It was 1962-63 that I was a seaman onboard the USCG Cutter Mallow, which had its homeport in Astoria, Oregon. I had led an easy life up until my assignment to the Mallow, a Coast Guard Buoy Tender. Certainly, I was not prepared for the hard work onboard a working Coast Guard ship. Like all the young men assigned to the Mallow, I learned quickly. What made the work interesting also made it hard and dangerous. The Mallow repaired, retrieved and replaced large ocean buoys along the Oregon coastline. We also serviced the Coast Guard Columbia River Lightship.
Every time we left our homeport of Astoria we had to cross from the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia River is a mighty river and the Pacific an even mightier ocean. Where they met there was always a battle royal between the two bodies of water, neither willing to give in to the other. The actual battle zone was noted as the “Graveyard of the Pacific”. Being young and not fully aware of our own mortality, the crew looked forward to the adventure as exhilarating and certainly superior to the best of roller coasters.
One day while sitting on the mess deck enjoying the ride from river to ocean, the ship resounded with several loud crashes from stem to stern as the Mallow hit and passed over the Number 10 Buoy. That scared me so much that it only took me about a half second to reach my abandon ship station. Once on deck, in the Mallow’s wake, I saw the Number 10 Buoy sink beneath the waves. Fortunately, the Mallow didn't sink and was able to turn around and limp back into port without hitting anything else, most importantly the rocks on the other side of where the buoy had been placed.
Our collision with the buoy had caused major damage to the Mallow requiring that we steam up river to Portland and dry dock. You can only imagine how much the crew enjoyed its stay in Portland. It was certainly preferable to a buoy trip down the Oregon coast. We had just come off of Charlie duty and had cleaned and polished everything before we started our regular buoy trips. Without a lot of cleanup work on the now out of water ship, the Captain gave us a lot of liberty in Portland. While this was going on our sister ship the USCGC Ivy, which had just finished their buoy trip and was preparing to go on Charlie duty (which also allowed their crew to take liberty and leave), was forced to fulfill our obligations. We felt so bad for them as we partied in Portland. Yeah! We did send them a card saying, "Having a great time wish you were here". I don't believe they ever forgave us.
For several days, while in Portland, we had an inquest into the collision. We had Captains and Admirals on board to determine if our Captain had done anything wrong to cause the collision. I'm glad to report he was found faultless as he had full right rudder and power while we continued to move to the left over the buoy. The damage: We tore up our propeller, bent our rudder and damaged the armature, which had to be removed and replaced. Altogether, we were in Portland for about 6 weeks.
When we returned to Astoria the crew presented our Captain with a model of the Number 10 buoy.
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