USCGC ARIADNE (WPC-101) - Life Aboard A Buck Sixty-Five 

Jory D. Luchsinger

The embellishment found in what follows, and names have been changed to protect the innocent. I have, additionally, tried to relate these tales in terms that non-sailors will understand. These are my stories.

Aside from occasional sail boating on Long Island Sound while I was a kid, the first time I ever went to sea was aboard the rolling deck of a 33 year-old Coast Guard cutter out of St. Petersburg, Florida. The ship, built in 1934, had a riveted steel hull, a very round bottom and twin diesel engines and propellers. Her name was Ariadne after a character from Greek mythology. In myth Ariadne was the granddaughter to Zeus and her mother was in love with a  bull and so she was the half sister of the Minotaur. She later helped Theseus kill the Minotaur for true love. But he ran off and left her in a foreign port where she was rescued by Dionysus. The Coast Guard Cutter Ariadne was classified as a medium endurance cutter, supposedly to indicate that she could remain at sea for up to two weeks before returning to port for supplies, water and fuel. At 165 feet long she was one of four remaining vessels of her type, with two of each stationed on the east and west coasts. Her remaining sister ships were also named after characters from Greek mythology: Aurora, Nemesis and Triton. In all there were originally 18 ships of her class that had been built as coastal patrol boats in the early 1930's. Their primary function at that time was to enforce prohibition laws on the coastal seas of the United States.

I later found out that this class of cutter had a long and storied history during World War II as convoy escorts in the North Atlantic, and later in the Gulf of Mexico as patrol craft along the Texas and Cuban coasts. One of her class, the cutter Electra, also served in the U. S. Navy as the Presidential Yacht Potomac from November 1935 through November 1945.

I had reported aboard on Memorial Day 1966 after

having spent the previous five months at Gunner's Mate School in Groton, Connecticut. We called Groton "Rotten Groton" because it was home not only to the Coast Guard Academy and Training Center, but also to the Navy's Atlantic submarine fleet. As a result the town was populated with nothing but sailors, making it difficult, if not impossible, to find female companionship when we had weekend liberty.

It had been an especially nasty winter in New England and it was still pretty chilly when I left there and boarded a plane to St. Petersburg in my wool dress blues. When I walked out of the airport in Tampa I was greeted by a blast of heat and humidity that is typical of early summer weather in Florida. During the taxi ride to the ship I began to think I'd made a big mistake in requesting an assignment to a tropical duty station. There I was in a heavy wool uniform sweating like a horse and feeling generally miserable. I kept telling myself "this will get better...you'll acclimate!

Well eventually I did, although it took the better part of the Florida summer. After reporting aboard I was told that the ship was to go into dry dock in Tampa for a month. I wasn't quite sure what all happened "in dry-dock" but I found out soon enough. I was the junior gunner's mate aboard ship, and was given the task of chipping all of the rust out of the ship's ammunition magazines, which were in the bilges at the very bottom of the ship. Well, with the outside air temperature somewhere above 90 degrees, and the inside air temperature even higher, it didn't take long for the sweat to flow. And flow it did! Every day I would go down into the magazines after morning muster in a freshly laundered work uniform and chip away until coffee break at 1000 hours. By then I looked like I had been thrown overboard. After coffee break it was back to the magazines until lunch, then following afternoon muster...back to the magazines.

Eventually the magazines got rid of their rust, had a fresh coat of paint and I had gotten acclimated to the heat and humidity.

During our time in dry dock an interesting event occurred. As I mentioned, Ariadne had been built in the early nineteen thirties making her 33 years old in 1965 when I reported aboard. She had seen countless patrols and many assignments during that time, and had spent her share of time in the shipyards for repairs and maintenance. Her exterior showed her age despite an expertly applied cosmetic paint job. Her interior however was another matter. I learned first hand while working in the bilges of Ariadne's magazines that rust and ships her age go hand in hand.

There was certainly plenty of rust in the magazines, but there was even more in the aft spaces of the ship in the " lazarette" where our towing hawser was kept, due I suppose, to the salt water dripping off of the hawser after it had been hauled aboard and stowed. A towing hawser is a length of heavy rope used for towing other vessels. On Ariadne it was a three-inch diameter braided nylon rope, a couple of hundred yards long. Several of the guys on the deck force had been given the job of chipping and painting the bilges under the hawser stowage area. Everything was going along fine until one day one of the seamen put the head of his chipping hammer right through the hull! It seems that after years of chipping, painting, and rusting, chipping painting, and rusting and so on, the hull had become paper-thin in several areas. Many of us were pretty surprised that we had been sailing around in a ship that could have sunk at any moment!

