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My Life In the Coast Guard
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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3A
Chapter 3B
Chapter 3C
Chapter 3D
Chapter 4
Chapter 5A
Chapter 5B
Chapter 5C
Chapter 6
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        The most difficult mission was actually two missions rolled into one. The ship was due to perform a full power trial which meant that we had to find water that was five times the draft of the ship. This meant that we had to find water that was at least 40 feet deep. We could have done the full power trial over the course of a day had we simply gone out into Lake Huron over the weekend. Instead we took off for Lake Erie in December a week and a half before Christmas with a broken ship service generator and a broken boiler. This left us with no backups. Unknown to us at the time was the steady advance of a major winter storm system that hadn't been seen on the Great Lakes since the Edmund Fitzgerald went down. We didn't know it but Lake Erie was literally freezing solid behind us as we headed eastward. Because Lake Erie is so shallow we had to sail all the way to Buffalo, New York to find water deep enough to perform the full power trial. I thought that this was totally absurd and I asked a fellow crewman why we weren't going into Lake Huron. The crewman told me that the reason why was that the Captain was going on leave when we arrived in Buffalo so he could vacation with a woman he met in Toronto. I said, "But the Captain is married." and he said, "Uh huh!" and walked away.

        We didn't arrive in deep water until about 2 AM the following day, when all hands were roused from their sleep and each of us was handed an ax handle. When I was handed my ax handle I ask the person who gave it to me what this was for. He said, "It's for busting ice off the ship." I asked myself why we would need to do such a thing and when I turned left out of the berthing area to open the hatch to the main deck I found out why. The hatch on the starboard side of the ship had been frozen shut by ice and during the whole trip we never managed to get it open. This forced us to exit the ship on the port side. I couldn't believe what I saw when I got out there. The ship had been converted into an ice cube and there was a wind chill of -40 degrees below zero.  

        We spent about two hours busting ice off the ship and then commenced the full power trial. The full power trial was finished by dawn and afterwards we pulled into Coast Guard Station Buffalo, NY. When we pulled up to the pier several guys from the station were there to receive our mooring lines and tie us up. It was evident by the expressions on their faces that they were shocked by the condition of our ship because all the ice that we had removed earlier had returned. We spent the next day removing ice from the ship and got underway the following morning with a small buoy tender following us. The buoy tender had problems with their hull that required them to go into drydock in Cleveland for repairs. There was concern about the safety of the vessel and that is why they were following us because we were going in the same direction.

        The seas began to get heavy around 5 PM and by 8 PM we were sailing into a full force gale coming from the West. By this time the seas were heavier than anything we had encountered during the entire time I had been on board and I wanted to see what this looked like from the bridge. When I got up to the bridge after my watch the buoy tender radioed us and said, "We are entirely covered with ice. The windows on the bridge are totally covered and I can't see where I'm going. I can't tell where you are and I am afraid we might collide. Request permission to seek immediate safe harbor." The executive officer of the ship was in charge because the captain had gone on leave so the executive officer was responsible for the safety of the mission. He radioed the buoy tender and said, "Our radar indicates that you are a quarter-mile behind us. We are going to come to a complete stop and I want you come alongside us so we can put our searchlight on you." The buoy tender complied with the order and when the executive officer saw the condition of the buoy tender there was a look of terror on his face. He got on the radio and ordered the buoy tender to seek immediate safe harbor and added that we would remain at anchor in Lake Erie outside the shipping lanes till morning when we would try again.

        It had been a very rough ride and the crew is very tired. After dropping anchor we were all glad to get some sleep.  Sleeping why we were underway during all of this was difficult.  When the ship went down a wave you found yourself floating six inches in the air and when you were going up a wave you were pressed hard into your bed.  When the ship made a minor course correction that prevented us from sailing straight into the waves you were almost thrown out of your bed from the side forces.  In the morning when I woke up the ship was bouncing up and down. I thought we had got underway while I was asleep so I went up to the bridge to see what was going on. The sun was just beginning to come up when the buoy tender called us on the radio and asked us what our current weather conditions were. Petty Officer Pew was standing bridge watch and reported back to the buoy tender that our current weather conditions were 40 ft. seas with winds at 95 knots. The buoy tender reported that the weather conditions where he was at were winds calm. He stated that he was concerned about the safety of continuing the mission due to his hull damage and that he intended to contact district office in Cleveland, OH. for further instructions. District office in Cleveland, OH. ordered that the mission continue, which made little difference to us because we had to get home anyway.

