Teams of former Air National Guard rescue personnel may be wishing for calm winds and flat seas next Tuesday, Sept. 18, when they take to the water for a unique race from Riverhead to Greenport and back. Along the way the people who once served as pararescue technicians, known informally as PJs, must scale a rope at the Route 105 bridge and dive without scuba gear to the bottom of Greenport Harbor.
It’s all part of a weeklong reunion for retired and former PJs, said Master Sgt. Jules Roy of the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach. The reunion includes a “rodeo” of events, such as the race of Zodiac inflatables and a separate parachute jump accuracy competition over Peconic Bay.
Seven teams, including one from South Africa, will participate.
“We’re trying to highlight Long Island history and introduce guys to the area,” said Master Sgt. Roy, a pararescue technician for the 106th.
The 15-foot Zodiacs, all standard military issue of the type frequently fitted with parachutes and dropped from aircraft, will be provided by the 106th. The crews will leave from the Treasure Cove Marina along Riverhead’s East Main Street and, to avoid creating a wake, paddle east to the Route 105 bridge. There, one of the crew will climb a 25-foot rope dangling from the bridge to retrieve a number crucial to completing the return leg from Greenport back to Riverhead.
Once clear of the bridge, the crews will fire up the 30 hp outboards and head for Greenport. Each boat is capable of cruising at about 12 mph, although it can be a wet ride in rough conditions, said Master Sgt. Roy
In Greenport the Air National Guard will pay homage to the village’s prohibition era rum-running past. Each crew must send someone overboard in the harbor off Claudio’s Restaurant, which still has a trap door behind the bar where illegal liquor once was delivered. On the harbor floor will be seven kegs donated by Greenport Harbor Brewing. They’ll be filled with water, not beer, representing illegal booze. Each boat crew must bring one keg back to Riverhead.
The crews must also send someone else down to open a combination lock — using the numbers found at the bridge — to free a cable looped through one of seven cans of outboard fuel on the pier by Crabby Jerry’s Restaurant. Without that, the Zodiacs wouldn’t have enough fuel to return to Dreamer’s Cove, said the master sergeant.
The race, he said, “requires a little bit of thoughtful navigation, breath holding and other skills we use in rescues and other missions.”
As the host unit, the 106th won’t take part in the rodeo.
The race starts at 9 a.m., with boats leaving every half hour.
“We want them to be racing the entire morning and this way they won’t know how each other is doing,” Master Sgt. Roy said.
Bill Claudio, a retired Air Force fighter pilot, said his family is only too happy to play a role in the Air National Guard rodeo.
“Any chance we get to work with the 106th we’ll be glad to do it,” he said. “These guys are unbelievable and can effect a rescue most anywhere. It’ll also be fun to see them use their considerable skills in a way that recognizes our unique history.”