BMCM Tom McAdams, USCG (Ret.) Interview

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Well we had a 125-foot tender boat hit the rocks off of one of the islands up there and was sinking, and we took two boats in; the Chief took one and I took the other on in.  We got the people off the 125-footer and he sent me back to the ship and he said, “We’re going to try and tow it off the rocks”.  I took a six-inch hawser and on that was going to be the eight-inch Hawser, and I’m towing with a 26-footer into this boat and the ship was laying there and the winds blowing probably 35 miles an hour, gusting a little bit further, and it’s really kind of uncharted waters when all of a sudden the ship noticed that there were wash rocks off of the starboard and there’s a couple off to that that had drifted in between them, and I just about had the line to this 125-footer when they called on the radio and they said, “Let her go. Let the line go”. I let the line go and the ship - single screw - started underway and got the Hawser in her screw, and they tied it off and there was still enough . . . it was around the shaft and it hadn’t bound the screw yet and they tied it off, and even though it was tight in there she still had power and she said, “We are proceeding to the sea. We are on a course of so and so and so and so. We are going to go for at least seven to ten miles”, and it was blowing and raining and they said, “This is your course”, and I had little wooden compass that you sat down on the boat so you had an idea but it really wasn’t all right there but I knew where they were going, and away they went and I almost lost radio contact with them because of the old walkie-talkies in those days. But I was on course and it took me, you know a six-knot boat, so it took me over an hour to find the ship.  Finally up over a swell and down and there was the ship.  

So they got back and the Chief, he was already onboard with the people, and we came up along the ship and they pulled us up and then we headed for Kodiak so they could have divers go down and cut the Hawser up.  The Chief took me down to the boatswain’s locker and he said, “You don’t have to stand anymore watches. You don’t have to do anymore work details. You’ll just straight run the boats.” I said, “Okay Chief.” I said, “I don’t mind working.” I said, “Well if we’ve got two or three days I just don’t want to be sitting on my butt. I’d rather be doing something.” He said, “All right, you can help me splice wire”, and he taught me how to splice cable and he started teaching me about shipboard, even how to put down the commendation ladder and how to put the pins in that, and from that time on I pretty well got along with the Chief, and we made all the runs, four months, all the way up there, a lot of surf running and a lot of great times. I was one of the few that got to hit every port in town even though it was nothing but an Eskimo village but that was real good. I put almost two years on the ship and just before I got off the ship the Chief retired. They brought in - I was First Class then. I made First Class on the ship - the day he retired he came down, he took his Chief’s crow and he put it in my hand and he said, “Sew this on when you make Chief.” I thought, “Wow!”

So I put my time on ship and within two years I had orders right back to Yaquina Bay.  I came to Yaquina Bay in 1956 and the brand new 52-footer; the only one ever built, it’s still here today.  It looks better now than it did then; a lot more electronics [chuckle], and brand new but it was different beast of vessel.  It was twin screw and a single rudder down the middle like the old – what was it – the 327s had the same thing; all new beast of vessel to handle, you know, reverse controls, what you would ordinarily do with the regular boat to get her to handle, and that was 1956 in September when I came back to Newport.  And from there, at that time, the small boats were going out, not in the hundreds but by the thousands, across the bar on a single good day, out there to catch the all mighty salmon.  Capsizes were just not common.  I mean they were common to have capsizings.  My first dead person I’ve ever seen came up and then it became common.  We got a lot of calls; lots of capsizings.  We had one, it was actually right in the bay and it shows you the difference in people.  Most people are very, very thankful at the time but then they become embarrassed that they actually needed help or that you helped them and they will find some excuse to justify what happened to them, and like the one fellow said when he capsized in the bay and he had his son and his grandson with him.  He was hanging on the boat with his son and so was his grandson, but his son thought he had his son and he had the motor and he was underwater and he actually . . . we worked on him, and in those days there was not mouth-to-mouth.  In those days it was a shape or prone method.   We worked on him with CPR and had him in at the station in the bunk, and the doctor came down and gave him a shot and said, “He’ll be around in about an hour or so”, and we kept him right there at the station.  We didn’t even send him to the hospital.  And very, very thankful when they came out of it and the family came over and picked them up, very, very thankful.  Five days later the grandfather comes back to the station and he said, “You know, we could have made it to the beach if you hadn’t picked us on up”, and he said, “By the way, have you sent the divers down to get my shoes and my watch and my wallet that I lost.”  Well I said, “Well we don’t have divers.  We don’t do that”, and he was very upset because we hadn’t found his missing gear.  But it was kind of . . . I was really upset at the time thinking, “He’s really ungrateful.”  But after more capsizings and working with people in this aspect I could see that he was really embarrassed by what happened to him and he kind of wanted to justify it in his own mind by telling us that he could have made it, and that became pretty well along the line with a lot of people, although there were a lot of them that would come back time and time again and thank you and were very, very, grateful.  But a lot of them, they had to justify it themselves.  It’s kind of human nature.  You find out a lot when you’re working with people like that.

