Received information from RCC that the F/V SHADOWFAX was anchored in Swanson Harbor, and needed lube oil and 12 volt batteries. Subject stated that he only had 10 hours lube oil remaining and that he was afraid to shut down his engine as he didn't think it would start. He was not in any immediate danger.
I contacted CWO WOODWARD about the situation, and knowing that CWO BROCKMAN, his son and CWO LAPINSKI were stranded in Funter Bay, I asked CWO WOODWARD to contact Mrs. Brockman and, if able, and time permitting, I would take supplies to Funter Bay, with the possibility of transporting them back.
Upon my arrival at Auke Bay, Mrs. Brockman and friends had arrived and the supplies had been placed aboard 44392.
I again contacted RCC for an update on the SHADOWFAX situation. Situation remained the same. I called National Weather Service, special weather service and acquired current weather for Lower Lynn Canal area. National Weather Service reported Wind 60 knots, Seas 13 feet. I questioned his source of information and reported replied data had been supplied by local pilot transiting the area.
I departed Auke Bay aboard 44392 as COX'n with MK1 MACK and FA BUTERBOUGH aboard as crew.
44392 entered Saginaw Passage standing into Lynn Canal, 44392 experienced 60° to 70° rolls to port; seas 18; wind excess of 60 knots at 000° and dense sea smoke. At this time the old Coast Guard saying entered my mind. "You have to go out but you don't have to come back". As 44392 rounded Point Retreat it brought the wind and seas on the stern. The outside temperature was approximately 10°. The spray was freezing to the boat.
44392 entered Funter Bay and moored at the old Peter Pan cannery dock. We were met by both CWO BROCKMAN and CWO LAPINSKI with CWO BROCKMAN's son. I explained that we were on a SAR mission and I was enroute to Swanson Harbor. If possible I would continue on back to Auke Bay, and they were welcome aboard for transportation. We also removed ice from the boat.
44392 departed Funter Bay less than 30 minutes after arrival for Swanson Harbor, a distance of approximately 6 miles. Again 44392 experienced heavy rolling; 18 foot seas; winds 60 knots; as 44392 neared Pt. Couverton she experienced a roll to port approximately 70°, before she could recover and right a second swell hit the starboard side. 44392 seemed to just hold on a 70° port list. Finally she righted and we entered Swanson Harbor without incident.
The F/V SHADOWFAX was located approximately 1 mile in on the south side of the harbor. The wind remained approximately 60 knots. SHADOWFAX did not appear to be in any danger. I was able to bring 44392 alongside with minimal difficulty and transfer the batteries and lube oil. Operator of SHADOWFAX further requested cooling water for his engine and fresh drinking water. These items were transferred. Mr. and Mrs. Lewis (the only persons I knew were aboard at the time) on board SHADOWFAX were asked numerous times if they needed further assistance. They replied negative. They were also asked if they would prefer to come aboard 44392 as I would have supplied transportation to Juneau. They again replied negative. As 44392 departed, SHADOWFAX called 44392 on 2182 KHZ and asked that we standby for a radio check when he changed batteries. This we did and he established communications again. Subject was asked again if they need further Coast Guard assistance and again the reply was negative.
44392 departed Swanson Harbor for Funter Bay. Made contact with RCC via VHF-FM CH 16 WRN 40, informed RCC of situation with SHADOWFAX and action taken, also informed RCC of my intention to head for Funter Bay remain over night. Wind and sea conditions remained the same while crossing Lynn Canal. Lost use of radar due to icing of antenna shortly after departing Swanson Harbor. Daylight/dusk provided good visibility for the return trip. 44392 was turning 2400 RPM's on port and starboard engines.
Entered Funter Bay, attempted to de-ice, cleared radar antenna of ice and restored picture. CWO BROCKMAN retuned radar. Made several attempts to call RCC, Five Finger Station and radio Ketchikan to inform the 44392 was moored, and to pass situation report on SHADOWFAX. Myself, the boat crew and CWO's LAPINSKI, BROCKMAN were given the hospitality of the caretakers quarters and given dinner. I was able to establish communications with CWO WOODWARD via CB radio, CH 13 through Mr. Chas Harrigan of Juneau. We were able to maintain communication with RCC in this fashion. Purpose of these communications was to establish a recall procedure if necessary.
