On a clear day in Milford, homeport of Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 24-3, you can stand on the shore and see across the Sound to Long Island. To the east lies the sprawl of the New Haven waterfront. To the west, the mouth of the Housatonic River.
Either direction, you're quickly caught up in the myriad of boating activities on those two shores - pleasure, commerce, commercial transportation, sport fishing, charters, ferry routes. But inside Flotilla 24-3's base on Helwig Street in Milford, a one story building holds a rich history in pictures and artifacts that spans years of rescue work on the Sound. In any weather, with any vessel, the talent and dedication of the Auxiliary's members stands out. It's evident when you walk inside the Flotilla building - there are awards, photographs, and mementos of service to the boating community that stretch from 1942 to the present. (When it was first organized, it was known then as Flotilla 713. Later it was designated 7-3, and finally 24-3. Number changes throughout the years to the Milford Flotilla represent organizational changes by the Coast Guard.) Displayed inside the building are reminders of lives and property saved, storms braved, generations of boaters instructed in seamanship and safety. Sacrifices made both in peace and war. The original wartime charter of the Flotilla reads in fact, "the members who agree to serve on a part-time basis during World War II will serve on port security, patrolling our shores, and any other situation which is required to keep our country safe." Later the Flotilla was disbanded after the war, but was reorganized in October 1952.
In the spring of 1998, Flotilla 24-3 prepared to celebrate the launching of its newest search and rescue boat. Other boats have come before this one - originally, the volunteers who made up the fledging Flotilla's membership used their own craft. On walls crowded with citations and plaques and awards are two oil paintings and one full-color photograph - the visual records of the previous rescue boats operated by the Flotilla.
One painting shows the vessel launched in May 1955, the Flotilla's first rescue boat, a 38' Harker's Island. This original '73' vessel served the Flotilla until 1967. She was built in 1928 in the Chesapeake Bay Area with white oak frames and yellow pine planking. Powered by a single 'straight 8' gas engine, she represented the first of a line of boats that have plied the Sound, searching for and rescuing boaters in need. Its 155 horsepower Chrysler Royal Special sent the craft at a speed of 14 knots. When the boat was not in use it was tied up at the Milford Yacht Club, where Coast Guard Auxiliary '713' also held it's meetings. When winter came around meetings were held back then in Merwin's Shorehouse.
The Harker's Island was eventually replaced in 1967 by a new boat, and a second painting in the building shows the 34 foot, all-steel construction Striker Sport Fishing boat that was purchased. The Flotilla members decided the Striker would have a new radio three times as powerful as the Harker's, and that plans were being made to equip the new vessel with radar for night work. It was clear back then the Flotilla's mission was changing, and a more versatile, hardy rescue boat was needed. When the new '73' boat took to the water, she was all white with a black stripe. Gone was the distinctive red top of the older rescue boat.
The Stryker was powered by twin 108 horsepower engines, and was built in Holland in 1959. Her top speed was 12 knots. A major refit of the boat was carried out from the years 1982 to 1996. The pilothouse was enlarged and made more sheltered from the elements. Major changes were made in electronic gear. A Fire Department radio, a radio direction finder, Loran, Radar, two VHF radios, and a CB radio were among the new set of electronics installed. Search and rescue capabilities grew. These years saw the '73' mission become more wide-ranging in the Sound including helicopter operations. She might have been slow, but the Striker 73 boat could move a mountain, as proven in the aftermath of Hurricane Gloria. During this time, she pulled craft off sandbars, wetlands and backyards surrounding the storm wracked Milford Harbor area. The towing operation went non-stop for almost two days.
Search and rescue operations once again changed their profile - this time the Flotilla needed a boat with more speed. Although the Stryker '73' was excellent for towing with its twin diesels and steel construction, it could not respond in time to distress calls scattered throughout the 73's area of operations. The Stryker was also showing its age, and would need an extensive overhaul to keep it seaworthy and ready for action. The Auxiliary went through a long, formal and informal process of trying to get a vessel from the Coast Guard - but in the end it was unsuccessful. Milford Flotilla 73, Inc., the owners of the vessel and building went to "Plan B" and decided to look instead for a used or new boat within the limits of their budget. This boat would then be "offered for use" to the C.G. Auxiliary Flotilla 24-3. They finally decided on a new boat, recognizing that it would cost more, but in the end the Flotilla would get more years out of a freshly constructed vessel and be able to have it built to its own specifications and Search and Rescue capabilities. The RP Boat Shop in Steuben Maine started construction on the new 73 vessel in May 1997. It's a faster boat with a semi-displacement hull, all fiberglass construction, and a single 300 HP turbo charged John Deere diesel engine with a top speed of 22 to 24 knots. There is also a bow thruster for maneuvering in tight situations. Once again the 73 vessel has a full electronic complement with an integrated chart-plotter/DGPS. This vessel completed sea trials and was delivered to Milford Flotilla 73, Inc on 22 September 1997.
Even though the current Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla of Milford has the number 24-3, it is a wish to carry the long tradition of memory and service associated with Milford's vessels "73". After all we have had almost 50 years of good luck, so why change now? Soon another picture of a 73 rescue boat will hang on the Flotilla building's walls while another Auxiliary flag patrols the waters of Long Island Sound.