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My Life In the Coast Guard
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My Second Unit

USCGC Bristol Bay WTGB 102

 

        After nearly being killed in that ice drill I had about all I could take of Station Saginaw River. I was being pressured by the Chief to select a rate or job that I wanted. This wasn't easy for me because I wanted to become an aircraft mechanic, but one week after my arrival at Saginaw River the Coast Guard increased their vision requirements and I was unable to get into aircraft mechanic school. The only other option was the next best thing, which was to become a diesel mechanic, otherwise known as a machinist technician. I wasn't thrilled with the idea, but what could I do. About this time an opportunity presented itself to go on temporary assigned duty to an ice breaking tug out of Detroit called the Bristol Bay.  It was a 140 ft. icebreaking tug used primarily to keep the shipping lanes of the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers open during the spring and fall.

WTGB 102
USCGC Bristol Bay WTGB 102

        While I was on temporary assigned duty on the icebreaker I spoke with several people about the ice drill that I had encountered. I figured that because I was on an icebreaker winter operations should be their forte. I asked them if they conducted any cold water drills like this and they told me that they didn't. Later on I discovered that these cold water drills were a complete violation of Coast Guard policies.

        I had some problems concerning travel pay which I was supposed to receive as a result of traveling to Wright Patterson Air Force Base for nasal surgery. It seems that because I was not one of the popular people with Petty Officer Dekel had failed to process might travel pay request. Consequently I had to process it all over again and I did so through the Executive Officer of the Bristol Bay who was a very nice man. During the workday I was paged to report to the officers ward room to sign some papers and answer a few questions concerning my travel pay. When I entered the office I saw a very tall man in civilian clothes seated at the table. I had no idea who this man was. He asked me who I was and I told him that I was Jim Coghill from Coast Guard Station Saginaw River. He said, "Oh you're one of Chief Fuller's boys. I've heard a lot about your station." The tone of voice he used was very intimidating and I became very self-conscious. I then told him, "I hope you heard nothing but good things." He just shook his head no. Now I'm scared because I don't know what he knows so I said, "I hope your not referring to the drill that I was a part of." And he replied, "Yah I've heard a lot about that drill tell me more." So I proceeded to tell him the story not knowing who the hell he was. At the into the workday I found out when I was paged to report to the officers ward room again. When I entered the office here was the same man in full dress uniform and he was a captain. He told me that he had just spoken with the Commander of Coast Guard Station Group Detroit about my drill. He said, "He wants to see you yesterday. Get in your dress blues and get out here in 15 minutes. I will escort you to his office personally." As the two of us walked down the pier to the Group's offices he could tell I was terrified. He told me, "You're not in any trouble so just relax." I asked him what this man was going to do and he said, "He just wants to ask you a few questions." I must have sat in that man's office for an hour and a half relating my story. He had a gravely serious look on his face by the time I was through and I asked him what he intended to do. Obviously whatever the Commander did was going to affect how I was received when I returned to the station. He told me that he was going to investigate the radio log and the station log and he was going to make sure that this never happened again. Several months went by before I made a call to Michael Curran and learned that when the Commander of Group Detroit had arrived he found that the station log and the radio log had disappeared.

        When I returned to the ship I was very concerned about my future and over the course of the next couple of days I spoke with Electricians Mate Chief Catrell about the possibility of my temporary assigned duty becoming permanent. He told me to go see the Engineering Warrant Officer and ask him about it so I did. Requesting a transfer to a ship is not something that happens every day in the Coast Guard. Most people want transfers off of ships. A day or two later a meeting was held in the officers ward room between the Executive Officer, the Engineering Warrant Officer, Chief Catrell and myself. It was at this time that I presented a formal request for transfer to the ship. During the discussion the Executive Officer said that he couldn't understand why I wanted a transfer to his ship. The Engineering Warrant Officer asked the XO if he was familiar with my recent past in regard to the drill I had participated in and he replied that he was. The Engineering Warrant Officer then said," Let's just say that Mr. Coghill is concerned about a certain Chief that will soon become a lawnmower looking to mow his grass if he goes back to his station." That made it perfectly clear to him and at the end of the meeting my transfer was approved and effective immediately. Practically the entire crew traveled with me to Bay City, MI to help me move my possessions. Try getting as much from the guys you work with in the civilian world. It simply isn't going to happen.

        Duty on a Coast Guard ship is hard work. I had to produce a map of all of the plumbing on board the ship for the potable water system, the sewage system, the electrical system, the ballast system, the air-conditioning system, the engine cooling system, and the bilge pumping system. I had to create these maps during my free time, but the guys on my ship help me out. I had to demonstrate my proficiency in using all of the shipboard equipment. Now you have to remember I had never worked with machinery before and all of this was new to me. I was extremely overwhelmed but I pressed on and got the job done.