But during that time we had the brand new 52-footer.  It was very expensive and I forget the exact cost of it now but it was the most expensive lifeboat the United States had ever built at the time and it was the only one of its kind, and it drew six-feet aft and three-feet forward and it weighed 33 tons.  It was all steel hulled with an aluminum topside.  The only electronics gear we had on the boat at that time was a DF (direction finder), which never worked, and I asked the ET and he said, “Well they were two different direction finders and they were not compatible and it would never work”, and I had the compass and a lead line and a radio; the old tube radio, and that’s all we had.  When we went 30/40 miles we went on DR; (dead reckoning), and what knowledge we had, and if we’re after a fishing boat it would have LORAN [Long Range Aids to Navigation] so you knew your set, you knew your drift and you figured it on out to his position.  Then if it was thick fog coming home you would just call him back and say, “Could you give me a LORAN reading”, and then you could go to your chart and find your position and then compensate and find your . . . come into, always if you were north always come in north of the whistle buoy by a mile or two, hit 196 feet of water and run her right straight down to the whistle buoy and then you knew your course; 040, and on in you would come.  But that’s how we navigated, and the hours that you spent out there, you spent a lot of time underway.

We had our patrols; we would get up at first light and go out with the boats and come back at dark.  There were two boatswain’s mates on duty.  You had port and starboard so one day you had from four o’clock in the morning until ten o’clock at night underway.  Pack a lunch and that would be it.  The galley was closed at night so we’d usually get in and you missed your meals and there was nobody there to fix you one and the cook would usually leave you some sandwiches or something in the icebox and hopefully the other watch-standers didn’t eat up your lunch while you were out to sea.   But that’s the way it was.   You just got used to it and you knew that was going to be it for the day and you didn’t complain.  And if you got so badly sunburned - a couple of my engineers did, that their eyes would swell up so bad from the sun and that - you try to get somebody to fill in for them and that’s why a lot of times it was a two-man crew.  The 52-footer, we always had three men.  It was supposed to be four but a lot of times you only had three men on the 52.

The 52 is probably the finest lifeboat the Coast Guard has ever built and I ran those 44s and that for years and years but the 52-footer is the old girl; the old standby.  She’ll get you through.  And it was just a year later - not even a year later because it was September - she got here and the next June I had the two 36-footers and the 40-footer out and they all had tows so . . . and I was First Class and we had a Chief in charge of the station at that time and the group was there at the time.  They had now formed a group.  We had two warrant officers in charge of the group and they had part of their station.  This, I think it was a Sunday, not a Saturday but a Sunday, yeah.  Anyway, it was thick fog.  It was going to be a sunny day but it hadn’t burned off yet and the other boats had tows, so I said, “Grab a . . .” three-men; I had three-men left and I took the three-men so we had a four-man; had a full crew, took the 52-footer and I just was pulling out from the station and I got to the bridge and it came over the radio, “Capsizing, North Reef, 100 yards north of the North Jetty”.  The tide was flooding at that time and I’m in a 10-knot boat against a couple of knot current and I pushed the throttle full ahead but, you know, you’re only doing eight knots and I’ve got a mile to a mile and a half to run to get around the jetty and people on the jetty are yelling and waving their arms, and out we go.  