Once word spread the Captain, Chief Engineer and Chief Bosn's mate huddled together and studied the situation very carefully. We certainly couldn't go to sea with holes in the hull, and there wasn't enough "good" metal around the holes to weld patches on the hull. It took several days of meetings, inspections and phone calls before a plan was developed. The solution? Cement! That's right cement! To everyone's amazement arrangements were made with the shipyard to partially fill that portion of the bilges with a special type of water-resistant cement that would seal the holes, restore the watertight integrity of the hull, and hopefully not create new problems that would affect the buoyancy of the ship.

Everyone in the crew was a little suspicious as to whether the cement would really work, but it did, even though Ariadne rode a little lower in the stern than she was designed to.

Following our spell in the shipyard we returned to our moorings in St. Petersburg and began to make ready for our next patrol to the Florida Straits to rescue the Cuban refugees who were fleeing Castro's Cuba (the latest in Ariadne's long list of assignments.) Our other primary responsibility was SAR (search and rescue). While in port we were always on a Bravo 2 or Bravo 6 recall status that required us to be able to get underway in either two or six hours for search and rescue cases. As a result most of the crew were kept on a pretty short rope in terms of traveling any distance from the ship.

Our moorings at Coast Guard Base St. Petersburg were acceptable, and we had access to a couple of Coca-Cola machines on the pier and one aboard ship that were constantly busy. In those days environmental protection had yet to become the major issue that it is today, and when someone finished a coke, the bottle was heaved overboard. I often wonder to this day how many thousands of old green coke bottles still sit on the bottom of Bayboro Harbor.

One of the things I liked least about being stationed aboard Ariadne was the constant heat of the tropics. The ship's below deck ventilation systems screamed constantly in a futile effort to cool the berthing spaces and mess deck, and trying to get any sleep was next to impossible. The gray-painted decks above were the maritime equivalent of a black car parked in the summer sun with the windows rolled up. Trying to stay cool included sleeping on the forward gun-deck while we were underway on patrol with the night sky littered with stars seldom seen from land.

If you happened to have the mid watch, that four hour period of duty that ran from midnight to 4 A.M., you were permitted to sleep in following relief from your watch. Well, with crewmembers climbing up and down the ladders into the berthing area, people talking, chipping rust, swabbing decks and so forth you might as well have been trying to sleep in the middle of Grand Central Station. All of the beds or "racks" were made out of a rectangular tubular aluminum frame about six feet long. Inside the frame was a smaller rectangular piece of canvas with grommets every two inches or so, and line was laced through the grommet holes around the frame, much like the bed of a trampoline. On top of the canvas sat a fairly thin feather-stuffed mattress.

One of the advantages of this setup was that when the seas got rough you could loosen the line holding the canvas bed so it would form a hollow into which you could wedge yourself. After a few adjustments it didn't matter how violently the ship pitched or rolled, you were literally ~tucked" in. The disadvantage of this setup was that it was hotter than hell!

As you may have guessed by now habitability for the crew was strictly no frills. Since we carried our only supplies of fresh water when we were at sea, seawater showers were routine, and occasional fresh water "sea showers" were welcomed. To take a proper sea shower you first strip down and stand in the shower stall without turning the water on. The ship's Chief Master at Arms (CMAA), usually a Chief Bos'n Mate is standing by to supervise and to be sure that not a drop of fresh water is wasted. By the way, the shower heads, for some reason were all at chest level. You then turn on the fresh water, but only long enough to get slightly wet. You then turn the water off and soap yourself down, trying not to slip and break your neck while the ship is rolling and pitching violently. After this you again turn on the fresh water but only long enough to slightly rinse the soap off of your body. You then exit the shower stall onto the wet, slippery deck and try to dry yourself off with a towel that was washed in salt water the day before and that is stiff as a board and not quite completely dry.

