Category Archives: Coast Guard

Just a routine day, almost.

The ocean/sea can go from being calm, beautiful and enjoyable to a tempest, gray and ugly and threatening very quickly. Sure we get storms that come on us quickly on the land, but it’s not like our feet are rocking back and forth and we can’t see where we are or where we’re going.

I’ve had at least two major occasions when we are out cruising in calm, even pleasant weather and then out of no where have dangerous weather just descend on our boat.  Both times there was just no where to go find shelter and we didn’t have that option. If we got caught in sudden bad weather, you can imagine others less trained, experienced and equipped got caught in the same weather and now require help.  It doesn’t take much on the ocean to alter your situation so much that you are facing very real danger or you’ve already been seriously injured, tossed into the sea or even killed.  Ending up in the water off of Massachusetts is a very dangerous situation. You may think you can swim to shore, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it happening. The ocean may look inviting but even strong, conditioned, experienced swimmers can quickly end up in life-threatening situations. Often people will go out in vessels that are just not designed or equipped for sea travel and it can often end up killing you.

A buddy of mine and I were assigned to the Group Boston Aids to Navigation Team (ATON). It was an interesting four years. It was good experience and good training and the Boston area is so rich in maritime history we got to be at sites and work on buildings that most people would never see. Certainly the iconic Boston Light House and other lesser known but just as impressive structures. There’s Graves Light, which sounds forbidding and it actually is.  It is almost at the entrance of Boston Harbor almost out of sight of land, but oddly surrounded by rocks, ledges and other low water.  Many Mariners not really aware of the area have not made it home ending up on the dangers around Graves. Many think it’s named Graves because of that, but it’s actually named after a British Admiral named Graves. There’s Minots light which also guards very treacherous water. We had one case, the subject managed to wend their way inside the rocks and ledges and then realized they couldn’t get out. Of course it was the middle of the night and we had to pick our way in to get them and then gently and gingerly pull them out with us.

As I said in this particular occasion we were assigned to the ATON team. Since we both had much experience in the area and driving boats and it was our job rating we would often shuttle people out to different locations by boat to do different kinds of work. Boston Light was the last manned lighthouse and so it required additional attention to accommodate the Coast Guard personnel that had to live out there two weeks at a time.

In respect to that we had just finished a day of work helping electricians do work out on Boston Light and were transporting them back to Boston which is, usually, a rather pleasant boat trip. This one would be challenging.

We were just using a small work boat big enough to transport four Electronic Technicians (ET) and their equipment out and back.  We were just approaching the main channel when the emergency radio frequency just went berserk. As we looked into Boston we could see why. There was this monstrous blue/green cloud cover and from what we could pick out from the babble on the radio it was producing torrential downpours and very dangerous lightning. We really had no time to react and it was on us. We had no special navigation equipment on this boat and in this weather probably wouldn’t have helped anyway. Heavy downpours can just blank out radar and can also cut off satellite GPS. (like when a heavy downpour blanks out your satellite television at home).

So there we are, this is definitely the most intense thunderstorm I’d been in and I think the other guy. I know for sure it was for the ETs cowering in the boat cabin. I was outside with no foul weather gear on because it really wasn’t necessary when we started and it was hardly the first time I’d received a good hose down. I was trying to figure out where we were and where we are going it doesn’t take much for a small boat to get pitched around and going in a direction you don’t want to go. Inside Boston Harbor there are plenty of areas that you don’t want to hit either. We figured it out and were proceeding very carefully. It was mid-summer so getting hosed down was kind of fun.

The lightning was so intense I can only describe it by imagining what it would be like under artillery attack. Although it was so thick I couldn’t see the lightning I could very much hear it hitting and got that ozone smell of lightning disrupting the atmosphere. We may not have been at risk for artillery shrapnel, but even a close hit could have taken us out or at least disrupted the boat’s electronics and shut down the engine.

We made it through and my buddy and I thought it was great fun. That sentiment was not shared by the ETs who were expecting a routine uneventful day. Twenty nine years in the Coast Guard on the water taught me that sure there are routine days, but those days can get dangerous quickly and might just ruin your day.

