As the cutter prepared to cast off on race day, July 22, “Go Cubs Go” by Steve Goodman blared over the loudspeaker. One of the crew manning a cleat for cast off was Aidan Wiecki, an auxiliarist in the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary University Program at Maine Maritime Academy. Wiecki, joined the Auxiliary in late 2022, is a rising senior from the Virginia-D.C. area who aspires to attend Officer Candidate School. Wiecki expertly handled the lines and made casting off a 140' tugboat look seamless. 

“Our cadets and auxiliarists have spent part of their summer living and working onboard the Katmai Bay, earning in port and underway watch qualifications that they will be able to use anywhere in the cutter fleet,” said Overstreet.  

The cutter steamed out of Navy Pier, and the crew stowed lines and human-sized fenders and raised a pennant from the U.S. Life-Saving Service to judge the wind.  

On the bridge were familiar faces including Executive Officer Lt. j.g. Bryant Giorgi (who supported the 2022 Chicago Air and Water Show) as well as Lt. j.g. Kylie Vaverek, Ensign Lauren Hatfield and Petty Officer 3rd Class Marcos Madrid (who all assisted with the Chicago Christmas Tree Ship Event in December 2022). Three Coast Guard Academy cadets were also aboard, including Myles Gustavo DeCoste, a member of the Class of 2024.  

Working together to ensure participant and spectator safety 

The cutter was soon close to its anchorage location right outside the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse. The crew conducted a briefing and risk assessment before they dropped anchor, and then settled at the center point of a safety zone to protect racing participants and waterside bystanders. Coast Guard and Auxiliary vessels supported by local agencies manned the safety zone and actively kept boaters from encroaching on the race.  

Once enough vessels departed, the cutter raised the anchor and made course for Mackinac Island. The cutter followed the sailing vessels for the duration of the journey, and provided a close SAR response unit and reassurance to the 2,069 sailors. 

After crossing the finish line with flags flying, the crew of the Katmai Bay was invited to attend the post-race festivities on Mackinac Island.  

The cutter’s summer break did not end at Mackinac Island, and the crew began preparations immediately to take part in the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival and Sturgeon Bay Maritime Week.  

Sturgeon Bay Maritime Week lasts through Aug. 12, with Katmai Bay open for free tours through the afternoon of Aug. 11. Check Door County Maritime Museum’s Facebook page for tour times. 

Interested in working on the Great Lakes next summer? 

If you would like to join the Katmai Bay or any other cutter on the Great Lakes next summer, reach out to your chain of command. Auxiliarists, contact your flotilla commander or another member of the Auxiliary chain of leadership. 


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