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Thousands watch the Parade of Ships

Becky Vargo • Jul 31, 2018 at 9:00 AM

Gary Pressnell drove up to Grand Haven from South Bend, Indiana, on Monday to watch the Coast Guard Festival Parade of Ships. He was one of the thousands who lined the Grand Haven channel for the annual event. 

Sunny skies, a mild breeze and temperatures in the 70s greeted the crowd.

The former Coast Guard crewman sported a T-shirt with a drawing of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Courageous, a vessel that was stationed in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Presnell said he served on the Courageous for two years in the late 1960s, and finished a four-year career in the Coast Guard at Lorain, Ohio.

Presnell has been coming to Grand Haven for the past three years just to see the Coast Guard cutters. He said he really wanted to come this year to see the Escanaba in person.

“That’s all I do is come here to see the ships and talk to the Coasties,” he said.

See related photo gallery: “Coast Guard Festival Parade of Ships.”

This year’s Coast Guard Festival is a celebration of the Escanaba and a memorial honoring the ship’s namesake, which sank during World War II after being stationed in Grand Haven.

Just down from Presnell leaning on the brilliant blue railing that lines the boardwalk was a couple who drove to Grand Haven to see the lighthouse. 

“We didn’t know that this was happening,” the woman said of the festival and the ships. “My husband is in seventh heaven.”

The channel was blocked off to boat traffic as Coast Guard ships big and small entered the harbor.

An Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office marine patrol boat led the way, followed by the Canadian Coast Guard patrol boat Constable Carriere, and the U.S. Coast Guard cutters Neah Bay and the Escanaba.

Two Coast Guard Auxiliary boats, two 47-foot response boats, two fast-response boats and more Ottawa County marine patrol boats escorted the ships. All of these smaller vessels were patrolling the area prior to and during the Parade of Ships.

Spectators held flags high and waved to personnel on the passing ships. They screamed in delight (and some in dismay) as large streams of water from the Neah Bay soaked the crowd.

“That was the best,” one man said of the soaking. “They should do that every year.”

Once the ships docked at Government Basin in front of Coast Guard Station Grand Haven, festival officials and representatives from Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Ferrysburg presented gift baskets to the ships’ commanding officers. Grand Haven Mayor Geri McCaleb also presented a Key to the City (a print of the Coast Guard City sign from Dewey Hill on a key-shaped background) to the commander of the Canadian Coast Guard vessel.

The ships are open for tours almost every day this week. Check the schedules at www.coastguardfest.org

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