Received information from CWO WOODWARD via Mr. Chas Harrigan that the F/V SHADOWFAX was broadcasting on 2182 KHZ and being received by Pearl Harbor and that they want to be evacuated from SHADOWFAX. That they were concerned for the safety of the two children. This was the first time I was aware that children were aboard. MK1 MACK attempted to establish communications on 2182 KHZ with SHADOWFAX, with negative results. Advised CWO WOODWARD of weather, wind, sea, and icing conditions, unreliability of radar under those conditions and that the capability of the 44392 under the condition was "marginal". I expressed opinion that SHADOWFAX situation was not an emergency, and requested consideration of delaying my departure. I inquired about having the CAPE CORAL take the case and advised that I wanted PLANETREE placed on standby status. Upon learning of the presence of small children, I realized that I would have to make an attempt.
Departed Funter Bay enroute Swanson Harbor, maintained a southerly course so as to bring the wind and sea on starboard quarter. I was maintaining 1000 rpm on port and starboard engine. Held this course until 44392 was below Rocky Island and then changed course so as to bring the wind and sea on the starboard bow, in an attempt to reduce the spray and icing. Entered Swanson Harbor from the West side of Rocky Island. Radar stayed operative during this crossing. Aids were visually sited during this crossing.
Relocated SHADOWFAX anchored in same position as before I made several attempts to bring 44392 alongside. Finally I was able to place 44392 port bow along SHADOWFAX starboard quarter and made fast. CWO LAPINSKI climbed over the ice to the bow of 44392, with MACK and BUTERBAUGH. Commenced transferring the children aboard and then the woman followed by the husband. Cast off and proceeded out of Swanson Harbor. Operator of SHADOWFAX stated that he had been dragging anchor and this was the reason why they requested to be evacuated. It seemed to me that the winds had increased in Swanson Harbor than earlier. I considered anchoring and waiting until daylight but I decided that due to the high wind that 44392 would drag anchor, therefore, I decided to return to Funter Bay. I contacted RCC via WRN 40 and advised that I had eight people on board, returning Funter Bay due to wind, and was proceeding at idle speed (less than 1000 rpm).
I headed 44392 on a southerly course with the wind and sea on the port quarter. Weather 60 knots, seas 18 feet, visibility on the horizontal 30-40 yards due to dense sea smoke. As we started taking freezing spray the windshield wiper stopped and froze in place, we were unable to restart. 44392 had approximately 1 1/2-inches of ice on the glass and side dodger. The starboard glass was frozen shut. When clear of Point Coverden I commenced working 44392 to a northeasterly course to bring the wind and seas on the port bow. I was approximately 2 miles from the East shore. About this time we started to lose the picture on the radar, but I was able to make out the shoreside. I continued on this course until I had the Kittens Island at about 3 miles on the radar range ring.
About this time the port engine lost rpm's and died. MK1 MACK entered the engine room to attempt to locate the problem. MACK was unable to determine the cause. I attempted to start the engine. However, it would only run for a few seconds before dying. I also noted from my fading radar picture that I was not making headway toward the Kitten Islands since they remained at my 3 mile range ring. I attempted to advise RCC of my engine casualty via WRN 40, UHF CH 16, with negative results. I then secured all unnecessary electrical equipment to preserve battery power.
I felt the radar was of primary importance, and the reason we were without a picture was of ice frozen to the antenna. I decided to crawl forward and attempt to remove ice from the antenna. There was about 5 and 6 inches of ice on the deck, cabin, windshield, etc. I was not able to break any of the ice loose from the antenna. I attempted to locate Clear Point Light, and Naked Island Light, but the sea smoke was so dense I was unable to. I returned to the bridge. The radar was now inoperative. I again attempted communication with RCC without success.