The Grim Reaper

It was the middle of the winter at Point Allerton Coast Guard station which is usually a time when the crew kind of hunkers down. There usually isn’t much going on, although there are still people out on the ocean. For most who are out there, they are trying to make a living. Making a living on the ocean, especially in areas that are cold and stormy such as the North Atlantic, Bering Sea, is dangerous, very difficult, extended darkness and cold. People who make their living on the ocean don’t usually need help, but when they do, you know it’s serious.
Being right on the coast, the wind is blowing off the ocean, while it was 17 degrees, the “real feel” is much colder. Sea conditions were at least five foot and probably at least up to 7-8 feet.
The duty boat crew for the 47 foot Motor Life Boat at the station was called into the station office at about 9 pm (2100 hours), a time of day, in the winter, when you’re thinking about just huddling away to get warm and getting ready to crash in your bunk. You’re in a room with three other guys, not luxury accommodations, but warm and sufficiently comfortable. For the boat crew, there wasn’t going to be any sleeping and definitely not being comfortable.
In this briefing we were told that we had a fishing boat, about 25 nautical miles off the coast, that lost its generator and was functioning on batteries. Needless to say, in the current conditions, those batteries weren’t going to last long. The boat was at the mercy of the elements, getting pushed around by currents, waves and wind. In the wave action, the boat would be taking waves from the side, meaning the boat is rocking from side to side, probably rather acutely, The crew is getting rocked back and forth in bitter cold and the darkness being far away from shore and other boats.

The boat is far away from shore, surrounded by water, no reference points at all. Yes, they can tell us their current position with their GPS, but they aren’t going to be at that position for long, being rocked around by wave action and ocean current. We were able to stay in touch with them the entire time, so we could track where they were and we could find them fairly quickly. Often that is the big challenge in locating a vessel in distress. Small boats often don’t have enough battery power and at some point communications are lost. At that point the current weather conditions have to be determined in order to calculate, as closely as possible, the subject vessel’s “set and drift”. That is trying to figure out how the seas and wind are moving the vessel, estimate how long it will take the rescue vessel to get on scene and try to figure out the closet point they will come to.

We are briefed and then we have to put on the bulky three layers of exposure clothing that is worn in hazardous weather conditions. The suit consists of polypropolene underwear, which is covered by a flight suit over which is an exposure suit. The exposure suit is difficult because you have to force your head and limbs through rubber openings that form around your body parts. You then have to bend over to pull on exposure boots and then gear for your head and hands. Frankly, at this point throwing down a dramamine is a good idea, because it’s late, you’re tired, the cold is very wearing and you’re going to get tossed around by waves.

It is now 2200 hours, which at military installations is “taps”, that is time for everyone to either go to bed, or make sure their quiet so people can sleep. I know it’s 2200 hours because on the way out the door taps is playing. Here we are going out into the darkness, a good ways off shore, it’s about 17 degrees and there’s a stiff wind. Taps is not exactly what you want to hear at this point. We get down to the boat house get the Motor Life Boat underway. The 47 foot Motor Life Boat is designed to go into very rugged sea conditions. It’s designed to function in hurricane force winds and at least fifty foot seas. If it gets rolled over it is designed, when properly secured to quickly roll back up. In these conditions the crew would be strapped into high impact seats and, hopefully will be quickly rolled back up and should be able to proceed with their mission. You can imagine it would still be a good ride.

As we were getting underway for a trip twenty-five miles into the Atlantic Ocean into the darkness, cold, wind and seas well into the night, hearing taps on the way out of the station, we start to get more information on the boat. Boat name, description other specifications and information. We are told that the boat we’re looking for is named The Grim Reaper. 

Needless to say all the different factors are not exactly comforting, but conversely we have had to deal with more difficult conditions. We made it on scene fairly quickly and uneventfully. Obviously we still had to look around because we’re looking for a relatively small object, unlighted in fairly heavy seas in the pitch black. We did locate the boat and at this point we have to stand off from the boat to see what it looks like, how it is being bounced around and plan how we will approach and get the tow line on.

