By Paul R McKenna
dreary, rainy night COURIER was anchored as usual off Rhodini Beach when a
fishing boat approached to within 100 yards and dropped anchor. The
Officer-of-the Deck spotted the boat and instructed the Quartermaster on Watch
to contact the boat by blinker. The lights affixed to our forward mast at
night and the three black balls flown from the forward mast during the day
were International signals to say that no one could come within 1000 yards of COURIER.
Quartermaster beamed his signal light toward the vessel and began
transmitting. Apparently the crew of the vessel went to bed after dropping
their anchor and for they did not acknowledge the blinker signal.
hell with them!” said the OOD, “we’ve got work to do.” The
transmitters were put on line on schedule and the normal routine was carried
out. At times of heavy moisture in the air, flashes of St. Elmo’s
fire—little lightning bolts—flicked from the antennæ in a few ungrounded
areas of the open decks.
a bolt of “lightning” arced from COURIER’s
main antenna to the mast of the fishing boat. The charge went down their mast
and exploded in the deckhouse, apparently in their radio. Within minutes the
boat slipped it’s anchor and left the area at full speed, never to be seen
from COURIER for the Voice of
America were an important part of the USA’s attempt to quell the voice of
Communism emanating from Radio Moscow, and it was imperative that COURIER be capable of broadcasting at all times. When COURIER
sailed from Rhodes to Skaramengah near Piraeius
for outfitting prior to returning to the States, the receivers could still
pick up the signal from Rhodes, so operations remained on schedule.
soon as the ship was raised out of the water in the floating dry-dock, it was
necessary to ground the ship to the dock, which was grounded by the water
under it. No problem. The ship and dry-dock became one, and life went on. Not
so! Apparently one or more of the grounds between the ship and dock came loose
and St. Elmo’s Fire was dancing all over the dry-dock. The Greek sand
blasters and hull scrapers ran off the dock screaming, or jumped into the
water and swam away as fast as they could. It took many hours of cajoling and
negotiations before the workers hesitantly returned, and then they constantly
looked over their shoulders for signs of dancing fireballs.
to Outfox the Fox
a complement of about 20 Chief Petty Officers (at least 12 of the
“Twidgets”—Electronic Technicians), and we liked our comfort. When the
ship sailed for Skaramengah near Piraeius, we brought our mess cook, Pavlos,
who served our meals, made our beds, shined our shoes, and cut our hair—he
was the best paid barber in Rhodes. Pavlos was also very astute and knew how
to protect the Chiefs from the brass. Along with other creature comforts, we
also loaded aboard enough beer to carry us through the “dry spell” until
we returned to Rhodes. Most of the beer was stored in the commissary spaces
below deck in the fresh food reefer behind boxes of legitimate foodstuff, but
some had to be at the ready in the CPO Mess.
of the way to Skaramengah the Skipper pulled a surprise inspection—we became
apprehensive when he began nosing around in cupboards and drawers. Our hearts
skipped a beat when he opened the door of our enormous refrigerator, which
held little else except beer. Briefly inspecting the contents, he closed the
door and on his way out of the Mess commented, “I guess you Chiefs really
like your Coke.”
soon as the door closed behind him, we ran to the reefer and yanked the door
open. All that could be seen was row upon row of Coca Cola, from top to
bottom. Pavlos reached into the reefer and removed a can of Coke, revealing
cans of beer hidden behind the Coke, on each shelf, all the way to the back.
