By Jennifer Miller

Photos, Columbia River Maritime Museum

U.S. Coast Guard photos

This article first appeared in the Quarterdeck, the newsletter for the Columbia River Maritime Museum

Volume 24, Number 1, Winter 1998

From the
17 Mar 80: Caved in the FWD turtle after minutes worth of breaker drills. Damage appeared to be due to structural weakness and not the size of the breaker. I’d sure be tired, too, after 19 years of back-breaking work, being rolled, pitch poled, run aground on rocks, bounced off jettys, run on the beach, cussed at, and last of all being needle gunned to death.  
What would she say if she could speak? What would Motor Lifeboat 44300 tell us about her 35-year duty with the United States Coast Guard? Would she explain all the scars and scrapes that were so noticeable as she was lifted out of the water, or would she dismiss them as just part of doing the job?
The 44300 will always have her secrets, because the records of her active rescue days are hard to find. But the following stories represent just a few
of 44300’s remarkable adventures.
While serving at Station Yaquina Bay, the boat completed five to six hundred missions per year. But the most-told story is not of a mission, but of an ordinary day when she was tied up at the dock. Around 6:20 on a clear August evening, the 517-foot Peruvian freighter Inca-Huayna-Capac, loaded with lumber, was headed out to sea when she lost steering control. The 9,624-ton freighter was headed straight for the 44300 at almost five miles an hour. Trying to avoid a collision, the freighter’s captain reversed the engines and dropped the anchor, but that was not enough. The Coast Guardsmen saw the freighter coming, and yelled for everyone to get off the docks, just in time to get everyone to safety. The freighter pushed the 44330 past the docks and under a boathouse destroying several pilings on the way. The 44300 was completely submerged and assumed to be a total loss. When the debris was removed, the 44300 popped up and righted herself! Coast Guardsmen praised the boat’s sturdiness. "She’s still afloat and not taking on any water, stated Seaman Martin Rothwell to the Oregonian shortly after the event. To this day, the scar from the freighter is still visible on the starboard side just below the well deck
On November 13, 1969, CG-44300 was called to escort the Rustler, a Mexican tug, across the bar and into Yaquina Bay. The mission should have been a easy, but when the motor lifeboat reached the Rustler’s reported location, the tug was nowhere to be found. As CG-44300 searched up and down the coast, beach parties were sent out between Depoe Bay and Beaver Creek to help locate the Rustler. The Rustler was finally found several miles to the north, apparently in no immediate danger. With the storm worsening, the 44300 refueled and headed out to assist the Rustler. By this time, the sun had set. Shortly after crossing the bar, the 44300 was hit by a large wave and knocked parallel to the surf The next wave was 38 feet high and breaking. Hitting broadside, the wave forced the motor lifeboat to roll over. After a quick check of crew and engines, the 44300 headed out to safer water. Eight miles offshore, with the boat no longer in danger of being hit by another large breaking wave, the crew conducted a more thorough check This revealed that all the communication equipment, except the FM radio, was gone. The mast and the radar were broken, the anchors were gone, and almost everything else was bent, broken, torn loose, or stove in. Despite the damage, the 44300 was still operational. She was given a back up radio from a ship in the area and waited out the night. The next morning, the storm being over, the 44300 returned to Yaquina Bay. If it had been necessary, Chief Webb said, "the 44300 would have continued up north to aid her (the Rustler), even after receiving considerable damage."
In 1981, the 44300 was transferred to Cape Disappointment to serve as their first permanent training vessel. She was Senior Chief Boatswain’s Mare Steve Bielman's boat of choice. "She pulled me out of a lot of tough situations," according to Bielman. She has rolled over at least six times and pitch-poled, rolling stern over bow, three times. When used for training, she was exposed to some of the worst conditions the Columbia River Bar produced. Training included maneuvering, anchoring, rescues, maintenance, navigation, and rough water work. Rough water drills required that the crew manage up to 20-foot surf conditions for hours at a time. It was always the physical limitations of the crew, not the limitations of the boat, that defined the abilities of the 44300. The 44300 was like a well worn old pick-up truck; not pretty, but it got the job done," said Lt. White of Station Cape Disappointment.
Her last mission was fitting of her career. On July 30, 1996, the 44300 was called to active duty so that the entire complement of Station Cape Disappointment could attend the Gold Lifesaving Medal award ceremony for a fellow crewmember. The 44300 was stationed on the bar for emergencies. (With the increased number of pleasure boats crossing the bar during salmon season, the rescue boats are positioned across the bar to shorten emergency response time.) She responded to a call from a 17-foot pleasure craft that was disabled and adrift. Just after arriving on the scene, 44300 lost her port engine. However, the crew was determined to make this mission a success, and towed the pleasure craft inbound before being relieved by another boat. This turned out to be her last mission.
The 44300 gives us only a glimpse of her 20 years saving lives and 15 years training others to save lives, with countless adventures and dangerous rescues. With this history, it is easy to personify the 44300 into a boat that incorporates the personalities and attitudes of everyone involved in her existence. Like the designers, she was knowledgeable; like those who built, repaired, and maintained her, she was reliable; like the coxswains who piloted her, she was strong; and like those in command, she was always capable. Most of all, she was humble. The people of 44300 would never brag of the risks and sacrifices that they took every day to make the oceans a safer place for all. However, the Museum intends to tell some of these stories of risk, sacrifice, tragedy, and glory. The Museum intends to honor 44300 by making her the centerpiece of an entirely new exhibit at the Museum, where she will share the stories of people and vessels in trouble, and how these lifeboats save lives and property across the United States.


My thanks go to the Columbia River Maritime Museum, for allowing me to use this material.