Doing laundry consisted of tying a length of line to a ditty bag full of dirty clothes and dragging it behind the ship for an hour or so. Occasionally, a new recruit would tie what he thought was a "good" knot around his ditty bag before tossing it overboard only to find that the knot had slipped and all of his clothes were gone. In these cases crewmembers were permitted to draw clothing from the ship's  "lucky bag", a collection of shirts, pants, socks and skivvies that had been left lying about by other crewmembers and which had been "confiscated" by the Master at Arms. After doing our laundry the railings around the gun-deck up forward served as our clothesline. Despite all of these apparent hardships crew morale was exceptionally high, and the lack of amenities like air conditioning and foam mattresses were an acceptable part of being a crewman on one of the Coast Guard's oldest ships.

The ship had two old engines, in-line 6 cylinder English Winton diesels that rotated in only one direction. In order to change the direction of the propeller, or "screw," the engine would be stopped, and by rapidly turning a huge hand-wheel on the front of it, a cam shaft would be repositioned so that once the diesel was re- started, the screw would turn in reverse.

Maneuvering to dock and undock the ship was a sometimes tricky and a potentially dangerous evolution. Thankfully, few of our moorings resulted in crashes into piers or bulkheads, although I did hear that the bow of the ship ended up on the street in Key West on one occasion before I came aboard. When docking we made ample use of heaving lines which were nothing more than a cotton clothesline with a weighted "monkey's fist" at the end. The monkey's fist is actually a chunk of lead that weighs about a pound with line wound around it in a sort of decorative, but functional pattern so as to resemble the fingers of a closed fist. One end of the heaving line is tied to the ship's mooring line and the monkey's fist end is thrown to a person on the dock that then secures the mooring line to a cleat. In most cases this is a fairly uneventful procedure except when a car is parked too close to the edge of the pier at which point the risk of shattering a windshield comes into the picture. While docking at the end of one patrol that's exactly what happened when the wife of the ship's yeoman parked their new car right next to the edge of the pier.

At sea, the ship's round bottom made for an exceptionally nauseous ride when the weather was bad, especially when cruising parallel to the swells, or "in the trough". Ariadne only drew slightly more than nine feet of water so she tended to be somewhat top heavy in a sideways sea lane. The inclinometer on the ship's bridge measured how far from vertical the rolls of the ship were and it was marked to indicate the most severe rolls the vessel had ever encountered. . something close to 45 degrees as I recall.

When we were at sea all of the ship's trash went over the side, and depending how far from land we were, there followed a cloud of seagulls feeding on our spoils. I understand that modern cutters make use of trash mashers to deal with this problem. Occasionally for recreation we would get a bottle of Tabasco sauce from the galley and a few pieces of bread, sprinkle the bread with the sauce and throw it to the seagulls. After gulping down a chunk of this mixture the birds would fly right into the water in an effort to quench the hot sauce's burning taste.

There was a large picnic table bolted to the afterdeck under the canvas awning. In the evenings while we were at sea we would literally tie an old 16-millimeter movie projector onto the table and show old westerns or adventure films while the ship rolled it's way through the waters. Before leaving on patrol the ship's storekeeper would ask a representative number of the crew what films they wanted to see during the patrol. We would usually ask for westerns or war movies featuring John Wayne or some other macho actor of the day. Invariably, after we got to sea, the movies shown weren't even remotely related to what we had requested, and every once in a while we would rendezvous with the cutter that we were to relieve from patrol and we would swap films. Sometimes we would end up getting back the same films we had seen the previous patrol.

An unusual design trait of the Ariadne was her relatively low freeboard. In heavy enough seas the ocean would lap over the gun whales onto the deck as we rolled back and forth and made our way through the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Straits. On occasion the deck would be littered with dead flying fish that had flown into the side of the deckhouse superstructure the night before. One morning a group of new seamen huddled on the afterdeck, all somewhat green around the gills. A salty Chief Quartermaster spotted the group and promptly snatched a dead fish off the deck and greeted the newcomers with a, "good morning men"  while he bit the head off of the fish with his teeth. There was an immediate rush for the railings by each of the newcomers as they went looking for "Ralph." .