I think we had the siren onboard at that time because I turned on the siren and everybody then, they just thought we were going a lot faster because . . . or at least we knew there was something.  Well by the time we got around there the jetty . . . and I came over the reef and the reef was breaking but there are holes in it, you know.  I’m looking always where they are, and I came to the reef all right and I looked up and I could see the bottom of a 16/18-foot capsized boat and then I’d seen a couple of heads by it and I thought, “Oh my God, they’re in the inter-breakers.  We’ve got to get them out.  They’ll never make it”, and there’s a circling eddy by the jetty there that goes back around and that’s what they were in.  So I headed straight for them and the last swell just before I got to them I figured, “We’re going to hit bottom.  We’re drawing six feet and when the swells go up we’re going to hit bottom”.  So I rode the swell on up and as we rode on the swell I turned her so I’d be picking the swell up and let the swell break underneath my keel and carry me as far as I could because I was only probably drawing two or three feet of water, the whole side of the ship.  When we came down we hit bottom and bounced and I wasn’t over six feet from the capsized boat.  I could see four people in the water and there was a man holding his wife and his wife was not in very good shape.  Her head was kind of going down and he’s yelling, “Help”, and I said . . . two others real close to the boat and I said, “Grab them”, and I didn’t have a lifejacket on.  I hadn’t even put one on yet.  In those days we didn’t wear them too much, only when it really got rough and it didn’t seem like it when we were going out because your adrenalin’s flowing.  But anyway, good thing I didn’t have one on.  Anyway, so I jumped off.  I went right off the main deck, right out - you’d probably call it the quarterdeck - and I jumped right on top of the small boat and then dove off of it and I swam, oh, it wasn’t too far, and I grabbed the guy - and like I said, I was a pretty good swimmer - and he held onto his wife and I made it back to the boat. 

On the 52-footer we had lifelines that hang on down, and I grabbed him and I got one arm in one and one in the other so he’s got the . . . he’s on the boat but we’re rolling and he would go underwater and come up and I did too a couple of times, and I yelled to the fellows on deck and they grabbed the woman and they pulled her on up.  But the only bad thing about the 52-footer was you had at least a three-foot pull when you’re standing dead in the water to get back up on deck so when the boat would roll you wouldn’t have as far but the other way you’d have twice as far.  Well they got the woman up and I got up myself and I heard, “Help”, off the bow and the fellow up there was with his girlfriend and they had drifted away from the boat and he’s yelling, “Help”.  I turned to one of the men and I said, “Go get them”, and the seaman is staring at me, “You get a lifejacket on”, and so he put on the old lifejacket and jumped overboard and he pulled the two back and he held them - and the guy was in pretty good shape and the woman was pretty weak - into the lifelines and then he’d hold onto the lifelines.  I turned to one of my men and we said, “Come”, and we grabbed the woman and we got her up on deck and she wasn’t breathing.  I said, “Start resuscitation”, Ogar Neil method in those days.  So he’s giving her the arm lift bullwhip and he’s on the side of the house in the lee.  I said, “Okay”, and we went back and we got the guy aft and we’re pulling him up onboard.  He was a big man so it took a whole lot of pull and everything and we got the woman up first, and I stuffed her in a towing bit and she’s conscience but very, very weak and just kind of moaning back and forth, and the towing bit has three legs on it and we got her in there; kind of stuffed in there, and got her husband and I went for the guy, to get him.  We got the guy up onboard and that took a lot of strain; 200 and some pounds.  Then I got him up onboard and I said, “Okay, we’ve got everybody”, and then I heard, “Help!” Well I said, “Who else is yelling help?”  Well it was my seaman who I had sent overboard in the lifejacket and he’s so tired now and cold from being in the water that all he could do is barely hang on the lifelines.  About this time the woman started breathing, well the guy was working on her on the side the house.  So we pulled our man onboard and I said, “Everybody down below deck”, and we sent them all down below deck.