You may think “what’s the big deal?” The problem is that you have a fishing boat that’s around ten feet longer. it will probably have a large load of fish and the fish are kept fresh by a heavy load of ice and the boat was a very sturdy wood construction. This will all combine to make it very heavy. We can’t risk getting too close to the boat because if it happens to go up on a  wave over our boat and comes down on our boat it will almost inevitably crush part of our hull. At that point the water tight integrity of our boat will be lost, we may not sink, but we will not be able to roll and come back up and the performance of the boat will be seriously affected. Worse case scenario is that the hull is crushed right down to the water line. The MLB may not sink, but it’s definitely not going anywhere.

Now the boat has to be backed down so that two crewman can pass a heaving line to the boat that’s attached to a much heavier tow line. We are backing down on the Grim Reaper and two crewman are working in the well deck hooking up all the towing gear. The tow line is set up into a tow pendant so that there are two separate attachments to the boat, this will reduce the load on the main tow line and will also leave one line attached if one separates. In backing down, this kicks water up into the well deck. The deck is now covered with slush, making all the work to complete these fussy line connections a lot more difficult. We all want to get a line on that boat without getting too close and as quickly as possible. We’re getting knocked around by the waves and slipping around on the slush in bulky clothing, cold fingers… You get the picture and then trying to throw a line, anywhere from about ten yards to maybe up to twenty five in a wind that’s probably about thirty to forty knots. We have to throw up wind and hope that it carries over  the boat to the crewman waiting to receive it and attach to his boat.

After a few attempts we do get a line on The Grim Reaper and finally take it in tow. The boat is out of Gloucester, which is north of Boston Harbor. Point Allerton Station is on the southern point of Boston Harbor. While we made it out to the boat quickly and uneventfully, now that we have it in tow, our speed is now greatly reduced and we’re headed to a location north of where we came out of. We are now going to be getting affected by the wind and seas a lot more and moving much slower.

At this point a boat from Gloucester has been dispatched and the plan is that we meet, but it’s going to take time for them and we’re well on our way back to Gloucester. After six hours we meet up with the Gloucester boat, transfer the tow without incident and are directed to RTB (Return to Base). We get back at about 5 am (0500 hours), about seven hours underway. Under normal conditions seven hours is a good days work. Seven hours in these conditions take a lot out of you, but after securing the 47 so that it would be ready for another case, we walk back into the station self-assured that we overcame a big challenge and saved some lives.

Being aware of your environment

Another sea story which is frankly a little bizarre. I assure you this hasn’t been embellished at all, frankly you just can’t make this stuff up.

One of the issues I have with recreational sailors and divers is that they really don’t know what they’re doing. The sea is an easy place to get into trouble, very fast, and in too many cases people end up seriously hurt and often dead. This is a story where the worst was realized. Sailors need to be aware of what parts of the sea they’re going into. Far too often the attitude is that if you’re right near shore in a harbor, there really isn’t anything to worry about. After all I know where I am, I’m right next to such and so, so no need to worry. In this particular case ignorance turned out to be fatal.

Back in the day, people used to dump all their waste right into the ocean. It was right there, it was huge, what difference would my trash barrel make? U.S. Coast Guard Station Pt Allerton is located in Hull, Massachusetts. Hull is an old town even for Massachusetts. The Point Allerton area of Hull is named after the man who founded it who came to America on the Mayflower. So there have been people in this area for about 400 years now and with most of them dumping material into the waters off of Hull for most of that time. These areas are marked on nautical charts, they mark areas that could be shallow, the bottom may have shifted and certainly it’s just a mess for any diver to go down into.

It was a really nice mid-summer day, FAC (sailor for “flat ass calm”). Nothing remarkable about the day, station work was going on and not a day where we would be on any special kind of alert or advisory. I happened to be in the comm center when a call came in from a boat that had brought a diver out to an area to search for their anchor. They had lost their anchor earlier in the week and a friend, who was a diver, had agreed to try to find their anchor. When they called they reported that it had been about half an hour since they had seen any air bubbles! I’m sure I don’t need to add anything to that.

As soon as I heard that i was already on a run to the boat house, the SAR alarm screeched out and three others went out to meet this boat. At the same time a request went in for the Massachusetts State Police Dive Team. Needless to say that was going to take awhile and all we could do at this point was go out, get the information and secure the area for the dive team.

