By C. Wm. Bailey
The New York Daily News of February 25, 1964had the following headline: "RESCUE AT SEA! 11 SAVED - THEIR STORY AND FOTOS" Inside there were several shots of the "AMBASSADOR foundering; A Cutter COOS BAY swimmer in the icy cold water; Group Picture of the 11 survivors, A picture of the COOS BAY; A picture of the officer and crewmen who were principal in the rescue; and a picture of CDR. C.W. Bailey at an arrival press conference. The inside headline read HEROIC COOS BAY BACK WITH 11.
This was a rescue at sea that was reported from the cutter as it progressed. It caught the imagination of the nation and uplifted the image of the U.S. Coast Guard.
C.W. "Bill" Bailey was the Captain of many Coast Guard ships throughout his career ranging in size from a Lightship, to several Buoy Tenders, to a Polar Icebreaker, to Two High Endurance Cutters. He was a "seaman's seaman" who knew how to get the most out of his ships and the men that sailed them under his many commands.
this article he talks about the rescue of the eleven Ambassador crewmen and
broadens it into an excellent treatise on leadership. During the rescue, footage
was taken on an 8mm movie camera. He alludes to scenes from this footage in the
In this article he talks about the rescue of the eleven Ambassador crewmen and broadens it into an excellent treatise on leadership. During the rescue, footage was taken on an 8mm movie camera. He alludes to scenes from this footage in the article.
these noisy times of protest I'd like to invite your attention to a group of
young men whose average age was only twenty three. Their experience level was
naturally limited and yet they performed as a wonderful TEAM when the chips were
down and men's lives were at stake.
of these young men had only recently been drawn from civilian life to serve an
organization of our government dedicated to the preservation of life and
property at sea. This is the story of the Crew of the Coast Guard Cutter COOS
BAY and a British Merchant Ship in a dire predicament.
set the stage for our drama, let's flash back to a bitter cold night in February
on the river front of Philadelphia. The ship, AMBASSADOR, a combination steam
and diesel vessel of about twelve thousand gross tons was finishing loading a
cargo of grain in Number 3 hatch amidships. The other holds had been filled and
the heavy wooden hatch boards installed in place. Steel locking bars were placed
to hold the boards securely and the waterproof tarpaulin hauled over the entire
hatch and wedged. They were all ready for sea in accordance with the rules of
good seamanship. At the midship hatch (located between the main ship's deckhouse
and the engine room deckhouse) the last of her bulk cargo of grain was sliding
down the chute as the Captain and the river Pilot looked down from the
navigating bridge. The Captain was making his 1st trip as a Captain and was glad
that he wasn't down on the deck like the last trip when he was the Chief Mate
charged with loading and making the ship secure for sea. The Pilot reminded the
Captain that the time was short for making the ebb tide for the trip down the
river and because the vessel was deeply loaded she might become stuck in the mud
at her berth with a falling tide. Ships cost several thousands of dollars for
every hour of operation and owners do not hesitate to make their Captains fully
aware of this fact. I am sure that this Captain was on the Mates back to
any rate, the crew failed to install the steel locking bars over the hatch
boards on No. 3 Hatch, perhaps thinking that because it was in the shelter of
the deckhouses it really wouldn't be necessary. Also, in their haste they just
dumped the gangway on top of the hatch tarpaulin and did not lash it securely.
Perhaps they thought that they would have eight hours of sailing time in the
sheltered river waters to do what Good Seamanship requires.
subsequent events proved that no further thought whatsoever was given to
was fitted with several large fuel tank vent pipes amidships leading up to the
main deck to the outer atmosphere. These pipes are normally secured by bolted on
covers when at sea. The purpose of the covers is, of course, to prevent sea
water from entering the tank and contaminating the fuel from heavy waves that
constantly splash aboard a deeply loaded ship at sea. The ship's carpenter is
responsible for securing these vent pipes. He was one of the survivors and
testified at the Admiralty Hearing that the bolts were so worn that he could not
finally got clear of her berth by having several tugs help her worm her way over
the sill through the mud and out into the river. She started down the Delaware
with the strong ebb tide. Eight hours later the pilot departed, leaving the
Captain to set a course across the stormy Western Ocean for the English Channel.
He noticed that the ship had a few degrees list to port. This is not unusual in
a bulk carrier and he probably assumed that the engineers would automatically
compensate by using fuel from the port tanks first as they customarily do.
Unfortunately this was not the case -- they didn't.
the ship started her long voyage with one side noticeably lower than the other.
