News: Coast Guard ensures public safety at Chincoteague Pony Swim
CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. - On this sunny, summer day, the biggest event of the year in the small town of Chincoteague, Va., took place – and the Coast Guard was there to ensure public safety.
Thousands of visitors watched from land, along the water’s edge, and on boats and in kayaks, as some 120 ponies were herded across Assateague Channel for the 89th annual Chincoteague Pony Swim, July 29.
The Coast Guard played an important role in ensuring the safety of the public by keeping onlookers in safe areas, and maintaining clear lanes for the ponies to swim, said Chief Petty Officer Hank Deatrich, the officer in charge of Coast Guard Station Chincoteague.
“It definitely is a unique event,” he said.
The pony swim is a great way for the station to interact with the public and stress the importance of boater safety as well, he said.
“We don’t have too many big events in this area,” Deatrich said. “When we have an opportunity to get out there and share the message, and make sure it’s a safe event, the crews just love getting out there.”
For the event, the station deployed two, 24-foot Special Purpose Craft – Shallow Water.
The crews patrolled the area, greeted boaters, and answered queries about the pony swim from people eagerly awaiting the animals.
The Coast Guard even had a role to play in the event – to signify the pony swim was about to begin, the crew on one of the boats fired two orange smoke flares. Crowds cheered as the smoke wafted from the boat.
The annual tradition was made famous by Marguerite Henry's 1947 book, "Misty of Chincoteague."
The island was expecting some 30,000 to 40,000 visitors for the event, Deatrich said.
“Some of them may not have had their boats in the water for too long, so it’s important for us to get out there, have good community outreach, make sure they have proper gear on their boats, and everyone’s safe prior to the swim,” he said.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Kerwin Oblington was a coxswain on one of the SPC-SW boats.
“My mission today is to maintain the zone and keep everyone safe,” he said. “Safety is the number one priority, not only for the vessel and the crew, but obviously for the public.”
The pony swim is held by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, with approximately 60 foals to be auctioned to raise money for the fire company, which cares for the wild ponies. The remaining ponies will be herded back to Assateague Island on Friday.
Harry Thornton, fire chief of Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company and pony committee chairman, said he was thankful for the efforts of the Coast Guard.
“Beautiful swim, beautiful day for everyone,” he said.
“This is our biggest event, the cooperation with the Coast Guard has been great, we couldn’t do it without them,” Thornton noted.