I had an African-American onboard; “Old Schmidt”, a big, handsome, husky, six-foot man.  I said, “You stay with me.  I’m going to need you to help me get this boat off the beach”, and they took all of the four survivors down below and my other two men went down below to walk them down and blanket them and take care of them, and we were really bouncing on the beach.  Well it just started off in pretty thick fog and it had just a break now and then and the tower watch, which is a mile away up on the hill, spotted them coming through the surf before they capsized and they called down and then they capsized, and then the fog came in and then it lifted.  Well in the interim with me coming in and diving overboard; my man going overboard and the guys getting them onboard and everything, the fog lifted.  We weren’t paying any attention but all of sudden I looked around and the park, what they call “Chicken Hill”; you go up and check the bar and they called it “Chicken Hill”, and even the bridge, there were hundreds of people in cars up there and somebody from the Governor’s office was coming across the bridge as the fog lifted and they saw this boat in the surf with waves going over the top of it and spray flying in the air and all of this, and they stopped to watch the rescue.  

Everybody else gathered up in the park and of course the radios were going and everything so there was quite a crowd watching us do this unbeknownst to us because all of sudden the fog lifted and here we were.  So I’m broadside, twin screw and single rudder.  I swing her around and I get the bow headed on out to sea and even though the tide is starting to ebb now and I’m losing water the surf is picking on up and as a breaker would come I would take a breaker but it would pick that 52-footer up past the 45-degree angle and I would go ahead and the breaker would hit me and knock me back and I would land in the same hole, and I dug a tremendous big hole so I had a lot of water underneath me but I couldn’t get out of it.  So I said, “Well there’s only one thing to do to get this boat off.  I draw three-foot forward and I drop six-foot aft.  I can’t get off on the bow because I’m light in the bow and the bow rises so fast and I land in the same hole.  But if I turn around . . . if I can turn around and get my stern to the sea and get over that hump I built, I’ll probably tear the steering out of the boat but I’ve got twin screws”, and I was pretty good at handling it that way.  So I spun the boat around.  That took a while.  Well by that time we had . . . onboard we had two generators and one of the bad things about the generator system was all the lights and everything and your radios and everything all worked off the generators.  But the 52 rolls so unmercifully that it would roll up and you’d an air leak, or pocket, in you sea suction and the generator would overheat and trip off the line. 

Well this happened and the steam came out and that lit the generator off.  I didn’t have any radio or didn’t have any electronics but I didn’t need any of that but I still had my two mains and that’s all I needed.  So I turned the boat around, got her stern first and I tried, and nothing, nothing, and all of a sudden I see a big series coming and the series’ coming. I said, “Okay, hang on it.”  It was just me and Smitty.  I said, “Hang on the wheel” because it was straight cable steering; straight cable, no boosters, no nothing, just straight cable going back to a quadrant and I said, “Here she comes”, and I hit those controls and up we went and the sea hit that wheel and both of us, it was all we could do it to keep that rudder amidships, and down we came and the wheel gave a snap and the wheel went, and it was six and a quarter turns from hard over to hard over and it went one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. “Well, she’s gone.”  It tore the steering out it. I said, “I’ve got twin screws and I’m over the hump.”  The next series came and I gained six feet and the next series came I gained another 15/20 feet. I said, “We’ve got her made.”  The lifeboat tried to get to us; the 36-footer tried to get to us, just before we got off there and he took one break and did 90-degree roll and just almost rolled over in the shallow surf and out to sea he went, and they gave me, you know, “We can’t handle it. You’re on your own.”  So I got her out in the deep enough water, just inside the reef, spun her around with the twin screws, cleared the reef and we came back in with the four people. I came on in and the Group CO was really upset and they were upset because I’d taken the most expensive lifeboat the Coast Guard had and beached it and could have lost the boat on the beach, and I said, “But we saved four lives, what are they worth”, and he said, “Well”, he said, “The Coast Guard district commander is going to be very upset and we’re going to have really watch how we handle this situation.”  I said, “Well we saved four lives and we got the boat off.”  “Well you could have lost it”, and I said, “Well we didn’t”, and I had the First Class Engineer; old Pappy Rice, he came on in, went down and he said, “The only thing you did, you tore the shivs all off the bulkhead but they went through the beams.”  He said, “You just ripped the shivs off.”  He went down the store and got a couple more shivs and some stainless steel bolts and within an hour and a half I had the boat back out on patrol in full command. Well the next day . . . and our Chief that was in charge of the station at that time, he had the day. 

