A Bark in the Night

By Wink Weber

 

 

 

In the early spring of 1961, the 83484 was a fairly new arrival to the 11th Coast Guard District, having been transferred from Port Townsend, Washington, at the end of 1960, she was slated for duty at the new Marina Del Rey in Playa Del Rey, California. This spot was just a stoneís throw from Hollywood, therefore, it was only natural that most of the crew had elected to transfer with the ship.

Upon arrival in the 11th District it was learned that the Marina had not been completed and that we would be running patrols and SAR cases out of Base Terminal Island.

This really wasnít bad duty; weekends swinging off a mooring buoy in Avalon harbor, Santa Catalina Island, cruising the offshore islands with a reporter for the Long Beach newspaper aboard, and meeting Lloyd Bridges, who spent quite a bit of time at Terminal Island while filming the TV series "Sea Hunt".

In those years the Los Angeles, Long Beach harbor breakwater consisted of three sections (and may still today). The north section commenced at Cabrillo Beach and ran east to the Los Angeles entrance, marked by Los Angeles Light; from this entrance the breakwater continued easterly to the Long Beach entrance, and then eventually terminated near Seal Beach. This configuration left the center section only accessible by boat (unless you were a bird).

On a dark night of that spring the 83484 received a call from Captain of the Port that there was a report of someone stranded on the center section of the breakwater, just east of the Los Angeles entrance. We immediately got underway for this location and, upon arrival at the place, spotted a man on the rocks of the breakwater. The small boat was launched and the victim was quickly retrieved and brought aboard.

Upon boarding there were several things abundantly clear. He was wet and cold, appeared to be in shock, and last but not least, he was extremely inebriated. His speech was more of babble than rational communication, but we were able to interpret the fact that he had started out aboard a boat and he had not been alone.

A quick run to Pier Point Landing allowed us to dispose of our passenger with the proper authorities and return to the area of the incident. Upon arriving at the scene, we immediately commenced a search and, in short order, found a cabin cruiser with only a couple of feet of the bow protruding above the water. The decision was quickly made to secure the boat to the rocks of the breakwater and mount a watch until daybreak, still a few hours away.

This assignment would require a skilled, dedicated, fearless sailor who was also fairly low in the pecking order of the available deck force. Naturally, due to my skill, dedication, and lack of fear, the watch fell to me (maybe the pecking order had something to do with it as well).

The wreck was hard against the rocks of the breakwater, so I was landed on the rocks armed with a length of line and a battle lantern. I quickly secured the line to the bow stanchion of the cruiser and then tied the bitter end off to a chunk of driftwood that I had wedged between the boulders that made up the breakwater. I then settled down to wait for the dawn and a crew of divers that would arrive with the daylight to explore the wreck. The night was cold and quiet and I spent my time watching the lights of the 484 as she stood off and continued to sweep the area with the arc light. Occasionally I would train the beam of the battle lantern on the wreck to make sure it was secure.

Being fairly certain that other victims were still aboard the craft, I found myself imagining, as I trained the light on the cabin windows visible just below the surface, the vision of a dead, white face peering back at me through the glass. The longer I sat there the more my imagination worked on me until I was nervous as a bride on her wedding night.

Suddenly, a few feet behind me, the night was split by a loud scream that launched me about five feet in the air and had a strange effect on my bowels. Upon returning to earth and getting control of my pounding heart I carefully turned and shined the battle lantern in the direction the noise had come from. There, perched on the rocks, was a harbor seal with eyes blinking into the beam of my light. Feeling foolish, and greatly relieved, I settled back into my position and stuck out the rest of the night.

With the dawn, the 83484 stood back in and retrieved me from the rocks. Upon hitting the deck I was asked by Chief Gallant how my night had gone. I replied "Fine, but I need to go below and change my underwear," and I quickly recounted my seal experience, which gave everyone a good laugh.

The mirth was extinguished a short time later as a team of navy divers extricated the bodies of two females and one male from the submerged cabin and took them to a 40-footer from the Port Security Unit for transport to an awaiting coronerís wagon.

Sometime later I was called up to District headquarters to give a deposition on the events of that night. There I learned that they were pursuing negligent manslaughter charges against the boat operator. I thought that his worst punishment was the fact that the male drowning victim was his own brother.

 

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