NOBODY AT A Coast Guard station does just one job, and the first day The Seattle Times shows up at Ilwaco’s Station Cape Disappointment, it’s most-hands-on-deck down at the maintenance barn, where one of the station’s 47-foot lifeboats caught a line in its screws, and is being hauled out for inspection.
It’s unclear who is responsible for this entanglement — in one of the station’s own mooring lines. But the Coasties are quick to blame the station’s goblins — a local band of pesky otters, who visit the docks every morning and deftly poop upon the neatly coiled lines of the “Cape D” fleet, sometimes pushing them off the dock.
Lt. Jessica Shafer, the first woman to serve as commanding officer in the base’s 142-year history, laughs at the suggestion that higher-level U.S. military otter countermeasures might be in order.
“We love our sea life,” she says.
As the injured boat drips from its hoist straps, about a dozen Coastie maintenance techs scurry around below it. One crewman stands out: While everyone here is wearing a safety-issue hard hat, he appears to be sporting a cowboy hat. Without being asked, Shafer tells us: “That is a hard hat, by the way.”
Asked whether she approves, Shafer wrinkles up her nose.
“Eh,” she says. “It’s not my favorite. But you know, sometimes you’ve just got to roll with it. If that’s what he needs to have a good day, to have a cowboy hat, it’s all good.”
Sometimes, Shafer and her mentors will tell you, wisdom comes in battles not fought.
That’s a tiny insight into the understated leadership flair of Shafer, 39, an elite lifeboat pilot who in 2006 became the second woman in the storied history of the Coast Guard to earn the coveted Surfman rating — a license to drive lifeboats through seas up to 30 feet and winds to 50 knots. She proved to be a rising service star in subsequent years, rescuing lost mariners out of San Francisco and, later, assisting tens of thousands of hurricane victims in the Gulf and the Caribbean.
Noticing a local news story about her installation as C.O. at Cape D last spring while working on another piece, we made a note to check back with her after a year and ask about a job-shadow. Once convinced that our story would focus on her crew and its teamwork in addition to the female “firsts” she finds somewhat discomfiting, Shafer agreed, and graciously hosted photographer Mike Siegel and me for a couple days this spring.
In addition to the story on Shafer, I’ll offer two observations:
What you hear about the professionalism of “Coasties” who have the backs of us boaters whenever we venture out into the big, cold waters? Take it to the bank. And if a Coast Guard commander, inviting you on a training mission involving a helicopter, warns, “You’re going to get wet,” definitely take her word for it.