A Routine Tow – Art Curry

So I am in the Coast Guard reserve as a Boatswain Mate 3rd Class  (E4) stationed at CG Station Point Judith, RI.  I had volunteered to do my two weeks active duty aboard a Coast Guard Cutter out of Woods Hole, MA.  Something I had been trying to do for several years  and finally got the OK from Boston CG Dist. 1 HQ.

 It is mid December  1985 and the weather is really not good at this time.  I report to the USCGC Point Bonita at 0700 hours on a  Monday morning.  Blue skies and the temperature is in the 30’s.  I report to the CO of the cutter, a LT (O3) Smith.  He tells me I am not going to be very popular with the crew as they don’t like reservists on their boat.  He then turns me over to the Chief (E8) who is the XO on the ship.  He is not really warm &  friendly either.

The Chief tells me the guys don’t like reservists because the last one they had,  a Gunners Mate who was supposed to help them get ready for an IG inspection.  He assured them all their weapons were in tip top shape.  Well, guess what, when the IG inspection party came aboard the Monday after he left that past Friday and they got to the gun locker to inspect the weapons, What a surprise!!! Both the pistols and rifles had not seen any gun oil or cleaning rags in a long time.  There was actually rust beginning to form on the barrel of the M16.  One of the .45’s was  jammed open.  Very embarrassing to say the least.

In any event I told the Chief I was there for 2 weeks and to give me any shit job that needed to be done.  I figured with time I could change their minds.  He put me to work splicing some large fenders for the boat and left me to the job in the hole of the ship which had a large opening to the main deck.  Every so often I would see a shadow checking to see if I was working.  Around 10am I asked if they had a coffee  station, I got myself a coffee and went back to work.  None of the crew was too friendly, but  I got the splicing done in a day and a half  and asked for more.  After a couple of days they warmed up a little as I kept asking for any details that no one wanted.  Looking good.

Life was good till the middle of the 2nd week when we got word that a fishing boat out of New Bedford, MA located South east of Nantucket and had lost her steering in rough weather.  We would have to get underway and it would be a 12 – 15 hour ride just to get to her.  Did I mention the seas in December are  pretty rough, windy and cold. Surprise surprise,  I always get seasick when underway.  So I spent most of the time upchucking  heading out to the boat in distress.   On the way we were diverted to an ocean weather buoy to change the light bulb in the tower of the buoy,  which added to our arrival time and my upchucking. 

 Did I really volunteer for this?

On scene at last, we are now 17 hours into the rescue.  We arrive to assist the fishing vessel ”Sweet Marie”.  The seas are 4-5 Ft and the wind is blowing hard.  We make comms with the fishing boat.  Our Chief and the Capt. of the fishing boat work out how we will transfer a receiving line over to the boat so they can pull in  our towline to their boat.  We use a line-throwing  rifle to get a line across their bow.   The Sweet Marie tells us that they made up a cradle hookup while they were waiting and as soon as they get the towline they will attach it.  Our CO wanted to send one of  our crew over in a raft to make up the tow connection.    I was hoping it wasn’t me.  The wind and seas were too strong to launch the raft, Thank God.  Of course now it was raining like hell.  It took 3 times with the line throwing gun before we got a lead line over to them.  We actually aimed it into their rigging.   Now we had to fake (lay out) 400-500 feet of towing line which is about 2 inches in diameter.  Oh, did I mention that as the line goes out if has to be greased with this heavy thick grease. I was awarded that job.  We pass over the line eventually, they make up the connections and away we go.   We settle in and I get the 1st watch keeping an eye on the  towline, Basically I am outside in the weather up against the superstructure, attached to a rail so as not to wash over board.  I was relieved about  1 hour & 1/2 later and went below to get something to eat.  By this time I can’t look at any food other than saltine crackers and water.  

All of a sudden bells and whistles are going off.  The cradle they put together has parted and now we have 500 feet of greased towline in the water. It’s all hands on deck  to get the line back in and start all over again.  At this point we are all rocking and rolling as the ship is in neutral. Our ship is rolling all over the place, people are slipping and sliding because of the grease.  Hours have gone by,  but we get underway again gently and proceed all the way back to New Bedford.  After dropping the Sweet Marie, who isn’t so sweet after all.  We head back to Woods Hole  and before collapsing  in our racks we have to make our cutter shipshape again in case of another rescue call.   Total time underway was approx. 40 hours, but hey  whose counting. 

By the end of the 2 weeks I had made several deck qualifications and they decided I could come back any time.  The crew added Expert Greaser to my qualifications. 

Morale of the story: “Be careful what you wish for,  it may come to pass”.

Curry, A.L. BM3 USCGR