They went right into the water when  they arrived and when one diver surfaced he reported that the water was so junked up that he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face. After groping around for awhile the victim was finally discovered. The diver came back up to get a line to haul the victim up and reported that the victim was so tangled in debris that he had to hack stuff off of him to try and get him free. He took a 2 1/2″ nylon line down with him (a very substantial line) and put it around the victim so that we could haul him into the boat. There were three of us and we were all big guys and quite capable to haul any size adult out of the water. But the victim had been so tangled, the State Police diver had to follow the line back down and hack more junk off of him.

We finally got him free and on board and transported back to the station. In situations where there is an unnatural death the responders have to maintain the victim and adjacent area as close to how they found it as possible and wait for the coroner. Obviously the coroner is not going to examine someone in the water or on a 21 foot boat, so we returned him in the stokes litter to the station and placed him on one of the docks, watched over by our people, They were  to make sure that nothing was touched and no one that had a need to know came into the area.

While we were recovering the victim, a civilian boat had pulled in to the station and tied up to an adjacent dock, not a unusual situation. Since no one was on the boat when we got back we weren’t concerned that it was there. The rest of us went back to work in the boathouse, it was the middle of the summer and a weekend. The coroner was about four towns away, so it was going to take awhile for him to get to the station.

The walkway from the parking lot to the boathouse is about fifty yards, so it’s a walk (or often run) to get out there. Well we became aware of what the civilian boat was waiting for, a group of people in formal dress were walking down to the boat house, escorting a man formally dressed and a woman in a bridal gown. (Like I said, really? You just can’t make this stuff up).

Someone burst into the workshop yelling that these people were on there way down, we look at each other in our “what the heck do we do?” We grab a bunch of stuff in the workshop, blankets, life jackets, whatever else would camouflage the occupied stokes litter to make it look as if it were just a pile of boat gear. We then formed a circle around the litter, leaning on each other, trying as hard as possible to make it look like it was just a bunch of guys huddled up, yapping with each other. I’m sure people were less then impressed seeing a bunch of guys just “hanging out”, but the alternative might have been seeing something that would certainly throw a pall on an otherwise memorable day, we thought we would take the hit. I didn’t even turn to look, so I really don’t know what reaction people had, if any, to what we were doing. But they finally all boarded their boat and got underway,. And shortly thereafter the coroner arrived and took custody and let us get back to our regular routine.

Needless to say this is a definitive lesson in diving in a marine environment. Be aware of where you are diving. If he knew where he was diving, I would hope that he would have decided that because of the centuries of accumulated junk, it would have been pointless to search for something as inconspicuous as an anchor. Next he went down there alone. That is a huge diving mistake. There is just too much that could go wrong and having someone else with you who could assist you or at least go for help is mandatory. Next he did not have a flash light. In any underwater environment the light fades out quickly and a flashlight is a requirement. Finally he didn’t have a knife People expressed concern that boat crew members would always have a substantial knife with them, thinking that it was there as a weapon. I guess it could have been, but in a marine environment, it is so easy to get tangled in things that a substantial knife is required in order to cut your way out of something you might have been tangled in. A good knife might have been enough for him to cut his way out when he realized he was in trouble and make his way to the surface. This is not an isolated incident, I relate it because of the events surrounding it and as a graphic example of how easy it is to get into serious trouble.

Sea – Stories I

I could swear I’ve written this, but I can’t find it and if for no other reason then I want to compile some of my sea stories, I’m writing it again and I hope that I don’t bore or annoy anyone, but it really is a great story, on a few levels.

This happened sometime in the mid-80’s, reason I remember that is because as a result of this God smacked me in the head and made me realize that I needed Christ as my Savior and Lord of my life. So in my mid-twenties I was baptized and came to be reborn, a new creation, a child in Jesus and yea, it was as a result of my Coast Guard service.

It was in October, fall weather is definitely the worst, seems like cruddy weather, wind, high seas, raw cold, just the worst and this day was the worst I ever experienced.

Interesting thing was that we had been out the night before and was a nice evening for October in New England, calm, warm, wasn’t even wearing a jacket and we were out until 1am, that’s 0100 hours for you military types. Next day was Sunday, usually “holiday routine”, only necessary work and of course all response, but no station work. Since we had been out late and it was Sunday, we were all trying to get some extra sleep and then the Search and Rescue (SAR) alarm just rips through the station. That alarm could wake the dead, All I remember is falling from my top bunk bed, grabbing clothes and just running. Now the first tip off was that while we were running out, the other duty people were yelling at us “44”, which meant the 44 foot Motor Life Boat.