Whenever a new recruit came aboard the crew would revel in the time-honored "initiation" routine for a person that had never been to sea before. For example, once we had passed the sea buoy the senior Bosn's mate would send the newcomer down to the paint locker for a bucket of "striped" paint. On arriving at the paint locker and voicing his request, the new seaman would be told that he had to go down into the engine room for the paint because the enginemen had used it that morning. On arriving in the engine room the recruit would be told that the striped paint had all been used up, but the engineman would tell the recruit to ask the Bosn's mate if he needed a bucket of steam. The recruit would trot back up to the afterdeck and relay the message from the engineman to the bosn' whereupon the bosn' would tell the recruit to relay the message, "yea, I need a bucket of steam, but not until after coffee break, and I also need a left-handed monkey wrench," following which the recruit would run back down to the engineroom, relay the Bosn's message and wait for a left-handed monkey wrench, which was currently being used by the cooks to fix the potato peeler (or some other such story.) Other seamen were told to put on a life jacket, battle-station helmet, long rubber electrical safety gloves and hold a 12 foot long boat hook and to stand in the very bow of the ship and be on the lookout for the "Mail Buoy."  If spotted, the recruit was to blow the whistle attached to his life jacket loudly and repeatedly for five minutes. Of course, there never was a mail buoy, but many a recruit sure though he saw one out there somewhere.

On certain occasions the Coast Guard "Albatross" seaplanes that patrolled the Florida Straits would drop us the Sunday newspapers wrapped in plastic and tied with twine. To execute this maneuver we would maintain a straight course and constant speed while the plane would come up from behind and try to time things so that the newspaper could be thrown out the door of the plane, land alongside the ship, and be snatched up with a boat-hook, all without missing a beat. This usually worked when the seas were calm, however on one occasion the newspaper hit a breaking wave and just exploded. There wasn't enough of it left to retrieve.

Dolphins routinely joined us and followed alongside or swam at the bow, pushed along by the pressure wave in front of the ship. Occasionally sailfish would leap out of the water in front of us, or we would spot huge sea turtles mating on the surface. We once even saw a whale breaching.

For a 20-year old like me it was fascinating and rewarding work. I learned a great deal about seamanship, navigation, ship handling, search and rescue techniques and the operation of a relatively large vessel at sea in all kinds of weather. Another plus was the geographic location of my "classroom." The Florida Straits is that body of water separating Cuba from the Florida Keys. Its waters were crystal clear and .a deep azure blue and when the weather was calm it was one of the most pleasant places you could be. As you might expect, there was also an abundance of sea life under those waters, and we took advantage of it at every opportunity.

At that time I think I was paid about $220 per month and I certainly didn't have the luxury of owning expensive deep-sea fishing rods and reels nor did any of the other crewmembers. As an alternative we improvised by using Cuban hand spools, a simple but unique fishing device, usually left behind following the rescue of refugees from their leaky boats. These clever units are about 8 to 12 inches in diameter and are shaped somewhat like the rim of a car wheel, but with an open center. Made of hardwood, the circumference of the spool has a smooth, concave surface onto which heavy monofilament fishing line can be wound, much like coiling a length of mooring line onto your hand. Using a hand spool a fisherman could cast a baited line respectable distances and retrieve it quickly while winding the line back onto the spool ready for the next cast.

To complete our deep-sea hand spool trolling rigs we would allow a baited hook and line to trail out behind the ship while cruising at about 4 knots. The spool end of the line was wrapped several times around a stanchion that escaped. Swivels, leaders and hooks were about the only gear we had to actually pay for and even then the ship's slush fund was tapped to cover some of the costs.

Our primary function while on patrol was retrieving Cuban refugees that had attempted the 90-mile crossing of the Florida Straits in leaky boats, rafts and inner tubes. On more than one occasion we came upon deserted craft filled with human belongings, but with no hint as to where the occupants had gone. The steady stream of Cubanos fleeing Castro kept the Cay Patrol, or Caypat vessels busy. The Coast Guard Albatross seaplanes, from the Air Station at Oca Locka, Florida would fly daily over the Straits searching for refugee watercraft. On sighting a boat or raft the pilots would radio the nearest Caypat ship and vector the cutter to the Cubans. Many of these rendezvous occurred in heavy seas, and snatching scared and weak people from the deck of a wildly pitching small craft was an ultimate test of seamanship.

If the refugee vessel was seaworthy enough a prize crew would be put aboard and the boat taken in tow back to Key West. In most cases the craft were too far gone to merit a tow and they would be sunk to eliminate a hazard to navigation.

Many of the Cubans would beg for Coca Cola and American cigarettes after we had cleaned them up, tended to their medical problems, and fed them. I recall swapping a pack of my Marlboros for an equal size pack of Ligeros, a dark, crude and strong-smelling Cuban cigarette that practically asphyxiated me.

