[Halfway between Honolulu and Midway is . . . ]

French Frigate Shoals

By Bob Urie

 

French Frigate Shoals Loran Station

French Frigate Shoals is an atoll, the rim of the remains of an ancient volcano. The spike formed by the last eruption visible to the south of Term Island. The original location of the station was on East Island, which was washed away in a storm some time after the war. For information, see Coast Guard Construction Detachment, by Van R. Fields, which appears in Volume One of Coast Guard Stories. (Story # 0031 on Jackís Joint)

The island was about 3000 feet long and 410 feet wide. Both ends of the island were lengthened to get room enough for take offs and landings.

During WWII, I am told, a Japanese submarine was stationed at French Frigate Shoals to observe, and to refuel seaplanes. That prompted the Navy to install a station of some kind in the area.

I am quite surprised that so little has been written about the Shoals at Jackís Joint and feel compelled to record my recollections.

Life here, as I knew it in 1969, could be boring at times but really was rather pleasant. I must have done snorkel diving 200 of the days I was there. But it was amusing what we found interestingóone day we spent a couple of hours standing on the roof of the main barracks building to watch a vessel go by out on the horizon. It was easily the best show in town. That was the only vessel we saw except for the KUKUI which came only once per year with fuel and heavy equipment. Small stuff, mail and personnel were flown in weekly. We hated it when the District inspectors rode the plane because they sometimes bumped the mail.

There are many stories about French Frigate, and most deal with how the crew was, shall we say, a little off center. With this in mind, the 14 of us, with the knowledge that we were to get a new HM3, as our whole medical department, arranged a special reception.

Our LTJG Commanding Officer put on leggings and carried a riding crop. The BMC rode the fire truck so he could alert the aircrew that we had not really gone over the slope. When the new Corpsman went to the C.O. with orders in hand to report, the C.O. made a growling sound and threw his orders on the runway. The BMC was by now shouting unnecessary orders to the guys unloading the cargo, mail and such. We didnít keep it up too long. The aircrew stayed on the plane until the show was over but they really got a kick out of all of this.

With but one supply ship each year, people, mail and other small items were flown in each week by the Grumman Albatross. While these were built as an amphibian about the time I was born, very few water landings were attempted. Because the Island was only 3000 ft long, JATO bottles were used to assist in takeoff. All four if there was no head wind, two if that wind was light, and none if there was a fairly stiff wind. Two JATO bottles were equivalent to one more engine. Of course they only lasted for a minute or less. These aircraft were normally used for Search and Rescue aircraft and there was little room for freight and people.

The workday was 0600 to 1300 followed by dinner, which then was followed by a required volley ball game. The evening meal was a do-it-yourself deal, sometime on the BBQ. Primo beer was 10 cents a can.

The original barracks included the galley, mess deck, offices, some two-man rooms and a single garage. The LORAN building housed LORAN A transmitters, C monitors and radio beacon transmitter. The electronics for the C was in an air-conditioned room. (C was paid for by the Navy, Radio Beacon by the FAA, but A by the Coast Guard.) Also in the LORAN building were the generators that ran everything on the island: four General Motorís 6-71s with radiators on the roof of the building. There were also two evaporators, odd by any standard. The engineís cooling water was the only source of heat, and the engines drove vacuum pumps[1]. Fortunately we had enough rain to fill the tanks while I was there and only ran them for the engine maintenance.

Our drinking water was rain caught on the roofs of the barracks/mess building and stored in 1,000 gallon cedar tanks, and a 5000 gallon rubber tank that tasted like rubber, too. Even though we had evaporators we never needed to use them while I was there because we got enough rain to keep the tanks full.

At the recreation building was a half court gym, a music machine, an abundance of weight equipment, a small stage, and a ham shack for KH6ABH, where I was often, but more off duty time was enjoyed while snorkeling. We played volleyball for at least an hour, from 1300 to the end of the current game.

We had seven fuel tanks with a yearís supply of diesel fuel. Only five drums of gasoline for our two trucks (M37s,) and 150 drums of aviation gasoline for the supply planes. Each truck had a trailer, one for the gas truck, the other the airplane fire truck. We had two boats for work but mostly used them for recreationóan outboard for water skiing, the inboard for fishing. Some guys went to other islands for fishing or diving and checking out the wild life. Corny?

You say you always wanted to live on a desert island? Well, there you areóan island paradise!

[1][1] Waste heat evaporators. Those on the station were rather primitive by todayís standards: a vacuum pump was installed for drawing the initial vacuum and making up the losses. The vacuum had to be relatively deep to accommodate the low heat intensity of the feed water leaving the engine heat exchanger. The idea was good but this type of evaporator wasnít very good in itís primitive stages.

--ĺJack

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