BMCM Tom McAdams, USCG (Ret.) Interview

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In the meantime a couple of the fishing boats had crossed in over the bar and they said, “Huge shark swells, no breaks.” So he said, “I’m towing you on in”, and we started in across the bar and we took a big, big swell and we started racing down it and we took a little broach; took water over the scuttles, and took probably a 70/80 degree roll.  We stopped dead. The swell hit the boat and it broke that four-inch manila hawser just like storage line, and I’m adrift. T he jetties at that time were only half as long as they are now.  They’re about a mile out now and they were about half a mile out in those days, and right off the North Jetty was a can buoy.  Well I went forward in the little cockpit - it’s called the cockpit and we call it the “Glory Hole”.  The reason it got called the “Glory Hole” in the old time was, when they took you out in the lifeboat, your first or second time going with the breaks, they put you up in the “Glory Hole” and you got your first glorious ride looking eyeball-to-eyeball to maybe a 15/20 foot breaker coming down on top of you.  You could duck down in the hole . . . well you never stand up in the hole, never stand up and face a breaker.  It will hit you and break your back over the back of the “Glory Hole” because it only came up to your waist.  If you wanted to get the wind knocked out of you, turn around and face aft and let the breaker hit you in the back and flatten you out on the deck and it would take the wind out of you.  That was the “Glory Hole.”  I’m standing up in the “Glory Hole” and I’m pulling in the line as fast as I can and by that time we took a big huge sea and it came right down on top of the can buoy.  It took a big chunk out of the port gunwale.

The lifeboat . . . I looked up and here comes the lifeboat back at me and they threw their end of the hawser and I grabbed it and he never stopped.  He’s going ahead probably at three to four/five knots, threw me the end of the hawser. I didn’t have all of mine in yet so I just put a big dip in it and made a quick becket bend down and the line came taught, and I thought, “Oh my God, have I made a becket or did I make a slip knot”, and it came tight, “boom”, and the boat jerked around and he took us to sea.  Well they sent the Depoe Bay Lifeboat about 12 miles to the north of us and the Depoe Bay lifeboat got up there and all this time we were just hanging back.  My engineer had taken his lifejacket off because he had heaved all over it and he was pretty seasick.  Depoe Bay got there and they threw us a heaving line.  They had the old heaving stick then; a piece of bamboo about this long with a big glob of lead on it, and when they threw that it came over the top of us and just missed us.  I grabbed it and pulled that hawser in, let the hawser go from the other lifeboat, made that fast and he started in.  I looked at Miller and he had his jacket off.  I said, “Here, put your lifejacket back on”.  He said, “I puked on it and I don’t want it on.”  I said, “I want you to have it on”, and I took the lifejacket and I couldn’t get the leg straps up, you know we were wet and we were cold and my hands were getting numb at the time, so I tied it around him in big square knots and made it tight and I said, “I’m going forward and break out the sea anchor.”
  
I went forward to a little compartment with a hatch like this, went in there, grabbed the sea anchor; the old drogue, and played it on out behind the boat.  I put it out there probably 50/60 feet behind the boat and I just let the tripper line go slack.  I wasn’t going to use the tripping line.  I set the sea anchor up and the old drogue came taught and I called them and said, “Go ahead.”  Miller had the life jacket on.  I had mine on.  The drogue was set, and across the bar we go.  Right in the middle of it along comes another swell.  It started to break.  The sea anchor opened on up, stopped our folks down in the swell and we came to a pretty good broach.  The swell went on and hit the other lifeboat and broke his four-inch hawser just like storage line.  I ran up the catwalk . . . and the fo'c's'le in the lifeboat is round.  It has little hand holes and a claw across it.  I jumped in the cockpit and I’m waiting for the lifeboat, and of course you could hardly . . . when you get to the top of the swell you could see the running lights or the city lights ahead but that’s all and then down the swell nothing but water around you, and I waited what seemed an eternity.  I ran back and I grabbed the radio and I pounded on it and I made three calls.  I said, “This is, Man, William, Easy, over.”  That’s the call sign of the 36-footer.  I made three calls and said, “This is Man, William, Easy, over.  The tow line is broken.”