        We busted ice off the ship only this time we were given fire axes, sledge hammers and metal pry bars because we had destroyed all the axe handles we had. It was almost fun to take out your frustration on the ship. Then we resumed our westerly heading but due to the 95 knot headwind our actual ground speed was three miles an hour. We continued on like this for two more days. Being able to be home for Christmas with the family was no longer a possibility. The ship was taking an incredible pounding. The waves were so tall that we could feel pulses being transmitted into the ship as the propeller came half out of the water as we came over the top of the waves. It was a wild ride and I was really getting into it when I began to see the worried expressions on some of our most experienced sailors. Some of them had been on oceangoing vessels and when I saw fear in their eyes I realized I was in more trouble than I thought I was. The reason for the all the ice removal from the ship was due to concerns that we might capsize. Later that day I asked the Chief if the radios on our ship had a battery backup in the event we lost power. He replied that they didn't. I replied, "So if we lose the generator we loose our heat, water and our radios." and he agreed with me. It was then that I asked him if we could break out our Bailey suits in the event we needed them. He told me that our survival equipment was located in the equipment lockers on the upper deck which were entombed under a foot or more of ice.

        It was decided that we would stop at a small town and tie up to the city pier for the evening. I don't remember the name of the place. I was on the sound powered phones on the forecastle when we pulled up. It was then that the stern reported that number three mooring line was missing and I relayed that info to the Chief Bosons mate who said, "What do you mean by that?" I said I didn't know and that I was only reporting what I had been told. I called the fantail and asked them what happened and they said that number three mooring line was laying on the deck and then it was gone. Instantly I realized that the line had gone in the water and might be in the prop. We had tremendous wind pushing us away from the pier and one of our mooring lines snapped.  The bridge immediately turned on the bubbler van. The bubbler van is a large diesel driven air blower that is used during icebreaking. The air from the bubbler van is directed through pipes to electrically operated valves which control the discharge of air through holes in the hull of the ship. The bubbler van can be used from controls on the bridge like a bow thruster and the bridge to opened all of the valves on the port side of the ship which took a load off of our mooring lines and brought us closer to the pier. Once the ship was under control again the situation stabilized and we were able to get all of our mooring lines tied up. Then we had to figure out what happened to our missing line. We broke out some handheld searchlights to see if we could find the line. We found it, completely wrapped around the propeller. The next morning divers from the local Police Department were called to see if we could get the line off the prop. Fortunately due to quick action by the bridge in turning on the bubbler van we were able to control the ship without having to turn the propeller otherwise the line would have melted itself from the friction onto the propeller. If that had happened we would have immediately been sent to drydock for repairs. Fortunately we didn't have to do this.

        The next morning we busted ice off the ship and got underway.  The winds were light until we got out into Lake Erie.  When we did conditions were as bad if not worse than before. Later that evening I was making my engineering rounds and when I checked the pyrometer readings for our only ship service generator I got temperatures of 1000 or more degrees. I reported this to Chief Catrell and he ordered me to go down below and take readings off the generator itself. When I did all I got was the same thing so I got on the phone and called the Chief to let him know. By the time I got to the engineering control center he was already on the phone to the bridge telling them we had to seek immediate safe harbor, which turned out to be Coast Guard Station Sandusky. When we arrived we went dark ship as MK1 Kelsey Davis and Chief Catrell began repairs on the generator by flashlight. After several hours the repairs were completed and we were ready to get underway again, but the Coast Guard district office ordered us to stay where we were. They were concerned about a freighter that had cracked its main deck from port to starboard due to the storm and the possibility that our wake might do them in. Little did they know that the best speed we could make was three miles an hour and that wake was not a factor. Our sister ship the Neah Bay had assumed our area of responsibility in our absence and they were escorting the freighter to Cleveland. The entire crew was pissed that another unit was doing our job for us, while we were out doing something stupid like a full power trial in Lake Erie of all places.  We endured all of this so somebody could get some pussy.

        When we finally made it to the ice the ride smoothed out and the waves were replaced by the roar of ice breaking against the steel hull of the ship. The only way to describe the sound would be to imagine what it might sound like to have a ship sailing through broken glass or maybe a phonograph record with no recorded music that is thoroughly scratched and played at ear splitting volume.  The only way to sleep was with ear plugs in your ears.  Listening to this for long periods of time induced stress into your body that you could feel.

        We busted ice off the ship and then got underway when the freighter in distress had passed us on it's way to the Cleveland ship yard. We had been receiving reports of the formation of the ice on Lake Erie and it's location from ships headed eastward. The entire crew was looking forward to hitting that ice because it would mean that we would no longer be pounded by the waves. People have been throwing up everywhere myself included on the 5th day and I hardly ever throw up. It wasn't until later in the day that we actually made it to the ice. This meant that we no longer had to worry about the spray freezing on the superstructure the ship because there wouldn't be any. We didn't return home until very late in the night. Prior to going home we were told to return to work by 9:00 AM the next day. The reason why we were told to report to work so late was due to the fact that some high-ranking Coast Guard official needed to see how low we were sitting in the water. This would give him the calculations he needed to determine how much ice had accumulated on the superstructure. When he did his calculations and is determined that we had 80,000 pounds of ice on the superstructure the ship. It's important to remember that we had busted ice off the ship eight times during this trip and that every time we removed ice from the ship there was just about as much of it as there was the last time. This is what we looked like when we arrived home.

Frozen 5

Frozen 4

Frozen 8

Frozen 6

 

 

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