July 30, 2008 — For years, fishermen leaving the bayside in Frenchtown set out in the wee hours of the morning with just the bare bones of survival supplies — a few flares, food, water and a lot of ingenuity.
As of this week they should be a lot safer. At a meeting of the St. Thomas Fishermen's Association Tuesday, members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary presented 26 state-of-the-art survival kits to members.
Capt. James R. "C.C." Kreglo, a fisherman himself, said, "In the States, you have larger commercial fishing boats that can be easily seen. Here, we have fishermen in 17-foot boats, where it's a totally different situation."
Along with Vice Commander John Melucci and Commander Timothy Futrell, Kreglo demonstrated the contents of the spiffy navy blue backpack survival kits to the fishermen.
Jimmy Magner, association president, said, "This is great. And it's great for them to come and talk to us, give us their ground rules. We usually go out with flares, food and drink, and, for me personally, a tool kit. I never go without it."
Magner said once he was out with a couple other fishermen when "we blew a connecting rod bearing. We must have gone through a case of oil pouring it through the engine. Somehow, we got back."
"Now that we have all this stuff," said fisherman Patrick Greaux with a laugh, I hope we don't start getting lost."
Kreglo said the officers had gotten supplies for the kits from donations, mostly from local outfitter Caribbean Inflatable Boats & Liferafts, Inc. "We got some donations from the States, and our auxiliary aircraft carried them here, so we didn't have to pay shipping," he said.
The survival packs are stuffed with 20 items, including flares, smoke canisters, whistles, radios, flashlights, first aid kits, sunscreen, thermal blankets, emergency rations, signaling tape, rations and bright orange thermal protective apparel.
This last item got the group's attention as Melucci climbed into one of the ungainly contraptions, while the audience timed his performance. It was easily the hit of the evening.
Futrell displayed the eats. "We tried to get MRE's," he said, referring to the military "Meals Ready to Eat. "But all we could get were these packets. Now, I've tried them, and, well, what I can say is if you are at sea and you are hungry, they will taste good."
Futrell explained the use of the bright yellow signaling tape. "When you're 500 feet in the air in a helicopter, you can't see a swimmer even in an orange life jackets. But, if you hang this yellow tape off the bow of your boat, when it's drifting, it's visible. You see it right away."
Futrell said they couldn't afford the regulation tape, so they purchased construction tape which he said works just as well.
Jan French, who owns Caribbean Inflatable with her husband, Howard, said the donations weren't all that "altruistic."
"We have to get rid of flares, first-aid kits, food and water by certain expired dates," she said. "The expiration date doesn't mean the items aren't good the Coast Guard regulations are that they must be disposed of by the expiration date. The flares have been wrapped in life rafts in fiberglass containers for three years. They are perfectly good."
French said she encouraged other local groups to call her for donations. "We have given to the Salvation Army and the Red Cross. If a civic group needs these things, they can call me." She can be reached at 775-6159.
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