Right Ship, Wrong Time
by Charles Spencer
A tale of woe ..........
It was about 1946 when three new Coast Guard Cutters, 255-feet long and called the "Indian Class," were moved to Seattle to take on a continuous ocean/rescue station about 1200 miles northwest of Seattle and 1000 miles south of Kodiak Island, Alaska. It was not an accident that this was, before the days of satellites, the most vital weather observatory place on earth for predicting weather for the whole continental USA.
The three new, identical ships were the IROQUOIS, KLAMATH, and WINONA. One other Coast Guard Cutter in the area was the icebreaker NORTHWIND, which was docked at pier 91 on the north side of the city. Our berth was at an isolated dock in west Seattle that only accommodated one ship alongside but others could be "rafted" seaward into tranquil Elliot Bay with no problem.
Did I say no problem? Actually, there was a problem.
I was Chief Radioman on the IROQUOIS and one evening elected to go ashore to attend some cultural event. It was a chamber music recital as I recall, with a tuba, violin, washboard, and Jew's harp. The "chamber" resembled an ice cream parlor because the state had mandated that the bar be restricted to 31 inches in height. The stools were wrought iron chairs painted white to match. I once saw a midget from the circus swagger in and belly up to the bar. The strongest drink available was "near beer" and I recall Olympia and Ranier being popular brands. One nice thing about this arrangement was that one need not worry about falling off a bar stool because you were already sitting practically on the floor.
I returned to the ship in good spirits. Fortunately I had driven my car because walking was a demanding exercise. Somehow I made my way across the dock and up the gangway to my comfy bunk in the Chief's quarters. No sooner had I dozed off when I was rudely shaken. "OK, Goldilocks, this here is Papa Bear and what the hell are you doing in my bed! I hope you didn't eat my porridge."
Gathering my wits and pants around me, I recognized a Chief Machinist type because he had the engine room pallor and was all greasy. Apologizing, I admitted, "Well, your fart sack was a bit more pungent than mine."
"You on the IROQUOIS?" he demanded.
"Well, dummy, this is the KLAMATH. Your ship is next door."
Seeing my embarrassment and contrition, he helped me on with my pants and went into the mess room where he made some coffee. I dozed off while he was relating on the perfidity of womankind (actually he made a couple of good points.) After herding me up the ladder to the swaying gangway, he gave a friendly wave before I disappeared down into my own quarters.
A few months later the electric propulsion motor on the IROQUOIS burnt up and I wound up as Chief Radioman on the KLAMATH. There I claimed that sack after airing out and putting on new sheets and pillowcase. My benefactor was gone.
Needless to say, I never again patronized the Arts or Cultural Events in Seattle.
This is a picture of a 255 foot Indian Class Cutter, not one of those mentioned in the story, but the CGC Winona (WPG-65). The Ship Alteration policies on this class of ships was rigidly enforced. Unlike ships such as the 311 foot AVP's, the 255's were not permitted to have individual characteristics. Thus it was easy for a problem such as that described to occur in those years. - Jack -
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