QUICK THINKING ON MIAH MAULL

By Dave Moyer

“There I was…wearing my new First Class Quartermaster stripes bouncing along on a forty-four footer approaching my new station, Miah Maull Shoal Lighthouse…….”  

Eight weeks of boot camp, 12 weeks of Quartermaster-A School, three years of sea duty which included three Ocean Station Patrols, the usual search and rescue cases, a tour of duty in Viet Nam, two ships and here I was…wearing my new First Class Quartermaster stripes bouncing along on a forty-four footer approaching my new station, Miah Maull Shoal lighthouse. Needless to say it wasn’t exactly the duty I had in mind when I requested a transfer to a shore billet. I was hoping for a cushy job at the group’s SAR center for the last six months of my enlistment. My hope of plotting intercept courses and manning the communications center at Group Cape May wasn’t to be. They needed a First Class Petty Officer to replace the recently transferred Officer-in-Charge of Miah Maull and I just happened to be the first person with three chevrons to walk into the group office.

The forty-four throttled back as we made our approach. I could see the two guardsmen on the light preparing the cargo net to bring up the weeks groceries and lowering the unstable metal ladder to take me on board. Once the groceries and my gear were safely raised to the main deck platform the boat made one more approach and I leaped to grab the ladder and made my way up to meet my new crew. Ordinarily one of them would leave at the same time for their week off but since I was just arriving, I made arrangements with the boat crew to stop and pick him up on their way back from Ship John Shoal Light. This would allow me the opportunity to meet and speak with them both as well as giving them to opportunity to meet me.

The three of us introduced ourselves and shook hands. I knew they were a bit apprehensive and I could read their minds. “Just what is this First Class like?  Is he gung-ho?  Will our world have to change?”  They helped me stow my gear and the three of us went into the galley and sat down. That’s when my crew put me through the first test. One of them got up, went into the refrigerator and took out three cans of beer asking me if I wanted one. Two sets of eyes then riveted on me. “I believe that sort of thing isn’t permitted on these stations, is it?”  Before they could answer I asked, “What kind do you have?”  I say them relax. We all popped open a can and I took the opportunity to tell them what I expected.

“Look guys, I’ve got six months left to go until my enlistment is up. I’ll be getting out so you might say that Miah Maull Shoal is my swan song. Keep the place clean, do what’s expected but above all, stay out of trouble both here and ashore. I don’t expect you to give the Group Commander any reason to chew on my butt. The two of you have been out here and know the ropes. I’ll be asking questions and I expect straight answers. I don’t care if you take short cuts. I don’t care if you sleep late just don’t get me in any hot water. Fair enough?”  Both smiled and nodded their agreement. We sipped our beer and they filled me in on the routines, their backgrounds and I told them a bit about myself. Simple enough. The forty-four arrived about an hour later and I was left with my FN, Charlie Markley.  

Things went along fine for the first month or so. We stretched the rules a bit as far as the commercial fishing boats were concerned. These visits were rather crucial because I found out very early that this was the main supply source for our prized beer collection. (Mind you, strictly a hobby to stem the occasional boredom.)  The half-hour radio checks with Group Cape May were ongoing, the weather and sea reports given. At dusk the light was turned on and at dawn it was turned off. The fog signal was activated when necessary…deactivated when clear. The house was kept clean and the three of us got along just fine.

It was sometime in late October when it happened. Being senior, I took the liberty of keeping the day watch. This meant that the other crewmember had to remain awake during the late evening and early morning hours to make the reports etc. I did have a standing rule that if the watchstander had trouble staying awake for any reason, to get me up and I’d finish the remainder of the watch. Above all, someone had to be awake at all times. I was just waking up and was between that sleep and awake stage we all go through. I could hear the radio down below calling. “Miah Maull Shoal Light…Miah Maull Shoal Light…This is Cape May Radio, Cape May Radio…over.”  I rolled over and grabbed my watch. 0700, kind of late to not have been awakened by Ed. Oh well, maybe he just wanted to let me sleep in. The radio cracked again. “Miah Maull this is Cape May Radio, Cape May Radio….over.”  I couldn’t understand why Ed hadn’t answered. The next transmission was a bit more disturbing. “Fourteen Foot Bank Light this is Cape May Radio….do you see anything out of the ordinary at Miah Maull?….over.”  I heard Fourteen Foot Bank reply in the negative but added that my light was still on. The next transmission was Cape May ordering the thirty footer at Fortescue underway to investigate the lack of response from Miah Maull for the past few hours. I was up like a shot!

Once below I searched for Ed. Living room, kitchen, engine room, out on the walkway but no Ed. All I found was a wastebasket full of our collection – only empty. Cape May kept calling and the thirty footer was underway. I felt the adrenaline beginning to pump. “Geez,” I thought, “Ed must have gotten a bit tipsy and fallen overboard!  Wonder how much paperwork is involved when that happens?”  There I stood on the walkway in my skivvies with a pair of binoculars looking for any sign of Ed. Then it hit me. I never checked his bedroom. Back up the steps to Ed’s room, kicked in the door and there he was, curled up like a baby with his mouth half open, snoring away. I woke him “gently” by grabbing his shirt and pulling him up with a yank. “Have a nice nap, Ed?”  His eyes went from a confused half asleep look to one of terror. (For the sake of those who were never in a similar situation I will dispense with the exact words that were spoken at this point of the story. Suffice it to say that if we would have had this conversation in the galley the milk would have curdled.)

I found Ed but now I had another problem on my hands. We were derelict of duty at the very least and, as Officer-in-Charge it was my neck. A thirty footer was underway and would be here in less than fifteen minutes. I needed a plan and I needed it now!  First I told Ed to extinguish the light. Then I came up with one of the most brilliant yet simple ideas in military history. I grabbed the handset of the radio and began to finger the key on and off in rapid succession while talking. “Cape May Radio, this is Miah Maull Shoal. How do you copy?”  Their reply was the expected one. “Miah Maull, this is Cape May. You are breaking up, I say again, you are breaking up.”  I then repeated the keying only this time a bit slower. “Cape May, Miah Maull Shoal, how do you copy now?”  Their reply came rapidly. “Miah Maull, Cape May, better but you are still breaking up.”  I continued this exercise until I sent normally. Cape May could now copy me five by five. 

They asked the obvious question. “Did you have radio problems?”  I replied that I did but it took a few hours to figure out the glitch and fix it. We got so busy working on the radio that we neglected to extinguish the light. They then wanted to send out an Electronics Tech to look at the radio. Fortunately the ET’s never liked to make the trip so it didn’t take much convincing that it wouldn’t be necessary. The thirty footer was copying these transmissions but decided to come out and circle the light anyway. There Ed and I stood with empty coffee cups to make it look like we were up half the night, me still wearing nothing buy my skivvies, waving at the boat as it passed closely by Miah Maull Shoal. All was right with the world once again.  

Oh Yea, once I was dressed Ed and I had a bit of a military type discussion. I reminded him about my first day aboard and my cardinal rule about not giving the CO an excuse to chew on my butt etc. If I recall, I also promised to do some major surgery without the benefit an anesthetics if Ed ever uttered a word about what really happened. Fortunately he never did.

 

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