Coast Guard Auxiliary ready for the summer |

Coast Guard Auxiliary ready for the summer

Isaac Brambila
U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary volunteers patrol Lake Tahoe in a volunteered vessel.
Photo courtesy of Victor Beelik |

There are three reasons why Victor Beelik volunteers with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, two of them involve gratitude and one of those two involves a life-and-death situation.

Beelik was on a 72-foot Canadian boat as part of a 14-man crew in a race from Los Angeles to Honolulu.

In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the rudder post on the boat broke, and the crew had to steer the boat with lines that ran through a whole in the rudder. The situation, however, was going to get worse before it got better.

“The wind was quite heavy and the waves were quite big. There was so much pressure on the rudder and nothing else to support it but the skeg … it tore out on the bottom of the boat and left a hole you could see through to the ocean. And the water was coming in,” Beelik said.

“We had about three or four pumps working and it wasn’t enough, and the engine was sucking out water, too. And we actually had a bucket brigade, two bucket brigades relaying water to try to slow down the intake of the water.”

The water was coming in faster than the crew could get it out, and it was clear they were not going make it the roughly 500 miles to Honolulu.

“I tell you, I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced panic, I did. I was getting panicky. Things were going through my mind, but luckily our cook – he was with me, we were at the bottom handing out buckets – he started telling jokes. That started loosening up everything and the panic sort of disappeared. But I experienced actual panic. I had a wife and a child and [I thought], ‘what the hell am I doing out here risking my life just for having fun,’” Beelik said.

When the crew found itself overwhelmed by the conditions, they called the U.S. Coast Guard, which flew to the area with supplies and aid and tried to help fix the boat. When that wasn’t possible, they towed the boat the 500 miles to Honolulu, all free-of-charge.

That event spurred a respect for the Coast Guard in Beelik. That respect, his love of boating, and a gratitude to his adoptive country — Beelik is originally from Hungary — pushed him to do something to give back. To some extent, what those men did for his crew in the middle of the ocean, he tries to do for others or teach how to survive it today in Lake Tahoe. He has done so since he joined the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary in 1991.

“I felt I owed this country, and this is the way I pay back what the country gave me,” he said.

U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 11-04 in South Lake Tahoe is made up of 22 volunteers and counts with three volunteered vessels. It receives orders directly from the U.S. Coast Guard and provides assistance to different agencies around the lake, including rescue efforts.

Much of Flotilla 11-04 efforts are also placed on education, Beelik said. The group offers classes and also sends its members to classes around the country to help educate the locals. It also provides free boat safety inspections, which help boat owners identify potential safety hazards or limitations in their boats. Once inspected, the volunteers either provide a safety certification or make suggestions. Enforcement is not done by the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Working to prevent problems out in the sea, or locally in the lake, is important, but preparation for the worst is key, Beelik said.

Even if you’re in the middle of the lake, that could be 30 minutes away from medical help, Beelik said. You can get hurt, you can fall, you can get burned and help is that far away.

“Things just happen. Yes, you’re trying to prevent it, but the biggest thing, I think, is be prepared to cope with it.”

The organization offers a class called, “you are suddenly in command,” where they help potential boat passengers prepare for a scenario where the captain or most experienced navigator is suddenly incapacitated.

“(The captain) has a heart attack, or falls overboard, something. You, the wife or the kid, is suddenly in command. What do you do? How do you use the radio? How do you start the engine? How do you put the thing in reverse? How do you go back to pick him up? Or any of those things,” he said.

In the last few years the organization has also been part of a push for use of life vests for people using non-motorized vessels.

Beelik encouraged other people to volunteer. For him, it gave him something to work on after his retirement while also keeping him involved with one of the things he loves the most, boating.

“Once you join, you find out that you thought you knew a lot about boating, and you probably do, but there’s a lot more to be learned,” he said.

If someone is at all interested in boating it is obvious there is a lot more to learn, and the experience you have to pass on knowledge to other people, Beelik said.

For more information about the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary in South Lake Tahoe or to inquire about volunteering, call Victor Beelik at 775-588-1385.

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