Well he came in later and of course the Group was . . . they were really upset because they really thought we were going to get their hind end chewed out for beaching this lifeboat that there was only one of and the most expensive, and so they were really kind of padding things around and so they sent a message - they sent a message on every search call - and they really downplayed the whole works, and I’m back out on patrol, I could care less, and the Chief at the time . . . when I came in off patrol there was a note on the table saying I had to leave the station.  The Group was giving me such a bad time I was afraid I was going to say something and get in trouble and, “You’ve got it and I will be back tomorrow.”  So he took off and I went into the Group and I really sounded off.  You know I was really upset.  Here my crew had done a wonderful job, sacrificed their lives to save people and sure we beached the boat but that’s what it’s for and I put lives above that.  So anyway, I sounded off to the Group and they said they understood I was upset but this is the way it was.  Well anyway, in the interim all these hundreds of people, including a representative from the Governor’s office, had went back to their jobs and Monday morning the District Admiral started getting calls from the Governor of Oregon saying, “My personnel just witnessed the most wonderful saving of lives they’d ever seen and the boat on the beach and the breakers and people diving overboard”, and etc, etc, etc., and the Sergeant of the State Police was up there on the point and he called in and the head officer of the Salem Police; all of Oregon, he called in and the District was swamped with calls, and here they had this little message, well the Admiral had the Chief of Staff call down to the Group and say, “What is going on?  We’ve got all these calls and we can’t explain it or say anything about it. You get us the message out in the next ten minutes and you have the whole thing down in black and white.  We want to know exactly what’s going on.”  So then they jumped on the bandwagon and started things going, and out of it, the man that dove overboard and myself got the Gold Lifesaving Medal.  My other two crewmen got the Silver Lifesaving Medal.  So it was a very fine line of, if the fog had stayed down I probably would have got my ass chewed.  As the fog lifted I got a Gold Lifesaving Medal.  Now sometimes those little things just kind of pull back and forth.  But the crew did a wonderful job . The Chief, he had got very upset but he got out of there and got it done but sometimes those things just, you know you’re on a very fine line with things like that.  But I always put the lives over everything else and that’s how it went.

During my four years there and until I made chief I don’t know how many capsizings [I went through].   I started counting how many people we pulled out of the water and I say “we”; myself, my crew, and after we got up in the 20s and the 30s I said, “Gee whiz.”  When we reached a hundred I said, “I don’t need count anymore.  It’s going to continue like this”, and I felt bad.  I felt very good about pulling over a hundred people out of the water because this is a parallel but I used to feel real bad when we would lose somebody that would go out in the fog and I would say, “Why wasn’t I there?  Why didn’t I run an extra mile down the beach?”  But you can’t save them all.  You do the best you can and we saved a lot by knowing the conditions, knowing where the fish would be, knowing where the boats would be. In those days we got to fish.  When we went out on patrol and you were out there for 10, 15, 20 hours you could fish on patrol, so you got to know where the fish were. You got to know where the boats were. You got to know where everything was and you were right there to catch anybody that got into trouble.  So the fishing . . . and that was our only source of recreation.  We didn’t have television.  We didn’t have anything out in the station; a basketball and a volleyball net but most of the time we were too busy especially during the summertime, and so our fishing was our main source of recreation and it also helped the food bill around . . . we kept a lot of the families . . . my wife ate fish for years.  She won’t now.  She said, “I used to have to.  I don’t have to eat it anymore.”  [Chuckle]  But the fishing was real good and an important of the program going down the line, and in that four years I was there until I made chief, like I say, the calls that came in, I couldn’t, for every one I can remember there’s probably 40 or 50 that I can’t remember.