Communication with our charges was an interesting affair. I had been appointed translator by virtue of my two tries at high school Spanish I class. I quickly learned to identify the occasional refugee who spoke some English and between us we managed to determine the place of their departure, how long they had been at sea and other pertinent information. Many of our rescues involved people that had been afloat three or four days. Others, sometimes as much as a week. These latter ones were in pretty rough condition and usually required medical evacuation by smaller, faster ships and boats, or in extreme cases by helicopter.

Our patrols usually lasted about two weeks since that was pretty much how long our food and water held out. At one point however, we were ordered to proceed to the Gulf of Campeche, east of the Yucatan Peninsula in Central America.

It seems American and Mexican shrimp fishermen had gotten into a small shooting war over fishing rights in the coastal waters, and we were dispatched to show the flag and try to settle things down. We had already been on patrol for about a week when we received word of this new assignment, so we put in at Key West, took on supplies, fuel and water and got underway again for the western Gulf of Mexico.

On arriving in the area it was clear that a line was drawn between the two shrimp fleets. The Mexican boats formed a ragged line of some twenty or thirty vessels anchored to the West right over the prime shrimping grounds. The Americans were lined up about three miles away to the East, also at anchor. Since most shrimping takes place after dark the crews of the two fleets were mostly asleep from the previous night's work, and only a few crewmen could be seen on deck. I later learned that hostilities between these two groups of fishermen had been going on for decades, and that Ariadne had visited the area on many previous occasions.

We spent the better part of the next two weeks boarding the vessels of both fleets and eventually managed to defuse the hostilities while we began to run low on food, water and fuel. Boarding shrimp boats is one job that any Coastie will tell you, literally stinks. There you are up to your thighs (or crotch) in a hold full of dead, smelly shrimp, with the boat pitching around wildly, and you are supposed to be looking for safety violations or contraband. If you don't get sick from the smell of rotting shellfish, you almost certainly do from the movement of the boat. Thankfully, we finally received orders to return to St. Petersburg and not a moment too soon, as at this point the crew was beginning to get irritable and nasty to each other from being at sea for so long.

No one, it seemed, had any money left for sodas or snacks after our extended tour at sea. But that changed.

On the way back we stopped at a place called Swan Island. This tiny speck of land is located in the middle of nowhere, someplace southwest of Cuba. It is a U.S. possession, I think, and the reason for our stop was to purchase bond liquor. No one in the crew was to tell anyone about this highly irregular detour. Word was passed that a boat would be sent ashore to buy booze for whoever wanted it. Of course, no one had any money left, but most miraculously there appeared abundant funds with which to buy booze. Just prior to leaving St. Pete for this patrol I had moved into a rented house with several shipmates. We were all single, and the major pastime while we were in port, it seemed, was consuming large amounts of liquor. Faced with the present opportunity to buy a somewhat large quantity of spirits for practically nothing, my roommates and I managed to scrape enough dough together to purchase 12 bottles of alcohol.

Upon our eventual return to St. Pete shore liberty was granted and my shipmates and I retired to our rented home with our hooch and began to imbibe away. As I recall we consumed all 12 bottles of liquor in less than 48 hours.

About twice a year we were required to conduct surface gunnery exercises using the Ariadne's 3"/50 caliber deck gun mounted on the bow of the ship. This marvelous piece of ordnance was originally U.S. Navy property, probably built in the late 1930's, and was designed primarily as an anti- aircraft gun. The Coast Guard had installed 3"/50' s on many of it's larger patrol craft as a surface weapon, and as such, we trained our crews to use it to strike surface targets. Gunnery exercises normally consisted of the ship's entire crew going to battle stations. This included manning the gun mount with a crew of seven: two loaders, a pointer, a trainer, a sight setter, a fuse setter and a mount captain. In addition, there were several ammo handlers who would take rounds of ammunition from the ready service locker, mounted on the deck, and pass them forward to the loaders. Certain members of the gun crew wore sound powered headphones and large mushroom-shaped helmets. The others wore World War II vintage steel combat helmets.

Orders would come down from the bridge to the men with the phones indicating what bearing and range our "target" was located at, and this information would be passed along to the respective crew members who would adjust the position of the gun and sights accordingly. When the command to "fire" came, it was relayed to the mount captain who would in turn shout aloud the word "fire" and the trainer would pull the trigger. Using this technique a good gun crew could fire off around 5 to 6 rounds per minute.