I maintained this course and speed for several minutes, but with the freezing spray staying on the boat I felt this would eventually cause 44392 to become top heavy. I elected to run for Icy Strait. I felt if I could get into the northern part of the Strait the land mass would afford me a lee, and eventually I would work my way into Hoonah.
I changed course so as to work into Icy Strait. I was using the Loom of Sister's Island Light (the Loom appeared as diffused illumination upon the sky) as my guide. At one time I was able to see Rocky Island light with Sisters Island light to the right. I attempted to steer toward Sisters Island with the starboard engine my only means of power. I found it extremely difficult to maintain any kind of a course. I attempted to hold 230° Magnetic, thinking that course would account for the effects of wind and current. I found that the wind and sea would swing 44392 as much as 180°. When this happened I would be forced to bring 44392 in a 360° turn to return to 230° Magnetic. Several times when the wind and sea would hit 44392 my heading would change as much as 90°.
As I worked South, MK1 MACK was able to make out the lights from the houses on Sisters Island. I attempted to steer on these lights. I was not able to see any of these lights myself because of the ice on the glass. I had whoever happened to be lookout keep telling me the relative bearing of these lights and I would attempt to take a compass bearing and steer in this fashion. We attempted to pick out other lighted aids but with negative results except for that once I was able to make out Rocky Island. The horizontal visibility was just a few yards due to the heavy sea smoke.
I had the HELM most of that time, except two instances when CW0 LAPINSKI and MK1 MACK relieved me for short periods of time. During those brief periods I checked below, orientated myself by visually checking the position of Sisters Island and trying to discern other aids to navigation. On both occasions I returned to the HELM quickly when MK1 MACK or CWO LAPINSKI indicated that they were unable to hold the 44392 on course. At some time CWO LAPINSKI had gone below and MK1 MACK was on the bridge. MK1 MACK was giving me directions to the loom of Sisters island lights. After a period of time I called CWO LAPINSKI to the bridge to help MACK with the lights. I was feeling extremely tired at this time and was not paying much attention to the passage of time.
As CWO LAPINSKI was attempting to take a bearing he yelled that we were in the surf. I attempted to bring 44392 around to a reciprocal heading. Sometime during this maneuver I hit the starter to the port engine and I thought it started as 44392 was turning. She took two swells on the starboard side of undetermined size and caused 44392 to roll approximately 90° to port, this happened twice. I do not know if the port engine remained operational or not.
At approximately 0400, 44392 struck a rock. It felt to me as if it had struck forward on the port side. It was just a few seconds later that 44392 struck and settled on a reef. CWO LAPINSKI and myself were on the bridge and after we hit we entered the galley space dogging the door behind us. I attempted to broadcast MAYDAY on 2182 KHZ, and CH 7 SSB but did not receive any answer. At approximately 0420 I heard WRN 40, Juneau radio calling 44392 on VHF/FM CH16. The receiver/transmitter unit being on the bridge, I returned to the bridge and broadcast MAYDAY on CH 16, giving my location, casualty, aground, engine-room flooding, wind and sea condition, number of people on board. Juneau radio acknowledged my MAYDAY. While on the bridge, 44392 continued to take breakers over the deck and super-structure. Sometime while on the bridge I was able to shoot 2, 3, or 4 parachute flares in an attempt to determine where 44392 was--where the beach was. 44392 had settled on a reef approximately 40 or 50 yards from the beach. The beach being on the starboard beam and the wind and seas pounding from the port beam to quarter. When I returned to the galley area I gave a description of where we were to all personnel. I did not relate the distance to the beach as I felt this would panic the civilian passengers. I further informed all hands that I had made radio contact with Juneau radio. I explained to the civilians that the 44-foot MLB was the strongest boat ever built by the Coast Guard; that we were going to stay with the boat just as long as possible; that to brace themselves in, hang onto the children, be extremely careful so as not to hit the corners of the inverters and radar rack units in the galley compartment. We removed every piece of equipment that could come loose and cause injury.