Pavlos got a big bonus that month.
we arrived at the shipyard and tied up to the Outfitting Pier, we resumed our
normal in-port routine. The poker game in the Chief’s Mess started right
after the evening meal was cleared and continued until almost dawn. The Chiefs
playing poker were putting quite a dent into the beer supply and throwing the
empty cans out of the porthole to get rid of the evidence. Early on someone
remarked that empty Budweiser cans floating alongside an American ship in a
Greek port may be prima facie
evidence that someone on that ship was drinking beer. If the empties are
spotted by the OOD or the Captain, they might search for the source; so it was
decided that when emptied, the can would be filled with water and tossed out
of the porthole to sink, eliminating evidence of illegal consumption.
getting out of the sack the next morning we heard a great hooting and laughing
coming from outside the ship. We went up on deck to see what the commotion was
and were surprised to see that sometime during the night the tugs had towed
the ship into dry-dock. Looking over the side into the now completely dry
dry-dock, we saw a pyramid of empty beer cans directly below the porthole of
the Chief’s Mess. Trial by court-martial came to mind and, even more
disastrous, our beer cache would be found and confiscated.
when we went down into the dry-dock to clean up the “evidence”, we found
another pyramid of empties directly below the porthole of the Chief
one in authority mentioned the empty beer cans on the floor of the dry-dock,
and Pavlos made some handsome tips for carrying out garbage bags full of
flattened aluminum cans.
who has been associated with COURIER
knows that the Radio Frequency (RF) we generated often caused problems on or
off the ship.
the ship at pier side, the hairs on your head and body would suddenly stand at
attention while you were trying to figure out why your car radio just died?
This is disconcerting to newcomers assigned to the ship, and visiting
strangers. In fact, new crewmembers to most ships fresh from “boot” camp
are sent to find “left-handed monkey wrenches” or “buckets of blue
steam”, but on COURIER newcomers
were introduced to the “magic old timer,” who could cause a fluorescent
light to light by drawing his hand over it. When it was extinguished the light
was handed to the newcomer who tried the feat only to draw an arc of RF
because he failed to close the circuit.
LCVPs stored on deck were constantly in a state of disrepair due to small
fires to some of the deck wood caused by stray RF. Even George Stewart, the
Boatswains Mate, got zapped in the hand one day—the RF went right through
the flesh part of his hand between his thumb and wrist; as it passed through,
it cauterized the wound and left a “tunnel”. After that, George’s
favorite trick was to astonish his drinking mates by passing a toothpick right
through his hand.
main transmitter on the ship consisted of tubes, relays, wires, capacitors,
coils and numerous “twidgetry”, all contained within a small room-sized
compartment. The transmitter was fully enclosed by wire mesh screening, and
the door was equipped with an interlock that would immediately shut down the
transmitter when opened. Maintenance on the transmitter had been completed,
the door closed and locked, and right on schedule, the transmitter was turned
on. The Voice of America people in Washington impressed upon the operators of COURIER’s
transmitter the importance of not going off the air for any reason. I think
they informed us it would cost the taxpayers more than $1000 for every second
we were off during scheduled operations. Needless to say, the interlock on the
door to the transmitter would not be activated unless there was a major
the technician on watch was checking his dials and meters, he heard an unusual
noise and looked around to see what was amiss. To his horror he saw the
ship’s mascot, a small dog, was sniffing around inside
the transmitter. Apparently the dog had wandered in while maintenance was
being performed and looked like he was sniffing for a place to pee. That
necessary body function performed in that place would be the last time he
would ever pee.
technician called the Chief, the Chief called the Warrant Officer, the Warrant
Officer called the VOA representative, and they all put their heads together
to figure out how to get the dog out of the transmitter without interrupting
the broadcast. Someone called the cook and got a piece of meat to the
transmitter room and, after what seemed an eternity, they coaxed the dog to
the door where one person yanked the door open, another grabbed the dog, and
then the door was immediately slammed shut. The transmitter was down for no
more than two seconds and everyone hoped that that brief outage would go
Greek Orthodox Archbishop of the Dodecanese
Islands, whose seat was in Rhodes, prevailed upon the Commanding Officer to
bring him to the far reaches of his diocese so that he would minister to his
flock on the most Eastern of his islands, the Island of Kastellorrizo. The
Archbishop had never been there because the only means of transportation, less
than two miles off the Turkish coast, was by local Caique (a small fishing
boat) and the Archbishop suffered from mal
de mer whenever embarked on a small boat. After pulling many strings and
calling in many favors, Captain Prinz, received authorization from Coast Guard
and Voice of America Headquarters in Washington to sail to the island.