Aboard Ariadne gunnery exercises created several problems. The first was that, whenever the first round of an exercise was fired every light bulb in the forward part of the ship would break from the concussion of the gun. The second problem developed whenever the gun was fired while pointed broadside, or 90 degrees from the centerline of the ship. When this happened the whole ship would roll in the opposite direction, and if equipment and gear wasn't properly stowed it would end up on the deck. I can remember hearing the cooks cursing down in the galley once because all of the pots, pans and dishes wound up on the deck following the first shot of a gunnery exercise.

For surface targets the first class gunner's mate and I would scrounge around the Base back in St. Pete for old oil drums before a patrol. Ideally, we would take three oil drums and lash them together with line or duct tape, and then mount a piece of 2 by 4 lumber on them with a cross- shaped affair at the top. On the cross we would then take aluminum .foil and make as large a radar reflector as we could. I learned all too soon that in the Coast Guard, "necessity was the mother of invention."

At the end of our gunnery exercises we would usually sink our target with small arms fire since we rarely ever hit it with the 3"/50 deck gun.

Our deck officer was a young Ensign named Wexler. Mr. Wexler had apparently been a reserve officer that had requested assignment to active duty and had wound up being stationed aboard Ariadne. Mr. Wexler was not very well coordinated physically and wore very thick eyeglasses and had buck teeth. His father was supposedly a Navy captain or admiral and Ensign Wexler did everything he could to try and prove that he was as salty a sailor as some of our old Chief Petty Officers and our Captain. The Captain had come up through the enlisted ranks and had many tours of sea duty to his credit. He was definitely an "old salt". When we were at sea the captain would retire to the fantail, or rear deck of the ship, on Sunday afternoons to read the paper that had been dropped by the Coast Guard aircraft. He would normally bring with him a wooden folding chaise lounge that he would strategically set up so that the pitches and rolls of the ship wouldn't upset the chaise. It was obvious that he had executed this maneuver many times since it took a certain amount of skill to place the chaise just right.

Ensign Wexler soon realized that he had an opportunity to show his saltiness off to the Captain, and on one patrol he showed up with a wooden chaise of his own. When the right moment arrived he appeared on the fantail with his chaise and a newspaper and set it up near the captain's and proceeded to climb into it. About that time the ship took a fairly heavy roll and without warning Ensign Wexler, the newspaper and the chaise were dumped onto the deck. The Captain, while trying to do everything he could to keep from laughing, just looked over at Mr. Wexler and shook his head.

Meanwhile, a group of us crew members howled at the sight. Ensign Wexler proved to be a constant source of entertainment for the crew, and often became the butt of many practical jokes. On one patrol he had the mid-watch and had gone out onto the wing of the bridge to check something out with the binoculars. On the bulkhead, or wall, inside the bridge was mounted a chart fathometer.

This piece of equipment recorded on a continuously moving roll of paper chart the water depth under the ship by using a small back ink pen that made a little black mark on the paper every several seconds as it moved under the pen. It also had a glass door to keep dust and dirt out. While Mr. Wexler was outside one of the quartermasters opened the glass door on the fathometer and drew a figure of a fish in black ink. If, in fact, the fathometer had detected a fish of the scale drawn on the chart, it would have been as big as a whale. Several minutes later Mr. Wexler came back into the wheelhouse of the bridge and checked the fathometer and on spotting the "fish" went crazy shouting that there must be a huge fish directly beneath the ship! We all began to chuckle and smirk, that is until Mr. Wexler picked up the sound powered phone and began ringing the Captain's cabin to wake him up and report his sighting. At that point those of that could leave the bridge did so in order to avoid the wrath of the Captain. As things turned out the bridge watch-standers got a royal chewing out by the Captain for waking him up in the middle of the night with a practical joke, and Mr. Wexler was taken aside by the C.O. and got a serious talking to.