It was my intention to remain with 44392 through the flood tide in hoping the 44392 would lodge between rocks and await the tide to ebb. At approximately 1030 CWO LAPINSKI and myself moved to the survivors compartment. We decided that we had better prepare for the worst and started removing various material to the beach. We wanted to fix some kind of shelter and get a fire started. By this time the tide had receded far enough for us to leave the boat without getting any wetter.
CWO LAPINSKI and myself were able to get several items onto the cliff and locate an area where we could fabricate a shelter. By this time the rest of the crew and the civilians had left 44392 and were bringing more equipment to the shelter area. At about this time a CAP airplane flew overhead. I lit a smoke flare and CWO LAPINSKI ran toward the beach and lit a smoke flare. We had been located and a short time later a Coast Guard Helicopter landed and transported us to Juneau airport.
An insulated life raft should be part of the boat outfit.
The pilot stand on Alaskan 44' MLB's should be enclosed and heated.
The 44' MLB windshield should be heated.
More windshield wipers should be provided.
A CB radio capability should be added to the Juneau based 44' MLB; sometimes this is the only communications capability available.
The 44' MLB should be provided an emergency locator beacon.
All water tight compartments should be air tested in lieu of visual test.
A 4 man boat crew instead of 3 man should be provided for long cases of this nature.
A digital compass would have been better than a floating card type.
The boat was built with a starboard list of up to 2 degrees. 350 pounds has to be removed from starboard to compensate.
That radio antennas should be coated with a non-ice adhering surface. Where the antennas had been wrapped with black plastic tape at the bases no ice had adhered.
CG-44392 was heavily damaged as a result of her grounding on 6 January 1975. The boat has been recovered and an informal Board convened to inquire into the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident. A preliminary examination disclosed that the entire hull below the waterline must be replaced. The initial estimated cost of repairs, if the vessel is in fact repairable, is about $175,000. Accomplishment of such repairs would require a minimum of six months and might necessitate shipping the vessel back to the Coast Guard Yard.
The Juneau marine community, consisting primarily of Auke Bay to the north and Juneau-Douglas to the south, is divided by Gastineau Channel, which is virtually impassable except under ideal conditions of weather and tide. In good weather a WPB requires approximately three hours to travel around Douglas Island from Juneau to Auke Bay. When the WPB is in CHARLIE status, another vessel must be capable of fulfilling the SAR responsibilities and providing crew protection.
Winds and seas in Lynn Canal near Auke Bay and Taku Inlet, south of Juneau, frequently exceed forty knots and twelve feet respectively. Fifty to sixty knot winds and seas over twenty feet high are experienced with some regularity during the winter months. The often-marked barometric differential between Whitehorse and Southeast Alaska develops katabatic winds which move cold arctic air from the Canadian interior downward over the coastal mountains and through the numerous passes and fjords to the various inner-channels of Southeast Alaska. These winds often appear suddenly and produce a mixture of lulls and violent gusts, often in excess of 100 knots. Such winds result in heavy seas and atomize the crests of waves, forming misty clouds which sometimes exceed twenty feet in height. Severe icing often accompanies these conditions in the winter.
The survival of eight people, including two infants, in the incident attests to the seaworthiness of the vessel. Although heavily damaged, CG-44392 preserved the lives of those people in spite of winds to 60 knots, seas to 20 feet, and zero degree temperatures. It is extremely doubtful if anyone would have survived in any lesser a boat.
The new 411 UTB is not as capable a boat as the 443 MLB and should not be considered as a replacement boat in an area which regularly experiences severe winds, seas, and icing. The 41-footer will be a good replacement for the 40-footer at Ketchikan where a WPB is readily available when the situation dictates. It is recommended that the 41328 scheduled for Ketchikan in February not be directed to Juneau.
Plans to move the MLB to Juneau and moor the WPB at Auke Bay were being formulated when this incident occurred and will be covered in a forthcoming planning proposal, delineating our long term search and rescue requirements for the Juneau area. However, the WPB-MLB combination remains the foundation of our search and rescue response capability in Juneau and our immediate requirement for a 44 MLB will not be altered by that proposal. I feel that our urgent need justifies the immediate assignment to Juneau of a replacement 44 MLB and request that action be taken to effect the transfer.