Crowds, sunshine welcome Parade of Ships

Becky Vargo • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:03 AM

People of all ages lined the walkways, sat in lawn chairs under the trees and swung their feet over the edge of the pier as the two 140-foot ice-breaking tugs Katmai Bay and Biscayne Bay came down the channel. They were closely followed by the 225-foot cutter Adler and the crowd favorite — the bright-red, 240-foot cutter Mackinaw.

Mini Coast Guard flags, signs and banners also contributed to the welcome extended to members of the U.S. Coast Guard during the Coast Guard Festival’s annual Parade of Ships on Monday afternoon.

Grand Rapids resident Dawn Gebben; her cousin, Gaye Hazel of Holland; and Gebben’s longtime friend, Sara Wilks of Norton Shores, chose a shady area on a hill to watch the special event.

“We always used to go up to the Straits and to the Soo Locks to watch the ships,” Gebben said.

This was her second time to watch the Parade of Ships in Grand Haven and she was enjoying it, Gebben said.

“This is my first time and it’s wonderful,” Hazel added.

Becky Olson of Fruitport joined her daughter and her two grandchildren as they sat on the base of a sculpture near the channel.

“This is the first time we’ve come here,” said her daughter, Kathryn Patterson of Norton Shores. “He loves the boats,” she noted, gesturing to her 7-year-old son, Landon. “He likes the spray and that they are full of flags.”

Landon said he likes the boats because “they’re big.”

His sister, Lauryn, 10, said: “I just came down here because he likes to.”

“I had never been to one of these before,” Olson said. “It’s not fast moving. It’s just nice to sit down in the breeze and watch them come in.”

The Biscayne Bay’s executive officer, Matthew Walton, said this was his first time in command of a ship and his first time at the festival.

“What a sight — all those people lining the way,” said the Mansfield, Ohio, native.

Walton said his vessel was a late entry into the parade.

“I begged my boss to let us come,” he said. “We’ve had a really good summer, seeing places a lot of the crew have never seen. But this is the capstone.”

The Alder’s executive officer, Mary Ellen Durley — a native of Potosi, Wis. — is also visiting Grand Haven for the first time.

A former crew member aboard the Acacia, which once called Grand Haven home, Durley said she was glad her crew had the opportunity to come here this year.

“I’ve heard tons about the festival,” she said. “Everybody in the Coast Guard family knows about Grand Haven.”

The commander of the Mackinaw and the commander of the Katmai Bay are both ending their duty rotations this month.

The Mackinaw captain, Scott Smith — originally from Cleveland, Ohio — said he is headed for a desk job in Washington, D.C., following a change-of-command ceremony on Wednesday. He will be turning over the helm of the ship to Michael Davanzo.

“It’s bittersweet,” Smith said. “It’s been a good three years — the best job in the Coast Guard and it’s hard to be leaving it.”

Smith said the west coast of Michigan is like his second home. He has been to Grand Haven six times for the festival, with this one being his fourth year aboard the Mackinaw.

“To have a whole week dedicated to something you do for a living is very, very special,” Smith said. “It’s a celebration of not only what we do every day, but our history as well.”

The Katmai Bay’s executive officer, Glen Moscatello, will be changing over command on Aug. 12. Moscatello will become the intelligence officer for the Coast Guard’s Sector Sault Ste. Marie.

Moscatello said his crew left dry dock in Escanaba and went to Cleveland, where most of the Coast Guard Ninth District vessels rendezvous for a training session. The ships left Cleveland on Friday and traveled for two days to get to Grand Haven in time for the festival.

“My crew hasn’t been home for almost nine weeks,” Moscatello said. “But they’re happy to be here. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The new commander of Sector Field Office Grand Haven, Sean Brady, was reveling in the day.

“It’s a sense of community just being here,” he said.

Brady said the community has welcomed his family with open arms — and the city of Grand Haven, as well as the Coast Guard Festival personnel, have made it all very easy to be here at this time.

“It was a great time being here to watch,” Brady said of his visit with family two years ago. “It’s an even better time being part of the festivities.”

The festivities include ship tours that started Monday evening. Tour times are posted on signs by the ships, but are subject to change.

For more information on the Coast Guard Festival, visit www.coastguardfest.org. Also, visit the Grand Haven Tribune's special Coast Guard Festival website by clicking here.

To see more photos from the Parade of Ships, click here.

Ninth District commander in town early

The Coast Guard’s Ninth District commander, Rear Adm. Michael Parks, came into town early and rode aboard the Mackinaw in the Parade of Ships, said Coast Guard Festival Director Mike Smith.

Brady said the commander, at the end of the parade, was going from ship to ship to hand out awards to some of the crew members.

“To have Adm. Parks here to present awards means a lot to the crews,” Brady said.

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