A Day Away From the Paperwork

By Jeff Lindstrom

 

It was a beautiful day for a boat ride. Sunny, warm, no bugs, no wind, and I had no misgivings, even though the boat’s top speed was about 7 knots and its ancient diesel engine sounded like it was salvaged from the AFRICAN QUEEN.

I was a Yeoman in the Coast Guard during the mid-1960s. Although most YN's didn’t have much boat duty, I discovered that there was almost always room for a volunteer, and I volunteered as often as possible. There were many rewarding experiences.

While I was stationed at Group Charlevoix, Michigan, I had the chance to be a member of a 2-person boat crew on an old 25-footer. We were to check all the aids to navigation on the Inland Waterway in the northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

It was a beautiful day for a boat ride. Sunny, warm, no bugs, no wind, and I had no misgivings, even though the boat’s top speed was about 7 knots and its ancient diesel engine sounded like it was salvaged from the AFRICAN QUEEN.

We had completed about half the run when we passed a black buoy that had not blinked.

I said to the coxswain, "It still hasn’t blinked." He throttled down, went to neutral, and just when he hit reverse I advised him, "It blinked." At that instant the engine died.

We pooled all our skills and could not get the engine restarted. Since we were slowly drifting with the current, we dropped the anchor to hold our position.

We tried to radio Cheboygan for suggestions, but they couldn’t hear us due to "atmospherics." The watchstander at a Lake Huron lighthouse heard us, though, and we asked him to relay the message to Cheboygan. The Chief asked if we had tried this, that, and other things, and because of atmospheric conditions and the relayed messages it took us about an hour to convince everyone that we had tried everything and that nothing had worked.

Meanwhile, the watchstander at Charlevoix overheard all of these radio messages, and the Group Commander became interested in what was happening. They, however, had the same transmission problems; they could hear everyone’s messages, but they couldn’t talk to us or to Cheboygan or the Lake Huron lighthouse. The watchstander at a Lake Michigan lighthouse heard everything, though, so now we had 4 other units discussing our problem. We could hear all of their conversations, but we could talk to only the Lake Huron lighthouse. It sounded like a Coast Guard radio convention. By the time we received the relayed suggestions, we had tried them all, and we reported each failure immediately.

The most embarrassing part of this story is its conclusion. A friendly civilian on a real nice yacht offered to tow us. Well, this took another 30 minutes to get permission to be towed by a civilian vessel. Permission was granted. While we were being towed, everyone on the river was laughing at us. I finally just stood on the bow and yelled to all of them, "It’s a stiff line and we’re pushing him!" A grand time was had by all!

It turned out that the starter and its solenoid had simultaneously failed.

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