 In the interim of waiting on the Depoe Bay boat the winds had died down and were now coming out of the northwest so we were being pushed to the south now and with the current the way it was coming in the pipe was now starting to flood.  I was being swept toward the South Reef and there’s a reef out at what we call Outer Station Reef and that’s where they break big, and we were headed right for it.  I made the three calls and then I ran back up and jumped in the cockpit and I’m waiting and I’m waiting, and I see two running lights coming at me.  I said, “Here they come, here they come, here they come”, and here comes the first lifeboat that had us in tow and he has a one-man crew.  Well he has all the hawser. I tied it - and manila turns into like mop hair when its wet and its not tied off - and here’s all these Iris pennants hanging out and you have the one going this way where they tied the knot and the one where it broke this here way; the main one, and he trying to find him a good bitter end to throw us. He said, “We’ll be back”, and by us he went. I’m waiting for the other boat and I don’t see it and then I heard it, and the sound the wind and the sea, you still have this absolute stillness like being in the woods and not a sound around but then you hear this “swoosh”, and I turned and Miller is standing in the stern of the boat holding our big flood light, which plugs into the bulkhead; a 12 volt light, and he’s standing back there, and I turned to Miller and I yelled, “Hang on”, and by the time it got on the curl of the breaker came down on top of us and I ducked down in the cockpit; the “Glory Hole” and over we went.  We went around twice and I held my breath - I could really hold my breath in those days.  I was a good swimmer and did a lot of swimming - upside down and around and around, and after you go upside down a time or two you don’t know which side is up and it’s pitch black and you’re underwater.  So I held my breath and I held my breath and I could hear bubbles, and I figured, “Well we’re still upside down.”  I thought, “I bet we’re sunk and I bet the boat is upside down and I’m going to stick my head right in the sand when I stick my head out of the hole.”  Of course the boat had almost a 3/10th keel and we would be . . . if we sunk we’d be right side up.  But anyhow, I’m just thinking . . . and I stuck my head slowly up and out into the darkness and took my first deep breath.  You know, boy, did I take that big deep breath, pitch black, no search light.

I yelled for Miller, no sound. I crawled across the fo'c's'le and down the catwalk to the after-compartment; the after-well deck, no Miller. I yelled out in the darkness as loud as I could, no sound.  I yelled again and I looked over my shoulder and I’m listening for the next breaker and I hear, “Mac”, this is Miller.  Mac, Miller”, and it’s getting closer.  Well it wasn’t his time to go.  When the boat went over he flew 50 feet out of that boat.  He said he hit the water and knew he was going to drown because he took the lifejacket off.  He’d forgotten I’d put it back on him.  The lifejacket brought him to the surface of the water and he reached out his hands and there was the drogue.  It landed right on top of the sea anchor and he’s pulling himself back on the sea anchor line.  Well Miller was . . . I weighed about 160 pounds at the time.  Miller must have weighted maybe 150.  I reached over the side and I grabbed him by the hair, the ears, the shoulders, the butt, the ass, and “boom”, onboard he came.  I stuck him underneath the catwalk.  That’s where we kept the towing hawser.  Then they gave us towing reels and we had it on a towing reel aft.  I stuck him underneath there and I said, “If we roll over again just brace your back against the catwalk . . . ”, because he’s underneath it and he had about this much room; maybe a foot and half/two feet, “. . . and you won’t come loose.”  I ran forward and here comes the Depoe Bay lifeboat.  Well in those days Depoe Bay only had about a six-man crew/seven-man crew and when they got a call they would call the fire department and they would blow the whistle, and one of the volunteer firemen, or two, would report to the station.  Well the volunteer fireman reported to the Coast Guard station and that was their third man.  They had three men; the coxswain, the engineer and a volunteer fireman.  Our volunteer fireman was so seasick that he was of little use to them with all this going on.  They came back and I can still see them because I’m standing in the cockpit and they go by me.  They are meticulously making up the towing hawser on the towing reel; making sure it was faked out just perfect on the towing reel rather than getting to the bitter end and throwing us a line, and they said, “We’ll be back”, and I never saw them again; they disappeared. 