As I mentioned, our Captain was a grizzled veteran and while underway wore an old officer's hat that had the saltiest looking officer's eagle and shield on it I have ever seen. The green corrosion on the cap's device had obviously come from years of being exposed to the salt air while the Captain was at sea. At one point Ensign Wexler decided to see if he too could make his underway officer's cap look as salty as the Captain's. To do this Wexler would stand out on the wing of the bridge when we were at sea in the heaviest of weather and get his hat soaked with sea water. After a while the cap device began to corrode somewhat like the Captain's, but not nearly as much. Ensign Wexler took a great deal of pride in the fact his cap was beginning to look as salty as the C.O.'s.

Among Ariadne's crew were several Filipino stewards who attended to the officer's needs and manned the wardroom officer's mess. Among their duties was the cleaning and orderliness of the officer's staterooms, doing the officer's laundry and other tasks. At some point along the way a new steward was transferred to Ariadne and was placed in charge of the junior officers' needs. Being totally unaware of Ensign Wexler's efforts to "saltify" his underway officer's cap, he found it hanging on a hook in Mr. Wexler's stateroom and broke out the Neverdull metal polish and shined that cap's officer's emblem to within an inch of its life. Ensign Wexler, upon discovering that his hat had been shined as bright as new, went berserk, thinking that he was again the recipient of one of the crews' jokes. He piped all enlisted hands to the fantail and threatened to suspend liberty until the culprits came forward. Of course, no one did. We all thought it was pretty funny, while Ensign Wexler was dead serious. During the stalemate that ensued a heated discussion among the Filipino's took place. Nobody could understand what was being said since the entire conversation was being conducted in the Filipinos' native language. Finally the steward who had shined the cap stepped forward and explained what he had done and why. The steward had just been doing his job and innocently thought he was doing Mr. Wexler a favor. Well, with a little encouragement from the senior enlisted men Mr. Wexler finally agreed that nobody should be punished, although he was still mighty mad that his cap looked brand new.

The Cutter Ariadne had two small boats aboard her. One was a fiberglass l7-foot motor launch that we used in all cases where a small boat was needed. The other boat was a wooden hulled eight man pulling boat that had apparently been aboard Ariadne from the day she was first commissioned. The boat had been "surveyed,"  meaning that it was not usable and was to be scrapped. I guess the only reason it was still aboard Ariadne was because no one had gotten around to working out the logistics of getting rid of it. Meantime the crew was still responsible for upkeep on it and the boat was regularly painted and maintained. As things happened we had been called out on a search and rescue case in the Gulf of Mexico to assist a broken down shrimp boat offshore from Tarpon Springs, Florida. We arrived on scene and found that the shrimper was anchored in about 8 feet of water, far too shallow for our ship to operate in. A plan was devised to put the 17 footer in the water and have it tow the shrimper about five miles out to deeper water where we could take it in tow with the ship.

As luck would have it the motor launch made it to about one half mile from the shrimper before it too developed engine trouble and had to anchor, and since there was only a coxswain and two seamen aboard engine repairs couldn't be made. Moreover, the sun had set and it was getting dark.

Well, the launch and crew spent the night bobbing around on their anchor while at first light a crew was assembled to row the surveyed pulling boat the four and one half miles to the launch, place an engineman aboard, have him fix the launch's motor and tow the pulling boat back to Ariadne. I was one of those selected to row, and Ensign Wexler was to be the boat's coxswain. After launching the boat we discovered that it leaked like a sieve and we had to return to Ariadne to collect several large coffee cans so we could bail as we rowed. As the crow flies the distance to be covered was a little over four miles, but with Ensign Wexler steering it turned into about eight since he couldn't keep a straight course with the boats' sweep oar. The only other time I had ever rowed a boat of this type was during boot camp at Cape May, New Jersey.

This was all new to most of us but we finally managed to get into a rhythm of rowing and, taking alternate turns, bailing while we harassed Mr. Wexler for his sloppy steering. After a while we finally made it to the launch and transferred the engineman who quickly fixed the problem with the boat's motor. They then took us in tow and we returned to the Ariadne tired, wet and hungry. I was in pretty good shape in those days, but I'll tell you, try rowing a heavy wooden boat eight miles in three to four foot seas. That will definitely kick your butt! Eventually the launch did manage to tow the shrimper out to deeper water and we completed the rescue by towing it back to St. Pete without further incident.