        One of the first trips that we made was to the ship's favorite port of call, Cleveland, OH. We sailed up the Cuyahoga River and docked at the Flats. The Flats is well known for its entertainment and its bars and restaurants. One restaurant in particular was our favorite and was named Finnegan's. There was a particular custom on board the ship called shooters and wa wa. At the time I wasn't much of the drinker and I really didn't like getting drunk but when you're on board a ship you do what you're shipmates do. The way shooters and wa wa works is like this. The crew which is drinking together orders a round of schnapps for everybody. Unknown to the new person is that all of the other guys are drinking water. Hence the wa wa. The whole purpose of this is to get the new guy falling down drunk until he realizes that everybody else is drinking water. At which time he lets them know it by ordering a round of schnapps without their knowledge. I had already been warned about this and I let three or four rounds go by before I placed my order for them. During the time that we were docked in Cleveland which was about three weeks I racked up a $2000 drinking bill on my credit card.

        Another trip that we made took us to the Welland Canal. We departed on Friday which was our payday and we were quite concerned about whether or not we would be able to cash our checks on this trip. When we arrived we found that no Canadian bank would cash our checks. Consequently no one on board the ship had any drinking money including me. I had a few dollars in my wallet so after work I went to the bar. My intention was to have a few drinks and then go back to the ship and go to bed. I must have looked lonely or had a long face because some sailors from a freighter called the Algorail invited me to have a few drinks with them. When they found out that nobody on board my ship could cash their paycheck they invited half the crew from my ship to come drink with them. The crew from the Algorail asked me where we were headed and I told them that our next destination was Coniot, OH. and we were dure to depart in the morning. They were surprised and told me that they were headed there in the morning as well. We spent the entire evening till closing time drinking B-52s. I was totally plastered when it came time to leave. I left the bar and started walking down the pier when I realized that I didn't know the way back to the ship. I started to get scared when it became apparent that I could spend the entire night wandering around trying to find it. I knew I needed directions but where are you going to get directions under conditions like this at 2 o'clock in the morning. I thought that maybe there would be a guard posted on the main deck of one of the ships that I was walking by and that I might be able to get directions from him. There was one problem with my plan. The main deck's of these ships are 90 feet above me and I was totally smashed. Thinking that I had to do something I decided to climb the 90 foot ladder to the main deck of one of the ships. Now you might think these ships would have a decent gangway or ladder. Not so! The ladder was made out of aluminum just like the kind you would buy in a hardware store only it was 95 feet long and had a safety net underneath it in the event you fell off. When I got to the main deck there was nobody there. I thought there might be somebody inside I could get directions from so I went inside the superstructure of the ship and there was nobody there. Feeling totally out of place I was now concerned with the possibility that I might wind up being arrested for trespassing. Just at that moment I could hear the advancing footsteps of at least two people coming down the hallway which turned off to the right. That's when I decided to give this up and get the hell off the ship. I went out onto the main deck and practically slid down the ladder. I must have spent about another hour wandering around before I found my ship.

        The next morning I woke up with the worst hangover I have ever had my life. We had been underway for about an hour when I threw up my socks into the bilges during my engineering rounds down below. We pulled into Coniot, OH. with the Algorail following closely behind. Both our ships were secured to the pier at about the same time which resulted in both crews getting liberty about the same time. I immediately went over to the Algorail to meet the third engineer who had bought the drinks the night before because he had offered to give me a tour of the ship. We started on the bridge and worked our way to the stern. The cargo holds were massive and the engine room was huge. It was so large that I was surprised that it had been constructed in that manner knowing that shipbuilders prefer to compartmentalize spaces to reduce the possibility of sinking if the ship takes on water. Another thing that surprised me was the size of the engines. They were tiny by comparison with the engine room. Then the third engineer took me up to his berthing area and showed me how he lived. He had a room to himself and offered me a soda out of a small refrigerator that was under his desk. I asked him if they provided him any survival equipment and he pulled out a clear plastic bag with a brand-new Gumby suit in it. I told him that he could rely on that suit to keep him alive for days in the water and related my personal experiences with it. Then it was off to the bar. When we arrived at the bar I was introduced to Inez the first cook. She was French Canadian Indian and was drop dead gorgeous. I noticed that she was carrying a very large knife in a sheath on her belt, which she apparently carried with her at all times.  Later in the evening in a state of intoxication I actually danced with her, which is something I don't ordinarily do, but she was more interested in my friend than she was in me. Besides I was married.  I was so impressed with the friendliness of the crew of the Algorail I sent the Captain of the ship a letter and thanked him and his crew for their hospitality.  To this day I have never met people more kind.  Thinking about it now I would enjoy working on that ship because those would be some great people to sail with.

The Algorail

        Another memorable trip that we made was to Toronto Canada. Our ship docked at the city pier, at the base of the CN tower. I got a chance to explore the city for several days. There was a bar that I went to that had all of the appearances of being a British pub. I walked inside and ordered a beer at the bar and commenced having a wonderful conversation with the Toronto locals about their town. One of the things that I noticed that I told them about that was different from American cities was its cleanliness. There was no trash in the streets, no bums hiding out in dark alleys or on the street corner and there were no homeless people begging for money. There was an art school near the CN tower where I spent most of my time watching people blow glass and make ceramics. Having been in art school during college it brought back a lot of good memories.

 

 

For questions or comments about this web site contact: jcoghill2@cox.net