All of a sudden over the next swell I see our boat coming back – Fanderhook had that boat - he spent his career in the Coast Guard and retired as a warrant officer (W-4).  He came back and I could see him coming down the next swell and I said, “Oh my God, he’s going to cut us in two.  He’s on a swell and he’s racing down.”  Here’s an 8 ½ /9-knot boat doing 15 knots coming down this big swell.  I said, “Oh my God”.  We started on the swell running this way and he’s coming right at us, dead angle, and our drogue opened up and we came to a slow stop.  If I had been fast enough I could have jumped out of my “Glory Hole” right into his well deck. He went swishing by, took the breaker and he rolled over until I could see his keel.  He did a 90-degree to 100-degree roll because the next day you could see where the oil went up in his engine room, up to dead center and back down again, and off he went.  He had his one man; the seaman with him, and he was holding the old Navy battle lantern.  Well he dropped it when that break hit him and down he went, and I could hear the engine missing and spurring off in the darkness but I could see this eerie glow of the light disappearing in the breaker going down.  It was just, “Oh my God, he sunk.  No, the engine is still running.”  I could hear it missing and then it caught hold and I could hear him working his way out of the breakers.  I turned to Miller and I said, “They’re not coming back.  Let’s go up forward and lock ourselves in.  That way we can’t be thrown out of the boat.”  So we crawled up the catwalk looking over our shoulder every time.  I mean I knew that next breaker was coming.  The breakers push in and you come back into them again. 
 
The hatch up forward; two dogs, I undogged the hatch, went inside and there was a little 12-volt light in there.  We turned on the light.  There were 16 lifejackets up forward.  Now there were 14 because we had two on.  I said, “Start packing yourself in lifejackets.”  The fire exit came out of the bracket and I threw the fire rocks out and I threw some other gear out that had been torn loose when we rolled over.  I threw it out in the well deck but now I had the anchor in the well deck and I had all the line in the well deck.  Now I’ve got this ax and I kind of stuffed the ax underneath the line because I didn’t want to lose it.  I threw everything out, dogged the hatch, put a lifejacket around my legs and I’m going to put one around my head and we took another big breaker.  We rolled and over we went.  The gear went every which way, and something . . . I had felt this “thud, boom”, on my head.  I turned around and I said, “God, what did you hit me for?”  He said, “I didn’t hit but you sure are bleeding.”  Well the fire extinguisher came ripping out of the bulkhead and it was the Pyreen extinguisher so it was small, and it glanced off that little helmet I had and it took like a four bit piece off the top of my head, and of course, you know, you’re bleeding so profusely in the head and I’m soaking wet anyway, so blood and water . . . and you know, I was really a mess.  Old Miller, he said, “God, you look like hell.” [Chuckle]  Well he didn’t look much better.  He’s just been thrown out of the boat.  He’s soaking wet and we kind of laughed a little bit talking about it and I said, “You know, if we hit the jetty and that back current takes us in the jetty and we hit the jetty and those rocks start coming through this hull, we’re going to have to climb up on the jetty and get the hell out of here.” I said, “I’m going to get rid of this fire extinguisher”, because it was loose now and there was a couple of other pieces of gear around, and I undogged the hatch knowing that we’d probably be pretty good for another few minutes before the next set of breakers hit us, and I opened up the hatch and the hatch would only open up about an inch and a half.

