My First Command
By Chuck Kircher
In the deep dark recesses of the 14th District Headquarters, someone came up with the brilliant idea of training petty officers from the Ocean Station cutters in the intricacies of pleasure boat inspections. After all, they didn’t have very much to do during the three months in port between patrols. At roll call one morning I was given the dubious honor of this assignment. Being young and naďve and not yet fully introduced to the vagaries of Murphy’s Law, I leaped at the opportunity and was determined to be the best at convincing the public, in a forthright and friendly manner, that my inspections were in their own best interest.
So each morning for four days I wended my way over to Pier 4 opposite Sand Island and joined other petty officers in the training classes. The curriculum was somewhat boring after awhile but I was sure that the end result would be nothing but spectacular. When the classes were finished we were told that one day our names would come up to put what we had learned to good use. I couldn’t wait!
A few weeks went by without a call to duty and I was starting to resign myself that my services were not required. Anyway, we were rapidly approaching the date of depart for Ocean Station Victor and I was busy with my cohorts getting the electronic equipment in peak working condition.
And then one glorious Friday morning the call came. On Saturday I would be heading over to Kaneohe Bay to put my knowledge to work. Come the morn, I donned a clean set of whites and heading for the quarterdeck. From here on things went downhill. I was to take two seamen of my choice and head for the boathouse at Sand Island to pick up a truck, along with a boat and trailer, to take to Kaneohe. Gulp!!!! They didn’t tell us this during the training. All we had been told was about dockside inspections. I had just learned to drive a stick shift and had never towed a trailer nor operated a boat. I was an ET for goodness sakes!!!!! The sum total of my boating experience was a canoe on a lake on Long Island. Somehow the District assumed everyone who wore the Coast Guard shield on their right forearm was automatically an expert small boat handler.
Having a smidgen of leadership acumen, I decided that if there were something I couldn’t do I’d find someone who could. I queried seamen on the mess deck and found two who had the necessary abilities and were willing to go along with me. We headed to the boathouse where we were given directions on boat operations and handed the keys. One snag – as the PO I had to drive the vehicle. Oh well, it was as good a time as any to learn the intricacies of trailering. Off we went through Honolulu, up and over the winding Pali Highway and down into beautiful Kaneohe Bay.
We hadn’t been told where the boat ramps were in the Bay, so I stopped to ask directions. Seems most folks launched their boats from one area of the beach. Since there was no ramp this seemed risky to me, but others were doing it and I figured we could as well. I turned the truck over to the seaman who had experience backing down a trailer while the other seaman and I prepared the boat. Getting into the water was no problem but starting the outboard was. Try as we might it just wouldn’t run except at a very low RPM – not enough to get us anywhere.
As we fiddled with the motor, we were drifting further and further away from where we had launched and I was beginning to feel a touch of panic. My command skills were starting to ebb along with the outgoing tide.
To keep the boat from drifting too far from the shore, one seaman and I removed our shoes and sacrificed our uniforms as we went over the side to hold the boat in place while we tried to get the motor running. Time was passing and we were getting nowhere except further away from the truck. Many locals gave us a hand all to no avail. I was past the point of caring about the image we were presenting of Coast Guard small boat handling. I just wanted to get out of there and into dry clothes. My face was getting redder and redder and it wasn’t just from the sun.
The boat had drifted about a mile from where we had originally launched and there was no way we could get back very easily. We pulled the boat into shore and I trudged back to get the truck. But now I was confronted by another problem. The sand at our present location was much softer than where we had launched. With much maneuvering, we were able to get the boat on the trailer and that was it. We couldn’t get the trailer out of the water as both the back wheels of the truck and the trailer wheels were sinking in the sand. Despite a lot of help, we were trapped. A helpful soul told me that a gas station down the road had a 4-wheel drive vehicle that was used for just this situation. I hiked to the station and elicited the owner’s help for a fee. In no time at all we were pulled out of the sand and were on our way. Admittedly, I was very crestfallen about failing my assignment.
When we got back to Sand Island I told the bosun at the boathouse about our problem starting the boat. He leaped into the boat, set the controls and cranked over the outboard. It immediately roared into life. The bosun made a few snide remarks about ETs while I slunk away.
My Captain wasn’t too happy about my performance but then neither was I. I submitted my report to the District along with the bill for towing. The District was very unhappy with me as well and never did reimburse me for towing expenses – but, then, I didn’t pursue it. I just wanted to put it all behind me and forget the whole sordid experience.
Oddly, my name never came up again for boat inspection duty.
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