The 44 foot MLB is designed primarily for bad weather, it was supposed to go into seas up to fifty feet. I wouldn’t bet my life on it, but that was the standard. If people are yelling at us on the way out, it’s urgent and it’s crummy weather. We have to travel aways to get into open water, outside the chains of islands in Boston Harbor. So it was fine, initially, once we cleared the Brewsters, the islands marked by Boston Light the roller coaster ride began. Seas were in excess of fifteen feet, the boat was headed south to Marsfield to the North River. A man who had his boat moored in Marshfield decided it would be safer in Boston, despite the fact that he would have to go through high winds and fifteen foot seas. He went aground in the river, a MLB crew from Scituate station went aground trying to get him. The subject ended up in the water and died, the boat coxswain and engineer from the MLB both ended in the water, all were medevaced.

The trip is about 10-15 miles by water, in normal conditions on a normally fast boat the trip would take 30-45 minutes. It was not normal conditions and the 44 footer was not a fast boat. It took about three hours. On our way we’re going by Minots Light, I kept watching this big, ancient light house wondering why we weren’t passing it. We are getting tossed back and forth, there was no uniformity to the wave action and we were being tossed all over the place. We are keeling so far over to the side that the antennas on the side of the boat are actually whipping across the waves, this boat is very close to being on its side on the water.

 Needless to say seasickness is now rampant, furthermore I didn’t bring any foul weather gear, why would I perfectly nice out the night before. I’m becoming hypo-thermic with waves breaking over the front of the boat and side to side. The Atlantic Ocean isn’t warm, and getting doused over and over, on an open deck, with the wind howling around you, you’re going to get cold fast. At this point I’m leaning over the side, “discharging”, holding on. Add into the equation that the only other boat in the area that could come to get us if something happened with our boat is hung up in the river. Now the MLB is made so that if it does roll over, it will come back up and it’s made so that you should reach the nearest safe mooring. Yea…, OK…, small comfort and any damage to the boat and if we rolled, we might well not come up. No one wants to take a dip in the Atlantic in October and if you do come up, soaking wet, in the wind, you will probably live, but you will suffer.

After three hours, that is not a typo, we made it into the North River, we take the remaining crewman off the other MLB, get both boats secured, then start the trip back. During the trip down, hypo-thermic, purged of stomach contents, still dry heaves, I look over the water and say ‘OK God get me out of this and I will go to church.” Well He did, even though I had little concept of what that meant. Sometime around 5pm we finally return to Point Allerton Station in Hull, Ma. We had been underway almost eight hours, I was now off, got my bags, threw them in the car, drove home, took a very hot shower, fell into bed, and the next day woke up and went to the day job.

But as i said it was an adventure on many levels. The obvious in terms of the storm and running a SAR case under those conditions. But the biggest adventure was just starting, God plucked me up, and while I had very little understanding of what being a Christian was, I was about to find out and it has been an adventure that has led me to Concordia Seminary in St Louis, Mo. I earned a Masters of Divinity degree and was called to be the pastor of First St Johns Lutheran Church, in York, Pa. I have no doubt that even after four years of ministry God has a lot more adventure in store for me and that’s good. Being a Christian should be about adventure, being led to find the lost, disicipling those in Jesus and all that goes with ministry, especially ministry in a downtown, inner city area. God has provided and continues to do so and He helps me to serve to the best of my ability.