Bulk grain ships are susceptible to cargo shifting and a list is not a matter to
be ignored, particularly in the winter with a strong Northwest wind and
quartering seas. All of these things; the lack of locking bars on No.3 hatch,
the heavy gangway lightly lashed on top of the hatch, the improperly secured
vent pipes, and the port list, were all to play a part in the drama to follow.
And on top of this there were heavy weather warnings being broadcast all along
the coast. The North Atlantic in winter is not a friendly place. This month of
February was to prove no exception.
the morning of the 16th, AMBASSADOR was a thousand miles east
is very dangerous for a ship to lose her main propulsion plant at sea in heavy
weather because without control the ship will broach or swing broadside to the
waves and will roll alarmingly. Each Time AMBASSADOR stopped, additional heavy
seas swept aboard and up onto the amidships hatch, which, had the vessel been on
her normal course and trim, would have been substantially protected by the
engine room deckhouse. Eventually the seas tore away the lashings on the
gangway, permitting it to shift and tear the tarpaulin covering the hatch
boards. Some of these boards came adrift thereby exposing the hold to the seas.
water entered the hold, the grain cargo began to shift toward the low side. Thus
you can see that the eventual demise of AMBASSADOR was just the culmination of a
lot of little things, each of which became progressively worse.
in the morning of the 17th the sturdy three cylinder 2500 HP Doxford diesel
engine gave up for the last time. By now the engine room had also lost most of
the steam operated pumps and auxiliary machinery and the Radio Officer warned
the Captain that he had only a few minutes of battery power left should he want
to send any messages. On any ship no one but the Captain may authorize sending a
radio message, especially an S 0 S for help. Captains are traditionally
reluctant to send out calls for help, always hoping that the situation will
change from natural causes or the crew will be able to overcome the problem
themselves. However in this case the Captain could readily see that their
situation had become hopeless and at 0500 hours he authorized the call for help.
about 400 miles away, coming down across the Grand Banks, was the elderly 311-foot,
20 year old veteran of North Atlantic Weather Station duty, the United States
Coast Guard Cutter COOS Bay. She was returning from a 36-day patrol in stormy
seas between Labrador and Greenland with a tired crew of 136 officers and young
men. Although they didn't know it then, within 24 hours their stamina and seamanship were to be tested to the
then, within 24 hours their stamina and seamanship were to be tested to the
Coos Bay officers and crew performed admirably and managed to save all but one
man during this ordeal.
that you know the story of the ill-fated AMBASSADOR, you may wonder how do we
weld together a crew that can perform in this fashion?
I say WE, I mean of course, ANY U S Coast Guard Cutter, not just the COOS BAY. I
am certain that any of our ships would perform just as we were required to do. All
of Our Commanding Officers take their duties and responsibilities very
seriously. All of them are intensely interested in the welfare of their crew,
because on that depends the success of the mission.
the Commanding Officers are individuals, they have their own way of attacking a
problem. Problems we have, I assure you, just as does any other organization.
Some are major, some are minor, but always they are there requiring solution.
Many of our problems are intensified by the relatively unnatural life lead by
seafaring men. For example, long absences from family and friends, and close
association with both good and bad characters, which because of that closeness
tends to permit the bad characters to exert a greater proportional effect.
ability to handle men is based on two factors; looking after their welfare, and
trusting them as responsible human beings. One must not only be sympathetic and
understanding but one must also require them to accept responsibility for their
own actions. Treat them as men, they will respond with consideration and
loyalty. If you treat them as adolescents, all you get for your trouble are
disciplinary problems and poor work.
first step in successfully handling men is to get to know them. Know
are five general rules which we urge a leader to follow:
Never do yourself a job which has been assigned to a man in your organization so
long as he is doing it to your satisfaction. Now if the individual assigned
cannot do it, then get someone assigned who can do it and tell the former why
he has been replaced.
Clearly explain the duties and responsibilities of each man in your organization
and give them a chance to accept the responsibility
Provide your men with an opportunity to learn in order that they may do their
jobs more proficiently and have opportunity for advancement.
