Got to Be On the Water

Every day we see three or four Coast Guard boats buzzing around the York River, but that’s only the tip of the fleet. Meet the captain.

“We have 25 boats of various sizes and rates training all over Hampton Roads,” said Patrick Hogan, Boatswain 2nd Class from the Yorktown Coast Guard Training Center. He was joined by his wife Jennifer and daughter Peyton and his parents Mary and Tom Hogan. “The boats head out to the Concrete Reef and others go to Hampton. The boats you see here are 25s. They’re training for towing, man overboard and dock crashing. That’s what we call docking.” His boats can run 40 mph.

Got to Be On the WaterHis dad is retired Coast Guard. “The 47s are the heavy-weather craft, with twin Detroit Diesels. That’s what we rode on the Oregon coast in heavy-weather training.” Tom was referring to the National Motor Lifeboat School at Cape Disappointment, where the waves run to 30 feet and it takes all you’ve got to jettison the boat out into the Pacific. “If you hit them wrong the waves can shatter the windshield. It’s tons of water coming at you.”

Poised Aplomb

Patrick added, “You can’t drive into them head-on. You have to approach on an angle and then play the waves so you don’t get hit sideways.” He described it with a poised aplomb as if it was a mere chess move.

Got to Be On the WaterJennifer trained in the 47s as well as a boatswain mate. I asked her if she was terrified. “No,” she said after a pause. “I went out five or six times. You’re comfortable that the trainers know what they’re doing.”

Patrick deadpanned, “It’s not like in the old days when my dad’s crew had to row out there. I used to tell him that at least when we come back we don’t have to pick splinters out of our hands.” Everyone laughed at me for my astonishment.

Tom used to run rescue missions. “Back then we did 200 to 225 rescues a year, but that went out after 1980. During the Reagan administration, the government said we’re not going to do that anymore. That’s how Sea Tow and Tow Boat US came about.”

The Coast Guard still does rescues. Patrick explained, “If there’s a medical emergency or a fire or you’re taking on water, we’ll handle it.” I’ve always been curious if his personnel in training would respond. “Yes, even though they’re students they’re under supervision. So yes, we’d respond to those three events.”

Spinnaker Let Fly

Got to Be on the WaterOn the down-leg run, the wind was strong but we decided to fly the spinnaker since we had the crew to handle it. Patrick held the wheel while Tom and I went up to hoist the chute.

I asked Patrick about boarding. “We don’t like to board sailboats because it’s difficult to get over the lifelines. Besides, we figure that anyone who sails probably knows more than the motorboat operators.” I hadn’t thought about the lifelines. “We carry a lot of gear. It’s just easier boarding a motorboat over the side. If we see that you have a Coast Guard Auxiliary sticker, we’ll wave you off as well.” Is there a stereotype you won’t board? Patrick laughed. “We won’t stop you if you have three fat guys with their shirts off.” Ugh.

Got to Be On the WaterMary and Tom are thinking of retiring from Illinois to somewhere along the East Coast, perhaps North Carolina. “I’ve been around boats all my life,” he said. “I taught sailing to Sea Scouts in Chicago. I made E6 by moving up the ranks very fast. Toward the end they wanted me to take a desk job. That wasn’t for me. I’ve got to be on the water.”

Two-year-old Peyton adjusted to the rocking and heeling of the boat in 13 mph winds. “She’s a boating girl,” her grandfather said proudly. “The first time she went out she was six days old.”

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