9/11 was a fateful date in my life

A couple of milestones, first I just published my 200th post, decent amount for thirteen months of writing. Thanks very much for those who check out my blogs. Most other bloggers are better and more prolific than I am, (and OK, much more popular) but blogging gives me a chance to address some issues, refer people to when they’d like to check out my ministry and an artistic outlet for me. (Yea, I know, not very artistic, but it is for me.)
Other milestone, much more compelling, the thirteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington D.C. and western Pennsylvania.
I was working in corporate finance for Robert Half International in downtown Boston. Worked half a block from Boston Common. Like everyone else this day didn’t start out notably and there was nothing about the day that was at all out of the norm. Nice weather, a little chilly, hey it’s Boston in September, it cools off quick after Labor Day. Pleasant enough walk from South Station, about a mile. Into the day, heard on the radio that a plane hit the World Trade Center. Like others, I thought they were referring to some small craft, didn’t sound like too much of a surprise. The buzz in the office, though, was slowly, but steadily, increasing and I decided to check the television. Clearly this was much more serious. Then the second plane hit and then the plane hit the Pentagon. It was quickly disclosed what flights these planes were and where they had originated, Boston.
I don’t know how, but it had to be one of the one of the fastest decisions in city and state government I’ve every known. Everyone leaves the city who doesn’t live here and they need to be out by 2pm. None of us needed much encouragement. Terrorists struck two major east coast cities, the flights originated from Boston, who is to say there aren’t more and one, or more, aren’t aimed at Boston.
On my way to the last train out of South Station is one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had. The mile walk in the heart of Boston on a weekday in September consists of waiting for walk lights, dodging traffic to get across streets, traffic congestion and noise, planes very low over head landing at Logan Airport just across the inner harbor. There wasn’t a lot of idle chatter on the train home and it seemed as if the train crew was on a mission to finish the course and get the heck home themselves.
I knew one NYPD Officer and one Fire Department of New York firefighter and also someone at the Pentagon. Also my corporate jobs were all closely associated with NYC. My first job was with Chase Manhattan, and subsequent companies I worked for had me handling the NYC area. Spent a lot of time in NYC and knew a lot of people in different corporations there. None of them, thankfully suffered any ill-effects due to the attacks.
I wasn’t going to get hold of anyone for a while, but they were all in my prayers. Churches across my home city, mine included, were open the next night and as you may know, church attendance spiked for the next few weeks. Flags were hung, various patriotic displays and waiting for the next step.
I had been serving in the United States Coast Guard Reserve for twenty-five years. Yes, the Coast Guard is a military organization, in fact the unit I was in at the time was a Naval Coastal Warfare unit. This was a unit deployable to anywhere in the world. These units were formed after the bombing of the U.S.S Cole in Yemen In October, 2000 in order to protect U.S. ships in foreign ports. We were told to keep our cell phones on, our seabags packed and be prepared to leave at very short notice. This unit stayed mobilized until August 2002. We were deployed for almost three months to Tarragona, Spain to do force protection for a NATO exercise in Spain.
From there I went back to the boat station I had been with for over twenty years. From there to a temporary assignment to the First District Small Boat Tactical Team to do security for different High Interest Vessels and locations in the First District (mostly New England) and then back to my boat station for the rest of my four years on active duty in the War On Terror.
My corporate job had dissolved since my time on active duty, yea legal, but not really very supportive? But in the meantime, it was decided that I attend seminary and was accepted at Concordia Seminary in St Louis to study for a Master of Divinity degree and to begin my third career as a Minister of the Gospel. I successfully finished in 2010 and was called to my first parish, First Saint Johns Lutheran Church in York, Pa.
God’s hand was clearly in the events in my life in the last thirteen years and the Holy Spirit certainly guided me through a challenging, exciting and interesting time. Praise God and I pray that He uses my experiences to His glory and to serve others to the glory of Jesus Christ.

The Day after Labor Day, the most depressing day of the year.