It took about a year, I think it was the next summer, when we got the award the Gold Lifesaving Medals and the Silver Lifesaving Medals, and so after that everybody said, “Gee, I want a medal.”  Everybody would like to get a medal, so it was going on.  So the tower called down one day and said, “capsizing”, so I took the old 52-footer again and it was south of the south jetty, and the south jetty at that time was only half as long as it is now and there was a lot of rugged rocks along the inside, and a bad eddy in there, and I came along the jetty and then two people in the water were fairly close to the jetty and I couldn’t get the boat in close enough to make a pick up, and I said, “Somebody’s got to go overboard.”  It was the wrong thing to say.  Everybody wanted a medal [chuckle].  I turned around and the only person that didn’t go overboard was my engineer.  The other two guys jumped overboard [laughter].  They wanted to get that . . . thee two men said, “I thought we’d get a medal”, and they dove overboard and they got the two guys back onboard but we had a heck of a time because I had to leave the wheel.  I’d backed her down enough and left the wheel to go down to get the guy up on deck so I could get back to the wheel so he could help get the next the person on deck because it was so hard to pull them up onboard, and the 52-footer; the only really bad thing about it was when you have somebody in your hands it was really hard to get them onboard.

One evening after that had happened the other Boatswain’s Mate; he’d been out, and he came back in and he says, “Okay”, he said, “You’ve got the duty tonight”, I said, “Right.”  He said, “There’s a 32-foot commercial fishing vessel out there with a couple of elderly gentlemen onboard.”  He says, “I think they’ve been drinking a little bit”, and he said, “but I warned them, don’t come in.  The bar is too rough and to wait about three hours and it’ll be flooding”, and he said, “but I don’t know about them.”  I said, “Okay”, and I was eating chow so we hurried up and I grabbed two men and away we went.  I had the engineer and the seaman and myself.  We got out to the end of the bar and just as I got to the end of the jetty here comes that 32-footer and he’s coming straight down the channel, and just as he got to the reef he does a 90-degree turn to the north and he’s now just outside the north reef, and he passed the jetty by a good hundred yards and all of sudden he did another 90-degree turn and came straight over the reef and here comes a series. They were breaking about 20 feet high and they were the curling type breakers, and I watched that 32-footer do a pitch roll in that breaker end over end and after it hit the first time it broke into pieces and scattered across the water.  The breaker came down over the top and it just disintegrated everything and all of sudden two heads came above the water.  We took the 52-footer and we had at that time we had the first pneumatic fenders I’d ever seen; the rubber ones and they had the air in them and it was the first ones I had ever seen, and we kept them in the ready box, and I pulled up alongside the first man - I took the first one I could see - and the other fellow was probably 50 to 75 feet off my starboard stern quarter and I ran back, opened up the ready box and I threw two of this pneumatic fenders as far as I could throw them and they had that lanyard on them, and I threw them as far as I could towards them and I watch them as I went up to help get this person onboard grab one, and about that time I looked up and here comes about a 12/15 foot breaker.

It hit that 52-footer broadside. We did not go over but we did a nice 90-degree angle, and I reached down and I just got a hold of one of the fisherman; the other fisherman alongside of us, and as we rolled over I went overboard with the fellow in my hands and my seaman - the deck of the 52-footer has, for cleats it has bollards; small little bollards about the size of my fist - and he turned my foot sideways in the bollard to keep me onboard.  It about tore my leg off but I didn’t go overboard and I had the fellow in my hands, and then I felt this huge jerk and then nothing, and when they pulled me onboard I came up and all I had in my hands was his jacket. And I looked and I’m waiting, I’m looking and I’m waiting, and all of a sudden I see his head come up.  I look down and I really think he had died of a heart attack because his false teeth were half way out of his mouth and his jaws were locked and his eyes were glassy, and we got hit with another one and we went over and he went down and I never saw him again.  I looked up, ran to the wheel, and straightened the boat around and where the fellow was holding onto the pneumatic fender, the breaker had passed over him.  He was gone and the fender popped to the surface of the water and I looked around and I had been carried from the North Reef across the bar and I was heading into the inside breakers on the South Reef, and I’m searching for this other fellow hoping that he would come on up and I looked up and a huge series of breakers are coming; big ones, and I took the boat and I turned the boat into the breakers and I straightened out the wheel to about amidships and the first one hit and up in the air we went and we came down and really slammed as we came out of the water; I mean we really slammed, and the second one, which was a huge one and it broke just ahead of us and over the top and drove us quite a ways back, and I had a hold of the wheel and I felt something snap just like when I lost the steering the year before, and it went snap.  And I turned the wheel, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, “the steering's gone but I have twin screws and I’m in deep water.” 

