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
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.