I really loathe this time of year, I mean reallllllllyyyy, loathe. God definitely did summer right, summer in New England is such an amazing time to just go out and live. Nice and warm, long sunny days in stark contrast to what we are rapidly sliding into. Oh yeah, summer days are long, sunny, humid. We’d play basketball on Fridays at the YMCA, there were times when I could literally wring my t-shirt out. But it was a time when you could really live, be out in God’s creation and just go on and on. Winters in New England are days that end, that’s right, come to an abrupt stop at about 4:30pm. Daytime in the summer could go until 9:30pm and then just quietly slide into darkness. Taking summer nighttime patrols on a Coast Guard boat are so peaceful in the darkness, flat calm seas, clear star-filled skies, the ocean is entirely different at night.
In stark contrast the weather in the fall starts to breakdown, sometimes quickly, the crummiest weather by far is the fall. Think “Perfect Storm”, lesser scale, but continuous, every season crummy seas to one degree or another.
My earliest memories of fall started about 11 years old playing midget football, football went on until I was 16. Oh yeah, gotta love it, most practices going into the dark, where the temperature falls, at least, into the forties. Which of course means everything hurts more, hands and feet smashed up, and every so often going into snow.
One fall was definitely my best sea story. The night before we were out until about 1am, the next morning was a Sunday, so with no prior warning the expectation was to sleep in, have a calm quiet Sunday, clean things up for Monday, go home.
Ah yea, not…
Whenever it’s a matter of an imminent threat to life, the SAR (Search and Rescue) alarm rips through the station, the thinking was it could wake the dead, maybe not, but certainly the comatose. Well it went off after we had only a few hours of sleep. Now the night before had been very calm and comfortable, no need for a coat, anything. Well no one had decided to share with a sleeping crew that the weather had taken a turn, a really major turn. So the SAR alarm goes off, all you do is fall out of bed, throw on what clothing that you didn’t wear to bed. At that time of night boots. Shirt, if you still had the stamina to unbutton a shirt and then crash. Running like the Devil is chasing you, gives you only enough time to share what boat to go to. Does not give you time to share the fact that you might want to take more serious outerware, oh well. The tipoff being that you have to get on the 44 foot Motor Life Boat. The “44” is the boat that goes into, at least fifty foot seas, rolls over and comes back up (if necessary, not as a matter of course). Get down to the boat, light it off, get underway, so far so good. Doesn’t look wonderful but still no real understanding of what’s coming up. Hey you have to go out, but you don’t have to come back, as we used to say in the Old Guard.
The station’s in a little cove area; go out a narrow inlet (Hull Gut), then Nantasket Roads out passed some islands and then, open sea and all of a sudden a roller coaster ride. Now in contrast to the much newer boat you see in the picture, the “44” is pretty much open. You can go down below which usually results in immediate sea-sickness, versus on deck which delays it somewhat. So there we are rock-and-rolling, we are in about fifteen foot seas, the sea is crashing over the boat which usually means everyone’s getting hosed down to some extent. The boat is rolling so far side to side, that the communications antennas are actually whipping off of the waves. (Hey we haven’t rolled, so that’s good). I am cold and wet pretty fast and starting to get queasy. There’s four other guys, at least one extra crewman because this is a serious case. Hey, give me credit, two other guys got sick before me, so there we are getting hosed down, leaning over the side, with a boat that was painfully slow. Folks you have not lived until you are hypothermic, having dry heaves and still trying to run a case.
The reason we are on this rock and roll adventure is because a man down in Marshfield decided he needed to move his wooden boat up to Boston to calmer water. He never made it out of the inlet. Another Motor Life Boat was dispatched, that one ended going aground, the boat coxswain, the engineer and another crewman ended up in the water. (This also meant that there were no other boats with heavy seas capability in case something happened to us.) The original man was medevaced, but he was gone, the engineer was medevaced, and the coxswain had no choice but to walk to shore. This left one crewman in the boat, who had only been at the station about a month and was nowhere near qualified to do anything on that boat. (Break-in crew are often taken on cases in order to gain experience and knowledge in order to get qualified.) (I met him again just a few months before I retired, we got to share that adventure, he said he was absolutely terrified during that case.)
We finally get the boat in tow get it to a mooring, get a little together and head back to the station. Still crummy, but not as bad as before. The case started at around 9am and we got back to the station after 5pm. Yea, office hours, but definitely not routine. Eight hours under way, no food, cold, sea-sick, but still that little cocky spring in the step (which was about all I was physically capable of). The Atlantic Ocean thew a lot against us, but we made it down and back. I spent about twenty years out of 29 years at Coast Guard Station Point Allerton. “PA” is one of the most renown stations in the Coast Guard. I read about it in boot camp, before I had ever heard of it. Being a part of that station is to uphold an honored tradition that extends back to the 1870s and I was a proud part of an amazing tradition.
Semper Paratus. I have others, this was definitely the most miserable one. Please check out my short post about the station itself. I would like to write a more detailed history at some time. But when you hear me whining about being cold and really loathing the autumnal season, well this is definitely a part of the reason.