Tag Archives: Boston Harbor

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.

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 Marshfield 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.

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.