Unbeknownst to anybody in all the time that those 36-footers had been made back in the ‘30s -and this here was 1953 going into ‘54 - in the well deck there were two ready boxes and that’s where you kept all the gear after you’d taken the anchor out of it. I put the hatch back on but when we rolled over the last time the gear now was only half in the box so it hit the top of the box and broke the hasp, then the gear came out, and if that ready box was open the hatch would hit the corner of it.  I said, “Oh my God”, and I reached over and I broke into the flare gun and I took out the old Berry pistol and I shoved it between the . . . I could still hear old Miller yelling, “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” [Chuckle] I said, “I’m not going to shoot. I’m using it as a pry.”  I said, “You get up here and you hit it with your shoulder”, and it took us, I don’t know, half a dozen to a dozen times of him hitting and me pushing down and we got the right combination.  I went down and hit it and the hatch flew open. I jumped out and I reached underneath that Hawser and the ax was still there, and the Hawser now, the anchor was hanging overboard because we went over this time and it’s hanging overboard and I’ve still got 900 feet of Hawser line in my screw sitting out there someplace.  We’re a mess.  We’re like a Christmas present all wrapped up in lines and crap.  So I grabbed that axe and I started chopping that corner of that ready box off.  I almost chopped through the watertight bulkhead because I’m rolling and tossing in the middle of the night and you can’t see.  It was pitch black.  Finally I got the hasp chopped off, got back in there, dogged the hatch down and we took a few more good rolls but nothing . . . we didn’t roll over anymore, and smashed.  I said, “Okay, now we can get out of here.”  We hit the walks and all of a sudden, “boom”.  I said, “There’s sand.  We’re on the sandy beach.”  Actually we were about a mile south of the North Jetty.  We hit the beach and he said, “Let’s get out of here.”  I said, “How good can you swim?”  He said, “Oh God, I just barely got through boot camp.”  I said, “Well I’m a good swimmer.  We should be on the beach, but once in a while there are fog holes and they’re six or eight feet deep but they’re not very far across”, and I said, “So when we get ready to go, get up on the catwalk, you jump and I’ll jump right behind you, grab you and I’ll get you through.” He said, “Okay.” So pretty soon a couple of swells hit us and we weren’t moving much anymore and I said, “Let’s get out of here.” 

We opened up the hatch and I dogged the hatch back down and got the boat out, turned on the rail and I could see just the white water going up the boat and coming down and I said, “Now!”, while there were no potholes, no crab holes, no nothing, it was all just straight flat beach.  Miller went off kind of, not really in a swan dive but kind of out expecting to land in the water and he hit the water kind of on his knees and his belly.  It knocked the wind out of him and I landed right alongside him.  I said, “Are you okay?”  He said, “aah aah aah.”  Well the water was only that deep.  I said, “Let’s go”, and up the beach we walked and the sirens went off.  I said, “Happy New Year 1954”, and down the beach comes this . . . I saw these lights coming down.  I said, “Here comes a truck.”  It was Mr. Lawrence and he heard that . . . he was at the station.  He had heard the three calls and he just went for the truck and headed to us.  He said, “I know where they’re going to be”, and went up there - and in those days they had logs over the beach - and he came right over the drift logs and then came running down the beach and spotted us two little guys walking up there soaking wet.  He jumped out of the truck and he came down and he said, “You okay, you okay?”  “Yes Sir, we’re fine.”  He said, “How many?”  I said, “Just two; just Miller and I Sir.”  He said, “Okay”, and he said, “You hurt bad?”, because he could see the blood and everything.  I said, “Oh no Sir, I’m fine.”  He said, “Okay, come on.  Let’s go back to the station.”  Well when we got back to the station I was a little feisty and the other two boat crews were there and they said, you know, “When Mac comes in, you guys, you know, you left him.  You’re going to have to tell him your situation because he’s going to come in and want to kick somebody’s ass for leaving him out there.”  But the old retired chief - he actually was a first class but he was “L” rate and he wore like the chief’s uniform except he had what they called light boatman pins on but he wore khaki like the Chief - Reed retired from the Coast Guard but he lived on the hill.  He knew all this was coming around and Joanne was calling up and asking for me, you know.  I’m suppose to be home at five and now its midnight, and he told her about eleven o’clock; right after we were in tow out there that I would probably be all night long and I wouldn’t be back until morning and she didn’t have to call anymore.  She said, “Fine”, because I was going to be out to sea all night.  

We walked back up to the station, walked in the mess hall and here are the two boat crews and a whole bunch of other people standing around.  Here’s Miller and I, both long guys, soaking wet, and I’m covered with water and, you know, a lot of blood.  We really looked a mess.  The old chief, the first time I ever saw a bottle of whiskey on the mess deck table, New Year’s Eve, and he brought this bottle of whiskey down.  He grabbed two coffee cups and he said, “Don’t say a word”, and he filled the coffee cups half with coffee and half with whiskey and said, “Drink this before you say anything.”  All the time I drank it I couldn’t say anything.  He called the doctor and old Doctor Barker came down to the station, took one look at me and said, “Oh hell, he’s fine.”  He put a bandage on my head and he left.  But nobody had heard of hyperthermia in those days, and hell, we’d been out in that boat now since 4:30 in the afternoon.  It’s now after midnight.  We’re soaking wet and we were shivering cold.  So I said, “I’ve got to get a shower.  I’ve got to get warmed up.”  I went up there in the shower and of course the bandage came off my head and the guy said, “We’ll fix you on up”, and they took a four-ply and they put it here and they took a big triangular bandage . . . and by the time I got home the wife thought half my head was gone.