All ships of any size are equipped with a compass to assist in navigation and piloting the vessel. Ariadne had two compasses, one a gyroscopic, electrically operated device, and two, a traditional magnetic compass. This compass was situated in the middle of the ship's bridge directly in front of the ship's wheel, or helm. The compass itself consisted of a large glass ball about the size of a basketball. Inside the ball was a flat, circular card inscribed with the 360 different bearings, or degrees of the compass. The card sat horizontally at its very center on a pin underneath it and the whole ball was filled with liquid and housed in a round wooden cabinet, or binnacle.

On each side of the binnacle was mounted a grapefruit-sized iron ball, or "navigator's balls", to aid in adjusting the compass for accuracy. A little-known fact about most shipboard magnetic compasses is that the liquid inside is pure grain alcohol, the kind you drink. I am sure that most of Ariadne's crew did not know this bit of trivia. Apparently at least one or more crewmen did. During one of our patrols it was discovered that a bubble had developed inside the glass ball that housed our compass. On further investigation it turned out that someone had drained the grain alcohol from the compass and had replaced it with denatured alcohol, but had not been able to figure out how to completely fill the glass ball thereby leaving a small, but obvious, bubble that floated near the top of the glass. This, of course, was a court martial offense and so began a thorough investigation into the disappearance of the alcohol. After thoroughly interrogating each member of the crew that might have had access to the bridge it turned out that several of the electronic technicians (ET's) cooked up a plan during a recent in port stay to bring along several large cans of orange juice on the next patrol, drain the compass and have a "screwdriver" party down in the ET hold where they stored their electronics gear. Their plan went as scheduled until they discovered that they couldn't quite get that last few drops of denatured alcohol into the compass. If I'm not mistaken, they were each reduced in grade, forfeited a month's pay and were restricted to the ship for another month.

Up until this point in my life I don't think I had ever laid eyes on a cockroach. Soon after reporting aboard I discovered that Ariadne was alive with the insects and despite the repeated attempts of both the ships' hospital corpsman, the cooks and some commercial exterminators the creatures could not be eliminated. At one point a decision was made by the roach control people to spray insecticide into and around the ships' potato locker.

On the main deck of the ship there was a waist-high steel deck house on top of which protruded the ships' two smokestacks, one ahead of the other. In between these stacks sat a large steel potato locker that had a hinged lids at the top and bottom. As potatoes were needed by the cooks they would simply lower the bottom lid and take as many potatoes out as were needed for that day's meals. When the supply of spuds began to get low the cooks would order several more sacks of potatoes and dump them into the top of the locker by raising the top lid. On this occasion the level of potatoes in the locker was allowed to get to the "nearly empty" stage, and the commercial exterminators showed up and thoroughly hosed the locker with insecticide. To no-one's surprise after several minutes went by cockroaches by the hundreds began falling, crawling and dropping out of the bottom of the locker onto the deck. Those of us that witnessed the scene wondered aloud how it was so nice to know that the ships' health personnel were taking care of the sanitation needs of the crew. Very few of us ever ate potatoes afterwards.

There were a number of colorful characters aboard Ariadne. Several of them had joined the Coast Guard during the later years of World War II and had seen combat action in various theaters. These men were usually the "old salts" that us newer crewmen looked to for leadership and training in such matters as seamanship and boat handling, navigation and other maritime matters. We always loved to hear their sea stories about "the old guard" and how different things were then.

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Vital Statistics of the CGC ARIADNE (WPC-101)

Courtesy of Ken Laessar's CG History site.

Ariadne WPC 101 (Click here for photo)
Built by Lake Union Drydock & Machine Works, Seattle WA. Launched 23 March 1934, Commissioned 9 October 1934

First stationed at Oakland CA until the start of WWII then moved across the Bay to Alameda and assigned to WESTSEAFRONT. Late 1945 she was transferred to Miami FL for duty. May 1946 - August 1949 she was placed in caretaker status at Key West.

She was refitted and recommissioned at Curtis Bay MD and stationed at Key West FL. October 1968 sent her to St Petersburg FL and used for the Cuban Patrols. Late August 1965 she evacuated 39 Cuban refugees from Cay Sal in the Bahamas and took them to Key West. October 1965 rescued 36 Cubans from Cay Sal and transported to Key West. 12 February 1966 rescued 14 Cubans from Anguilla Cays and took to Key West. 17 February 1967 rescued refugees from Cay Sal and delivered to Key West. 1 July 1968 towed a Cuban refugee boat from 125 miles south of Miami to Key West. 

Decommissioned 23 December 1968 and sold 26 September 1969