the Archbishop and his entourage, including the Nomarch (Governor of the
Dodecanese) and a troop of Greek Boy Scouts, COURIER
departed on a fine summer’s day from Rhodes harbor. The voyage was
uneventful and we arrived at Kastellorrizo that afternoon, planning to anchor
in the picturesque grotto-like harbor. Unfortunately, our fathometer had much
difficulty in finding any part of the harbor floor that was less than 600 feet
deep—our anchor chain was only about 150 feet long.
harbor was surrounded by steep mountainous hills except for the narrow
entrance. Even the town was perched on a hill and the only pier in town would
not support the bulk of the COURIER.
At long last the fathometer discovered what was apparently an underwater
mountain peak at a depth of about 60 feet. With great precision, we dropped
the anchor on that peak and, when we were certain the anchor was holding fast,
secured from Special Sea Detail and sent the Archbishop and his party ashore.
Archbishop and his party returned in late evening and everyone except
watchstanders turned in for the night. At almost midnight the OOD sounded the
General Alarm and all hands manned their emergency stations. A strong wind had
developed and the ship was drifting toward the mountainous shoreline. Captain
Prinz arrived on the bridge, relieved the OOD, and ordered the anchor hoisted.
The 1st Lt. on the foc’sle reported over the phone that, “the
anchor is fouled on the bottom and cannot be raised.”
shock, Captain Prinz turned and looked at the fathometer, which was
registering 100 fathoms of water (600 feet) under the keel. His reply to the 1st
Lt. was, “We only have 150 feet of anchor chain not an elastic! Get that
damn anchor in now!”
main engine was keeping the ship from grounding, but we could not maneuver
with the weight of the anchor fouled “on the bottom”. The 1st
Lt. on the foc’sle was having a difficult time with the anchor winch, which
was smoking with the strain of trying to hoist the anchor, and was
additionally hampered by the fact that the flashlights of the men on the
anchor detail provided insufficient light. He sent a man below, who briskly
returned with fluorescent tubes that were parceled out to the detail. Then in
a booming voice that could be heard all of the back to the bridge, the 1st
Lt. shouted, “LET THERE BE LIGHT!” At which time the detail held up their
fluorescent tubes and shook them, flooding the foc’sle with blinding light.
Archbishop and the Boy Scouts were gathered under the bridge on O1 deck when
the foc’sle suddenly became awash in brilliant light after the Godly command
from the 1st. The Archbishop, the Nomarch, and all the Boy Scouts
fell to their knees, made the sign of the cross, and began shouting Kyrie
Eleison (God, have mercy).
were not aware that the transmitters were on line broadcasting VOA programs
and, as usual, the ship was bathed in RF waves, which illuminated the
hand-held fluorescent tubes.
exactly midnight the anchor suddenly broke free and the anchor winch began
hoisting rapidly. However, at that moment the lights in the town of
Kastellorrizo and on the Turkish mainland less than two miles away were
suddenly extinguished. Captain Prinz looked at the chart of the area and
moaned, “Oh no!” The chart indicated there was a cable between the Turkish
mainland and the town of Kastellorrizo. The Greeks and Turks have been
archenemies for centuries, and the fact that a Turkish power plant was
supplying electricity to a Greek town was a monumental act of diplomacy. The
thought that the first American ship to visit the islands in modern times had
severed this cable might be considered an act of war had not escaped Captain
Prinz’s attention—at that moment he was certain that his career in the
U.S. Coast Guard was at an end.
The anchor had been dropped onto a sunken Caique and became enmeshed with the
boat. When the wind picked up, the Caique was swept off the mountain peak and
was suspended above the bottom, giving the impression that our anchor was
fouled on the bottom. The Turkish power plant stopped generating power to both
the Turkish and Greek town at precisely midnight every day.
Prinz retired from the Coast Guard as a two-star Admiral.