All Set-Up

By David Robb

Courtesy of the WYTM Association


I am pretty sure it was the Spring of 1967 when we were in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, rafted outboard the Buoy Tender Mesquite who later met her untimely end on the rocky Keweenaw Shoals on a December night in Lake Superior. As has mentioned been elsewhere, often, a 110 and a 180 were assigned ops together for Operation Oil Can in Lake Michigan. We used a "skiing" technique together to open tracks in soft, slush ice.

That year, we had a very successful season starting south and working our way up into the locks of the Soo and into Whitefish Bay. Because Mesquite’s home port was Sturgeon Bay, she headed back there on completion of ops as we followed for some necessary Charlie status at the ship yard there. Often, our liberty time was pleasantly spent in their company.

With a fresh coat of bottom paint, we headed back to Milwaukee where Arundel out of Chicago had been covering our area of ops for us while we were gone. Mesquite was dispatched several hours after us to relieve the Arundel so she could do her Charlie status. Inevitably, Mesquite caught up to us about 50 miles south off Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Relations between our two ships and the Sundew also, were very good but we never passed up a chance for a little friendly but intense competition such as snowshoe (broom) hockey on the ice in Tee shirts after chow.

CWO2 James W. Pierce was the skipper of Raritan at the time and had a witty sense of humor that was aggravated by his strong North Carolina accent. As we were sagging south on a rare calm night and a full moon, we spotted Mesquite climbing up our wake on radar. It became apparent that she was going to pass us close to port. I don’t know what your definition of "close aboard" is but mine is NOT less than 10 yards at 15 knots. An obviously outlandish display of seamanship and good natured intimidation, Captain Pierce ordered me, "Helmsman, hold your course steady," which I did with white knuckles as he casually radioed the Mesquite himself and drawled: "Ahhhh, Coast Guard Cutter Mesquite. This is the Coast Guard Cutter Raritan on Channel 22. Over." Mind you, that was a Lieutenant Commander coming along our side.

"Coast Guard Cutter Raritan. This is the Mighty Coast Guard Cutter Mesquite. Over." Rolling eyes and stifled chuckles crossed our bridge. Captain Pierce keyed the mike, "Most Honorable Coast Guard Cutter Mesquite. This is the Most Humble Coast Guard Cutter Raritan. Would you mind watching your wake as you pass. We just got everything all "set up", here, don’t ‘cha know." I held my breath for the long delay that followed but when Mesquite finally keyed her mike to reply, we could hear her entire bridge crew breaking up in busted laughter. The talker took several tries to acknowledge our polite request through his own uncontrollable laughter and eventually managed a "Rog-ha! Roger!" With renewed pride in our Skipper, we watched Mesquite’s white stern light disappear ahead of us in less than a half hour as we settled back into the cozy dark of the mid-watch and the vibrating thrum of our big propeller.

For those non-seagoing readers who may be reading this, "All set-up" is a nautical term defined as "articles positioned precariously to fall." Dictionary of Sailing, F.W. Burgess, Penguin Books, pp.183, 1961

David Robb served on the CGC Raritan

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All Set-Up By David Robb - 180' Tenders and 110' tugs often worked together breaking Great Lakes ice.