I went down in the morning and got a DC-7 CAT, put two big logs on it, dug a hole in the sand, put down two logs, scooted the 36-footer up on the logs, triced her down with lines and skidded the logs and the 36-footer up in the sand dunes.  Three days later I came in with a Low Boy, skidded her up on the Low Boy . . . and over here at the Point was a mill.  It had a 75-ton crane.  We picked the lifeboat and the two logs; everything, up in the air, swung over the water and dropped it in the water.  We kicked the logs out.  I jumped in the lifeboat, hit the starter and ran her back to the station.  We had the boat fixed up for less than $300.  We replaced one plank and that was from putting it up on the logs and skidding it up there.  It tore off the combings fore and aft and broke every beam on top of the engine room. I had to fix that top of the ready box and part of the bulkhead.  Then the carpenter came right there.  We pulled the boat up in the boathouse and within a week and a half/two weeks we were back full in service, ready to go.

I had my four years at Newport.  I had a lot of boats calls.  We were starting to get a lot of capsizings; pulling a lot of people out of the water.  Mr. Lawrence came to me and he said, “Mac”, he said, “I’m being transferred.  I’m going to take over the Coos Bay Lifeboat Station.  The warrant officer there is going to become group commander at Grace Harbor. I’m taking over that station”, and he said, “How would you like to serve under me for another four years?”  I said, “Oh, I’d love it Sir.”  He said, “All right, I’ll put you down.  I’ll be down there in about three or four months.  You’re going down right away.”  So I got moved down to Coos Bay Station, a 100 mile road trip down there; 86 miles by sea straight down.  I went down to the Coos Bay Lifeboat Station.  There they have the same thing; a 40-footer, a couple of 36-footers, and I worked out of there.  The same thing; summer time, gee, the folks were going to sea just by the hundreds in the summertime to catch the all mighty salmon.  They had a big port down there with a lot of calls in the wintertime going. Mr. Lawrence came on down to the station, took over and everything was going fine.  But one winter night; it was a still cold night and we had a high tide, full, full moon, so it was bright, and full moon, real high tide and a real low tide afterwards.  We get a call that there were some duck hunters lost and it was eight miles going up the river towards, actually to the town of Coos Bay – we were down in the little town of Charleston - so we went there looking for the duck hunters and this and that and found this boat off to the side and escorted him back across the river and to the dock, and that was it.  We were coming down the river with the 40-footer, a nice moonlit night.  I could see the glimmering on the water and that and I thought, “I’ll probably go in 16 knots”, and the tide’s starting to ebb now so I’m moving down the river pretty good.

I had about a mile and half/two miles to go and then you go straight out to the bar; make a little turn and straight out to the bar or you make a 90-degree turn to your port; to the left there, and a half mile running you’re in the little town of Charleston.  We’re in the little town of Charleston and I mean a post office, grocery store and a beer hall and a church, and that’s it, and there’s a bridge across there and they have a keeper on the bridge and most of the time we could get the boats under.  We had to lower the mast on the 36-footers and 40s the same way and you can underneath the bridge.  But this night was a real high tide and I’m running down the river and all of a sudden, “boom”, and this 40-footer was one of the first ones, it was plywood, and I hit this object in the water, which was a log that came off of the beach because of the high tide, and we hit it butt end just over to amidships and when I hit it I must of left it around and for some reason it missed both screws.  I opened up the hatch - we’re outside in the 40 - and I opened the hatch going in forward and the water came over the combing and we had a pretty good size hole, and I said, “Oh my God, leave the hatch open.  The water will run out.”  I said, “Check the engine room.” He picked up the cover to the engine room and he said, “Oh my God, the water’s coming up in the engine room.”

