USCG 44304 Biggest Breaker

 

 

 By BMC Gary J. Hudson Ret.

Photo BMC Gary J. Hudson Ret.

The 44 footers

The best MLB that was ever
designed to work in deep and shallow water and surf. I spent 20 years running these boats on the Washington, Oregon Coasts. I was qualified surfman and heavy weather coxswain in the 44's and 52's (another of the greatest MLB's) I know for a fact that if it were not for the 44's I and my crews and a lot of other people would not be around today to talk about it. I was not perfect and made a lot of mistakes over the years but the boat always brought us through. A short story about one summer day on patrol at the mouth of the Columbia river. It was a beautiful day, 75 degrees, calm waters with about a 3-4 ft. long swell coming from the West. We were off the tip of the North Jetty on board the 44304 (At the time Cummins engines). We got a call that a 2 year old boy had fallen off the rocks below N. Head Light. (Right some idiot took his kid there) As I turned to head across a calm Peacock spit toward Northhead a CG Chopper flew over us in that direction. We got on scene about 1/4 mile off the beach and observed the Chopper hovering, we went in to get a closer look and found that it was just a piece of wood. I turned the 304 back out to sea as to give the chopper more room to search. There was very little surf at this time, maybe an occasional 5-6 ft. sluffer onto the beach and rocks of which we were not into. We had slipped into out Farmer John suits on the way over just in case. I was strapped into the seat and both crewmen were belted into superstructure eyebolts. I was just in gear with both engines and looking out the front window. All of a sudden I noticed the horizon start rising rapidly way out in front of me. Immediately both engines were at full throttle and we headed straight out to sea. I yelled to both crewman to hang on but I didn't really have to say it, they both had white knuckle grips on hand rails. Both engines were screaming as we started to make the longest climb up the face of a breaker I had ever made. Before we reached the top of this swell the 304 was straight up and I was glued to the back of the seat, both crewmen's feet had dropped out from under them and hung down. I had a death grip with both hands on the wheel. As I looked out the window the breaker curled completely over the top of the 304. I felt a small impact as the 304 was being pushed further aft. I got the very real feeling that she was going to pitch pole backwards. We then broke through to daylight and came flying out. The boat nosed over and headed straight down. The breaker was concave on the back side and the boat was completely free of the water. It was so far down that the boat started to turn to starboard and pitch somewhat stern over. The engines were still full ahead as I could not get to the throttles. I know that water is not supposed to break any higher then it is deep, (I thought I was in around 25-30 foot at the time) but there must have been a deep hole where we came down. We went straight in and I kept thinking we were going to have a head in collision with the bottom. She seemed to nose in with a gentle thud, went in straight down to just past the cabin and popped strait back out, settled stern down and in no time we were doing 12 knots straight out to sea. Way out to sea. I looked back and could see all the way to the beach and the conditions were the same as when we had first gone in, (almost like a lake with the same for the ocean). I had heard a lot about freak waves for many years but had never observed any such thing until now. I also know that the Cummins engines brought us through that one. Anything lesser at the time and we could have pitch poled aft and maybe into the rocks at N. Head. Sorry this is so long but it is very true and writing it did put me right back there. They never did find the boy! No one else on the beach or in the chopper saw what happened to us.

My thanks and appreciation go to BMC Gary J Hudson Ret. for allowing me to use this short story.

 

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