Man Overboard!

by Otto Freytag

 

A true story from the days of the Coast Guard Destroyers.........

One thing happened to me that I thought was something. In 1935 I had to get off the MENDOTA due to an infected tooth and swapped with a fellow on the MOJAVE in Boston. We patrolled as the destroyers used to--if the weather was fine we would anchor out, say, at Cape Cod.

That is where we were when a message came that a big northeaster was building up and for us to get out and underway. That storm really built up. Heavy seas, ice cold, and the wind got strong enough to blow NANTUCKET LIGHTSHIP off station. We were directed to proceed and take position as close as possible to where the lightship was supposed to be and broadcast information on 500 kcs telling ships coming over from Europe to veer off. We could only make slow headway due to the wind and sea.

I was sleeping when the buzzer over my bunk took off, which meant a problem in the radio room. When I got there the operator on watch (I think his name was Brocklehurst) said the bridge had him secure transmissions as something was wrong with the antenna. When I got to the bridge, it was a shambles. The forward starboard guy holding the antenna had crusted over with ice and broke, causing a 36" Pyrex insulator to swing into the pilothouse, breaking the window and insulator and cutting the helmsman. Brocklehurst was transmitting at the time and sparks were flying all over. That's why they asked him to secure.

The OOD, CHBOSN White, said he would assign the standby boat crew and coxswain to help me. I asked them to try and clear ice off the port guy wire before it broke, while I had to go to the forepeak, break out a replacement insulator, put on hip boots, southwester rain gear, and get on the forecastle. We were heading into the sea and wind, just holding steerage way, and both wing searchlights were trained on the bow for visibility. I had to hook up U-bolts and the gang got some new line reeved through.

We were dipping our bow into the sea and water was coming up around our waists. My hip boots were slowly filling with water. As we were getting the line secured, the mother of all waves hit, lifted our bow and then dropped us straight down as the wave washed over us. The OOD told me later he had eleven men on the bow and a second later . . . none.

I was swimming and luck was with me as the wave washed me through a hatchway and dumped me on the deck in front of the skipper's cabin. I didn't see anyone with me, so I climbed up the starboard ladder to the bridge and hollered "man overboard!" Meanwhile, the coxswain was climbing up the port side to the bridge and, not seeing me among the group, also hollered "man overboard!"

All was cleared up in a few seconds when all hands had been accounted for. The skipper, Capt. Able, told the OOD to secure, hold our position, send men out with lifelines to keep the ice off the halyards, and for the radio room to keep transmitting our position--never mind trying to get the exact spot of Nantucket Lightship.

I can say one thing: The sea breeds no agnostics. I figure the good Lord was looking out for Otto on that one!

 

Extracted from Coast Guard Stories by Don Gardner

Return to the Coast Guard Stories Page