If I went to my starboard it was just flat beach, no roads. I mean there was a flat beach over there but there was no road; no way you’re going to get into salvage the boat. I said, “I’ll try to make it to Charleston”, because right after you went underneath the bridge that’s where we moored the boats and there was also a boatyard there; Kelly’s Boat Works, and there was about, oh, 100 feet of beach. “If I get underneath the bridge I’ll put her on the beach right there.” I’m racing down the little Charleston channel and then it hit me, “Its high tide, one of the highest of the year. I’m not going to get underneath the bridge and it’s going to take 15 to 20 minutes to get the bridge tender to up and open the bridge and I am going down”, and now we’re down to about 12/14 knots because of the water and I said, “Oh my God.” Well on the side of the bridge, the 40-footer had, oh, about a - what was it – 10/12 foot beam and on the sides of the bridge . . . I used to take the boat through there just to practice going through narrow places and there was about eight inches on each side of the boat so you could go through the sides of the bridge but you had an extra two feet of clearance on account of the pilings and the way the bridge opened on up. I said, “Lower the mast”, and I had the ET [Electronics Technician] with me that night, and we lowered the mast and I started to slow down. I said, “God, if I hit the bridge with this boat going this fast we’ll knock the bridge out.” Well as I slowed down the water shifted forward and the screws came up and I started to sashay back. I said, “Oh my God”, and I pushed both throttles. Well luckily they dug in just before we got to the bridge and we cleared with eight inches on each side of the boat; cleared through the little hole. We took off the searchlight - that’s the only thing that was stuck in the air - took off the searchlight and, “wham”, it went off, and just as soon as you past the bridge you made a 90-degree turn and I made the 90-degree turn and the port engine went underwater because the water shifted as the boat went up and the port engine died and the starboard gave one last hoorah and it went down, and the boat skidded on the beach and I’m standing at the coxswain’s flap, half way to my knees standing in the water and I said, “We made it.” [Chuckle] He looked at me and he said, “Wow”, and I said, “Well I’ve got to call Mr. Lawrence.” I said, “Oh, he’s not going to like this at all”, and I called him up and I told him. He said, “Do you have the boat secure?” I said, “Yes Sir, the tide’s going out and we’re way up on the beach.” He said, “Very well. Put a line on her anyway and come back to the station”, and so that was my second one. So that kind of ended my time at Coos Bay Station.

I was up for first class [petty officer]. I had just shipped on over.  I really enjoyed the Coast Guard.  I found my life’s work.  So I shipped over for six years and I was up for first class and I get a call from the District saying, “We’ve got some good news and we’ve got some bad news.” I said, “Well what’s the good news?” He said, “Well you made First Class today.” “Oh great.  What’s the bad news?”  “You can’t have it until you get six months onboard ship.  You need sea duty.”  He said, “You’ve only been at that station over a year.  You can stay there for another three or four years or you can go to sea.”  I said, “Well I’m a career man now so I would like to make First Class.  I have a family, and transfer me to sea.”  “Well”, he said, “We can’t transfer you to sea right now.  We don’t have anybody to replace you.”  I said, “Well get one of those guys on the ships to replace me and I’ll replace them.”  “Well”, he said, “it doesn’t work that way. Just as soon as we get an opening we’ll transfer you.”  I said, “Okay.”  So it was a few months and I got a set of orders to report to Seattle to go on a 255-foot cutter, the Calamus and fortunate for me the Calamus was making the first Bearing Sea Patrol by a weather cutter, and I reported aboard the Calamus ten days before it shoved off going north for four months. There were no first class boatswain’s mates but there were five second class boatswain’s mates and a couple of third class, and the reason they were stocked up on boatswain’s mates is they wanted boatswain’s mates because they were going to be doing a lot of surf running all the way up to Point Barrel, Alaska but I was the only boatswain’s mate onboard that had any surf experience.