So I cleared the surf and called the station.  The Skipper came on out in a 36-footer and we rigged up the emergency steering.  We had a couple of boxes of tackles and I broke out the tipper to put on there and hooked up the emergency steering, and no problem.  I tell the boys, “Port”, which wouldn’t let me go starboard because of the tipper but it was not to me to know which way I could jump port and the guys in the port would pull . . . come to amidships, and they had the rudder there to watch the handling of course.  So anyway, we got back in and the two men were lost.  We picked them up and the water temperature along this coast runs on an average of 52 degrees.  Sometimes it get downs in the 40s in the winter time, sometimes in the summer maybe up to 59 or 60 degrees but only for a couple of days.  The average temperature is 51/52 degrees.  In 51/52 degrees it takes two weeks to float the average person providing you haven’t had any beer or anything like that.  If we see a six-pack of beer they’ll be up in eight to ten days but if not, two weeks; 14 days and they’ll usually pop to the surface and then they’ll float into the beach.  It takes that much time in that temperature of water to make enough gas to float the average person. So two weeks later the two bodies came up on the beach and we recovered them.  They had been drinking there and they had told the other boatswain’s mate, when he came in and they told me that these guys had said, “We’ve been running this bar when you were in diapers Sonny, we know what we’re doing.”  Well the age-old story.  You know they went down to the sea and they stayed there.  That was too bad but just another experience.

When we got back to the station we wondered why the steering had came out and so the Skipper told us, “Well there’s going to be an investigation of why the steering popped out”, and so what they did, they said, “Well there’s no reason for that steering to break”, and he said, “You must have turned the wheel hard over to either port or starboard and then through all the excitement you pulled down too hard on the wheel and you broke it”, and I said, “There’s no way I can break quarter inch stainless steel cable no matter how hard . . . it just stops.  When the rudder hit that big steel stop it can’t be . . . there’s got to be another reason why it broke”, and the Skipper said, “Well”, he said, “The District has accepted the fact that you pulled too hard on the wheel under extreme dangerous conditions and it’s over.”  He said, “So we don’t want to raise any smoke.  Let it go.”  I said, “Well I don’t want to let it go because that’s not what happened.”  Well I was convinced to leave it alone.  About three months later I’m out on the bar and I had old Pappy Rice with me - he finally made chief before he retired.  He was really a great engineer - and he was with me and all of sudden the steering locked up just like it did . . . but it was just a sloppy bar; it wasn’t really rough, no breaks, and I said, “Hey, the steering is stuck.”  He said, “Hold the wheel right there, don’t move it”, and down through the watertight hatch he went.  He went down and opened the other watertight hatch and he said, “Okay, turn a little bit to port.”  “Okay.”  “Hold it, don’t touch it, don’t touch it, okay, you’re free”, and I had my steering back, and he came up and he had a piece of aluminum.  It was about 10-inches long, about 2 ½ inches wide and about a quarter-inch thick, and it was all chewed up on the end.  Well from the outside steering you had chain that went down to the inside steering to a sprocket and then you had steering cables that went back to the quadrant.  Well in the yard when the boat was built brand new they had cut the opening for the chain to go down through the aluminum and the piece of aluminum had fell back on the inside and had never been removed, and the reason that the steering failed is when the boat took the right roll the piece of aluminum got caught between the chain and locked the chain up, so when the breaker hit the rudder the chain was locked up and wouldn’t turn and broke the shifts of the steering.  So I grabbed that piece of aluminum and I ran up to the CO and I said, “I’ve got it.  We can write our letter.  We can tell the District what happened.  Here is the answer.”  He said, “I told you to leave it alone.  If you bring that up . . . ”, he said, “ . . . you’re just going to start opening Pandora’s box.”  He said, “Just leave it alone.”  I held that piece of aluminum for years and years and years and finally lost it in one of my moves around.  I had that piece of aluminum for years and years because there was a reason why she went but that’s how things went and I’d probably do the same these days but I figured that somebody would want to know that.  Maybe that would happen again.  Maybe somebody was going to lose their life.

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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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