Coast Guard opens house

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette— Philip Barnhart, 5, of Houghton, peers at the controls of one of the U.S. Coast Guard Station Portage’s Motor Life Boats Saturday.

DOLLAR BAY — The first lifesaving station in the Keweenaw was built in 1885. Despite the Coast Guard’s long history here, many people are still confused about what it does, or why it stops boats for safety inspections.

At events like Saturday’s open house, the Coast Guard gets to explain things, said Paul Bruci, a machinery technician at the station.

“Now it’s like, ‘OK, that makes sense. They’re here to make sure we’re doing everything right, so if something comes up, we have the right stuff,'” he said. “Plus people are just so curious. They want to see what we do, and go look at the boats.”

U.S. Coast Guard Station Portage opened its doors to the public Saturday for an open house.

Visitors got guided tours of the station and the chance to peek inside two of the station’s boats. The 47-foot Motor Life Boat is designed to withstand rough sea conditions. The 25-foot Defender class boat is used for situations including recreational boater safety and search and rescue operations.

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette— Seaman Gabriel Posada of U.S. Coast Guard Station Portage helps Jared Lundy, 13, of Laurium, aim a hose at an inflatable target in the Portage Lake Shipping Canal.

An estimated 400 people had stopped by, an improvement over last year. Bruci chalked it up to increased advertising as well as local fire departments putting the word out.

During the winter, the Coast Guard spends time training local fire departments throughout the Keweenaw on rescues.

For people who don’t get pulled over, their main interaction with the Coast Guard is seeing their training exercises from afar on the lake or the canal. While some have described it to Bruci as “playing,” it’s hard work, he said.

“It’s the best way to learn, is to do it consistently,” he said. “And that’s our job. We’re the trainers.”

Elisabeth Barnhart, 12, of Houghton, was sitting at the wheel of one of the station’s 47-foot Motor Life Boats. But her favorite parts of the boats were the engine rooms.

“I think it’s cool, because my adopted grandpa, he used to be in the Coast Guard, and that’s where he worked,” she said.