So after we got up . . . we were going up the chain and we were off Unimac Pass there at Scotch Cap and they sent the boat in to get a couple of the people off the lighthouse there that needed their teeth looked at.  We had a full fledged doctor and full fledged dentist onboard and when the boatswain’s mate came back he said, “I don’t ever want to do that again. The surf is picking on up”, and he said, “Send that lifeboat man, that Doony" - they called me Doony then because of the old Doony Hoppers, you know, one of your sand-pounders - and they said, “Send that Doony.”  So the XO [Executive Officer -- the second in command] called me down to the wardroom and he said, “I’ve looked over your record and you have lifeboat experience and have been in the surf before and landed boats in the surf”. I said, “Yes Sir.”  He said, “I’m sending you in with an ensign”, but he says, “You’re in charge of the boat and you will make the decision to go or not.  The surf is picking on up.  We’d like to get the two men back to Scotch Cap and get the supplies on the boat unloaded and we want to get out of here because a storm is coming up.  If you can’t make it come back to the ship”, and I said, “Yes Sir.”  So I took the old 26-foot Monomoy in, diesel engine, had an engineer.  He ran the controls and you ran the tiller; you had your tiller behind you. I pulled up to the surf and the surf was breaking and I took out my watch and I started timing the surf, and I timed it and I timed it and I said, “Okay people, we’ve got just over a minute to get the last break and hit the beach.  You guys jump out, throw these bags on the beach and I’ve got to turn this thing around and get her back out”. I told the engineer, I said, “Okay, put her in gear, hit it, go, take it out of gear.”  We hit the beach, the guys jumped out.  I turned it around.  I threw her in reverse and the engineer threw her in reverse and he spun the boat around and took the next two or three small breakers, enough to put the boat broadside on the beach if we’d have taken them broadside, cleared the surf and back to the ship we went and they pulled us onboard.  I went about my business and I got a call, “Lay to the wardroom.” 

So I laid to the wardroom. The old chief boatswain’s mate onboard; old Chief Wardell, nothing but a seagoing daddy; 20 some years of just weather cutters and he loved it.  In fact he called me a Doony when I came onboard and he said, “I hate Doonies”, and I said, “Gee Chief, I can’t help that”, but I said, “I’ll do my best for you and work my tail off”, but I said, “I am a Doony .  I’m a lifeboat station man and I want to go back to one.  Well he took me down to the wardroom and he stood outside the hatch and knocked on the door.  The skipper was there, the XO was there and the ensign was there and a few other officers - and the ship is now . . . we’re heading towards Nome - and he says, “I heard you timed the surf going in.”  Well the XO was Elmer Windbeck whose brother had become an admiral for the District and whose father was the captain - they called him Captain way back those days of Willop Bay Station and he had been around lifeboats and stations all his life, and he said, “I heard you timed the surf going in.” I said, “Well, yes Sir. That’s the only way I could time the series.” He said, “I’m taking you off of all watches. You will stand no more Boatswain’s Mate of the Deck watches. You’ll be taken off of all work details. From now on you will be the Ready Boat Coxswain.  Whenever you hear the boat crew pipe you will lay to the main deck and you will pick the boat you want for the sea conditions, and you will be making all surf runs to all stations, and the Chief was outside the door and he said “Chief, you’ll take care of this.”  He said, “Yes Sir.”  He said, “Okay, very well, that’s it”, and I turned and I started walking away and the Chief said, “Follow me.”  Down in the boatswain’s locker we went.  He closed the door behind him and he said, “You’ll still stand your Boatswain’s Mate watches.  You’ll still do the deck work.”  He said, “Whenever they pipe you, you will lay, no matter what you’re doing you will lay to the main boat deck to take the boat and I’ll cover for you.  But until I tell you, you still will maintain.”  I said, “Yes Chief, no problem.”  We’re up north, you know, we’re aboard ship for four months, who cares.  I had nothing to do anyway.  So I took the Boatswain’s Mate of the Watch.  One night about . . . I had the mid to four watch and the Skipper happened to come up on the bridge and he said, “How come you’ve got the boatswain’s-mate-of-the-watch”, and I said, “Well the other boatswain’s mate that had it was not feeling well and so I said, ‘I’ll take it.  I’ve got nothing to do and there is no boat work right now’.”  He said, “Okay, very well”, and that was it.

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My thanks and appreciation go to the U.S. Coast Guard for allowing me to use this incrediable interview of a great man.

 

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