My Love Affair With The Tamaroa???

By Bill Doherty


After graduation from boot camp at Cape May in the summer of 1967, I reported on board my first duty station, the USCGC Tamaroa. I had heard all kinds of nasty rumors about her from snickering detailers and short timers. It was in the evening when I reported on board so I didn’t get a good first look at her. However, you could easily tell she was not one of the swift greyhounds of the sea like the 327’s we heard so much about in boot camp. I was welcomed aboard assigned a bunk and my career as a deckhand was now underway.

In the daylight she looked terrible, ungainly, stubby, round, whatever nasty adjective comes to your mind could easily be applied here. My first call to quarters was quite an experience. We all assembled on the fantail everyone milling about taking attendance, etc. We were wearing denim bell-bottoms, chambray shirts a real ugly baseball cap and I was issued a shredded foul weather jacket to complete the picture.

Glancing over at the other cutters in port at Staten Island, everything seemed surrealistic. The Campbell, Spencer were in port, the Half Moon was on Ocean Station. Everyone on the Campbell and Spencer looked sharp and much more military than we did. I was kind of disappointed and mentioned it to a seasoned deck ape. He looked at me with a grin and remarked that they can look as sharp as they want; we are the ones that do the work. So after my first day, I learned that there was a sort of competition between us workboats and the “white ones”, as the larger weather cutters were referred to on a regular basis.

A seaman who was striking for gunner’s mate broke me in. We basically were paired buddies for my first ever search and rescue patrol. I was assigned Repair Party #2 for my battle station and the after mooring line for my mooring station. Then they taught me to paint. Boy did I paint, Once I was painting the superstructure in February with the paint in a bucket of hot water to keep it from congealing. Somebody was obsessed about keeping this damn boat white. It sure wasn’t me!

We left St. George, Staten Island on a Friday morning heading out to sea and my first sea voyage was under way! But what a terrible beginning. My god, I had been on small boats as a cadet at Admiral Farragut Academy before and was never sea sick in my life. But this was a whole new experience. I was so sick and green around the gills, it was pathetic. About two days into the patrol I was stumbling forward on the port side. One of the chiefs spotted me and took pity on my state. He grabbed me by belt and told me to vomit to my heart’s content over the side. At first I stupidly protested thinking that I would have to clean up the mess afterwards. He looked at me and said not to worry the ocean would clean it up. So I obliged him. The next day, I felt fine.

Here's a story that I love to tell. I was out of boot camp for about three weeks. For this SAR patrol, I drew the 4 to 8 watch. We were coming back from patrol in October, 1967 and I was on the helm. The CGC Tamaroa’s home port was Staten Island NY at that stage of her life. 

We were coming up Ambrose Channel and leaving New York was the Italian luxury liner Raffaelo. We were headed right for each other. After a couple of minor course corrections, we were still on a collision course with the liner. 

The skipper ordered  "come left to 340!" 

I replied, "left to 340, sir," and swung the rudder over. TheTamaroa being an ancient 205' Fleet tug, did not exactly respond like a gazelle. 

Whereupon the skipper yelled, "left full rudder, " I repeated the command and swung her hard over.

As any old salt knows, when you do that, you loudly announce to the OOD or Captain, every 10 degrees what your heading is so he has an idea of how fast the ship is reacting. 

"Passing 010-sir, passing 360-sir, passing 350-sir, passing 340-sir”, I calmly announce. 

I am still waiting for his command to steady up on whatever course he wants me to steer. By now we are in a wide turn almost going in full circle.

Then all of a sudden he yells "What the #$^& are you doing?" Rips me off the helm and the quartermaster takes over. Nose to nose, this grizzled CO with eyes on fire is yelling at me. The exact words are forgotten, but the gist of it was that I should have steadied up on 340. Drawing as much courage as a boot SA could muster, I stammered, "Waiting for your next command, sir."

"I told you 340" said the captain.

“No sir,” I replied, “you told me left full rudder, that canceled out 340." I was waiting for your next command."

In a huff, he ordered me down to after berthing. There I sat, thinking three weeks into my first assignment and I will get a Captain's mast. I was certain I had done the right thing. In boot camp we were specifically taught that each command canceled the last one. That is important to remember when you are at the helm in New York Harbor. I really was waiting for the next command after he had ordered left full rudder.

A few minutes later the Bos'n came down and said to get back to the bridge, the old man realized he was wrong and should have told me what course to steady upon. I went back up but you could have stirred my knees with a spoon I was so nervous.

What a way to start sea duty in the North Atlantic!!.

After a few such patrols, I became a veteran deck hand. We participated in many tows some dramatic, some mundane. One of the more dramatic ones I remember occurred in the middle of the night. My rack was slightly triced up to keep me from falling out of it in heavy weather. Well it was pretty heavy that night and we were all awakened around three o’clock in the morning. I struggled out of my rack and went topside. Over on the port side was a disabled fishing vessel. Our Gunner’s mate had a specially designed rifle to shoot a small weighted line over to the boat. Attached to the line was a slightly larger piece of line which in turn was attached to our towing cable. After a few tries we finally got it over to him. The guys on that fishing boat were real acrobats. The seas were rough as hell and one hand had to partially climb the mast to get the line our "Gunny" shot over. Finally it was secure, but the weight of the cable was so much, his bow actually went down a little in the water. We towed him to New London and dropped him off. Then occurred one of the most disgusting tasks a deck ape ever had to deal with.

We had to reel the cable back in on these huge drums. But we had to dip our gloved hands in this awful looking grease euphemistically known as "monkey shit." As the cable was reeled in we dipped our hands in the grease and spread it on the cable to keep it from rusting. Some of the grease would invariable get on the deck and there would be much slipping and sore limbs connecting with every piece of metal on the stern before the task was completed.

One towing job turned out to be one of those stories you love to recount over and over again. We were towing the decommissioned cutter Mackinac to Curtis Bay, Maryland for disposition. One morning I stood towing watch and I noticed about five or six guys on the 01 deck looking at us. To this day, I can’t explain why, but I took out a Kodak Instamatic camera I had and took a shot of the guys. Nothing different about this tow, right?

Now fast-forward 20 years later. I am the Chief Engineer of a major Manhattan Midtown office building. As I walk into the building office, I overhear my boss’s boss say that he was in the Coast Guard. I mentioned that I too had served in the CG. He asked me what ship and when I said the Tamaroa. He had this weird look on his face. “You towed us down to be scrapped at Curtis Bay. I was on the Mackinac." I remarked that’s correct. I was on towing watch and had a photo of the guys on deck.  It turns out that he was on the decomm crew and I had taken a photo of him 20 years earlier!! I went home, found the photo and made a copy for him. We have been fast friends ever since.

My time on the Tamaroa was certainly a time I will never forget. When we first met it was a love-hate relationship. Now, thirty years later I can't remember any of the bad times. I would not know that we would come together again until 1994. I was driving home from work in NYC and nearly drove off the road, for there she was right next to the Intrepid! I immediately began a campaign to try to save her, because I could see that she was being neglected. We tried several times to rescue her and reuse her for a not for profit group. 

But it wasn’t to be. After a prolonged battle waged by my friends from the fireboat, "John J. Harvey" and also a new found friend and former Tam member from Virginia. She went to auction  thanks in part to my friends and I; we drove up the price of her at the auction past her scrap value. A firm in Alabama who will refit her as a salvage vessel purchased her. We have kept in touch with them and will assist them as necessary to insure that she stays afloat and useful. Anybody, who is interested in her current status can check out our website at

Return to Coast Guard Stories