(4) Train the men to the very tip of their operational capabilities
(5) Provide the men with an opportunity to make suggestions.
is the thief of time. Time is always passing and never
is important when a man who has gone to great lengths to prepare for an
inspection, that he not be slighted. Every man and every piece of equipment must
be scrutinized, and words of praise and encouragement are just as important as
fault finding. Public praise and private reprimand should be the watchword of a
Leader. One should listen carefully to the thoughts that pervade informal groups
as they are indications of the discipline, morale, and esprit de corps of his
unit These informal groups serve a very healthy function as they build people
together in routine cooperative activity. They give people a social place and a
feeling of belonging. Morale is a lot of little things. Working conditions,
food, quarters, pay, discipline, duty, what he the member of the group is
getting out of that group--- all these things that make a man satisfied, build
up his morale. Everything that bothers him lowers his morale.
of the fundamental rules of Leadership is to never lose sight of the fact that
there is no unimportant job. Discipline means a prompt, willing responsiveness
to command. Discipline and morale are inseparable. The best discipline is
self-discipline. The individual doing what he knows is right because he wants
to. True discipline, accordingly, is the result of volition and is gained
through building willingness, enthusiasm and cooperation, never through fear of
punishment. This discipline is voluntary and is based on knowledge, reason,
sense of duty, and loyalty. The American qualities of initiative and
resourcefulness function best when obedience is inspired by understanding of the
objective, and loyalty to a cause, a leader, or a team.
feel that these are just as applicable to a business, at home or at school,
the Captain speaks about this being an All Hands Operation. Let's take a quick
look at what an All Hands Effort means on the part of a ship's crew.
in the Engine Room, the men do not have the excitement and stimulation of seeing
what is actually being accomplished. These men, operating the engine in
accordance with the Captain's orders, must answer, literally dozens of
maneuvering bells in sometimes rapid succession, and in a prompt, decisive and
accurate manner. Any mistake or delay jeopardizes not only the success of the
life saving operation, but also the very safety of one's own ship. In the
AMBASSADOR case there were many times during the seven approaches to the wreck
necessary to get the entire remaining crew off, when the ships were only fifty
feet apart. Consider the consequences of a mistake by the engine room in
answering a maneuvering order. Had these men not performed so magnificently over
the long three hour maneuvering period it would have been impossible to place a
ship the size of the COOS BAY in such close proximity to a drifting wreck to
successfully remove the stranded crew under the existing conditions.
on the bridge of COOS BAY the various Officers and junior 0 Ds,
in the Combat Information Center, the thoroughness of the Executive Officer and
his team of radar men, resulted in two life rafts being located within the
predicted search area. These men controlled the search operation of over a dozen
other ships and aircraft for several days.
the three long hours of actual rescue operations, nine volunteer swimmers
fearlessly disregarding their own safety in recovering exhausted and dying men
from the water, as our ship rolled up to 45 degrees. One moment these swimmers
were immersed in churning water, and eight seconds later they were hanging 20
feet in the air from a life net on the side of the ship. The officer and all of
the men were awarded medals by the Commandant. But no less important were our
medical and supply departments. The Doctor and his Corpsman were directly
responsible for resuscitating two of the survivors and saving their lives. All
of the men of the Supply Department had their part to play; the Yeomen and
Storekeeper telephone talkers who had to catch shouted orders fragmented by the
strong gale, and pass them correctly down the line, and the Cooks and Stewards
looking after the comfort of the survivors -- this too was a busy group.
are so many members of a ship's team. The seamen and the Bosun's Mates who
carefully but quickly hauled the survivors aboard, the Chief Gunners Mate who
successfully fired shot line after shot line to the wreck, the Radiomen who not
only handled a tremendous volume of messages generated by our task as On Scene
Commander, but also they set a first in the history of radio teletype at sea by
transmitting a complete narrative story of the rescue "blow by blow"
as it transpired. As a result it enabled the Coast Guard to get a lot of
favorable media coverage just at a time when it was needed, i.e. in the midst of
Congressional budget hearings. The Economy Ax had already cut out the 10 million
dollars for building the new high endurance Cutter which was to have been the
first new major ship built in the 15 years since WW II. As a result of this
publicity the cut was restored and today there are eleven of that class and, of
course, many other fine ships.
evidence of the spirit of our team was the willingness, self- sacrifice and
personal feeling that was apparent on the part of all of our crew for the
welfare and personal comfort of the survivors.
the Memorial Service for the AMBASSADOR men lost before we arrived, every member
of the crew of COOS BAY that could be spared from watch attended, something that
never happened on Sundays.
in the Service feel that such an operation is but the culmination of many hours
of routine training as prescribed for just such an eventuality. Nevertheless,
when the chips were down our crew did put out and they got the job done. As
proud of them as I was, I could only say no better words of praise than to
emphasize that accolade to which all aspire but not all are privileged to
achieve, WELL DONE !
The romantic poet said that "The Sea Is A Harsh Mistress" We know it to be true and it is for that reason that men whose business it is to sail in ships develop a bond of brotherhood that transcends all barriers. It is far stronger than crashing waves or howling winds. To rescue a fellow seaman from peril gives purpose to our lives and a feeling of accomplishment, far greater than any material gain.
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