USCGC HEMLOCK

[Port Angeles to Ketchikan via the Inside Passage]

by Jim Gill

A short tale discussing Coast Guard logic.........

"Slim" and I reported aboard CGC HEMLOCK about the middle of February, 1942. Fresh meat from the grinder. "Slim" Peterson was 6’6" and wanted to work on deck because he needed a lot of headroom. I wanted the engine room. Slim became a "bilge rat" and I a "deck ape," a fate we both would endure the rest of our lives. This was one of my first lessons in Coast Guard "logic."

The HEMLOCK sailed that night for Ketchikan. I stood lookout watches at night and chipped paint by day. Slim spent most of the time banging his head on low projecting overhead obstacles, such as valve wheels and pipes. Meanwhile, I was banging away at various rusty objects with a curious tool called a chipping hammer. I didn’t realize it at the time but HEMLOCK (W-217) was a beautiful little ship, a real gem.

Built in 1934 for the Lighthouse Service, she was a twin screw steamship, propelled by triple compound reciprocating engines, which the engineers called "knee action turbines." HEMLOCK was whisper quiet and smooth as silk. The commanding officer was CHBOSN Greene, formerly of the Lighthouse Service, whose amalgamation with the Coast Guard occurred in 1939.

I clearly remember the pilot house deck being rubber tiled in red and white in a checkerboard pattern with big, white letters "USLHS" [U.S. Light House Service] inlaid into it. I remember this so well because I spent many hours scrubbing and polishing this deck.

The trip North wound its way through British Columbia in the fabulous Inside Passage, beautiful, rugged, and dangerous. Our arrival at Seymore Narrows was timed for slack water to avoid the treacherous whirlpools and eddies when the current ran sometimes as much as ten knots. Just to make it interesting, in the middle of the passage was Ripple Rock. Next came Queen Charlotte Sound, completely exposed to the open sea, and often less than pleasant. On the occasion of our crossing, it was awful, with the ship rolling heavily in a beam sea during evening mealtime. Not many people were to be found on the mess deck. The HEMLOCK fed "cafeteria" style and some joker had hung a greasy pork chop above the serving counter so that it swung to and fro with the motion of the ship. Only "old salts" made it past the pork chop. Slim and I shared a bucket.

The next day or two we worked a few buoys and brought supplies ashore at Tree Point and Mary Island Light Stations. By the time we reached Ketchikan, I was an expert paint chipper and Slim’s head was a mass of bumps and Band-Aids.

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