Pilot Boat Duty

By Donald H. Ward

Being in the Coast Guard was not all fun and games when you were stationed on a pilot boat. The duty was not so many on and so many off, it was anytime of day or night. The pilot boat was in Portland Maine Harbor. The pilots were given the honorary commission of Lt. Cdr.—2 ½ stripers. I never met a better bunch of men in my life; a down to earth, very jolly bunch.

They would play checkers or cribbage, tell jokes and they would bring back food when they returned aboard. These men knew the waters from here to most any place in the world. There were four of them. They each held an office in the association and as one would retire another would move up another step.

I recall the men that were on board. The one that took a liking to me was Capt. George Lubee. He had a wife and two daughters but that made no way for me to call on either of them.

Capt. Linwood McClain, who a very religious person. His nephew was on board as a Seaman.

There was Capt. Martin; I never heard any one call him by his first name. Capt. Martin was little but agile as any young person. He could climb a Jacobs ladder with out missing a step.

Then there was Capt. Vernon Dorsey, a nice person but odd. He had a son that was very sickly with polio. A sad case. He had become a harbor pilot through being a tugboat Capt. He was a good pilot but afraid of the water. He could not swim, and I think that had something to do with his fright.

Putting the pilots aboard a ship from a 14-foot dory was OK when it was flat calm and no sea, but picture yourself in a dory with a man who weighs about 250 pounds and who has to climb a Jacobs ladder. You have to wait till he has cleared the rail before you can move away from the ship. When there is a sea on and waves that are 15 feet, you have to come alongside the rolling ship because he has to lie broadside of the wind to make a leeway for us. These ships roll some time a good 30 to 40 degrees and the docking band that is wrapped around them sticks out about six to eight inches. You have to stay clear of that band or have the sides of the dory torn off.

There was one time Melvin Farrin, from South Bristol, Maine (Capt McClain’s nephew) and I were putting a pilot aboard a tanker in a bad storm. Waves must have been 20 to30 feet. During WWII we had to bring the ships in—they could not lie off at anchor and wait for the storm to subside because of the U-boat threat. The pilot boat was a two-masted schooner with good sea keeping ability. It carried 13 tons of ballast in her keel, and was built for this kind of work. The ship was making a lee for us but was rolling heavy; water would rush off her decks like being under a waterfall—about 40 tons of water was hitting us.

This time we were not so lucky. Most others times the bow man got in the boat, then the pilot sat on the middle seat, and then the stern man. One of the deck hands would release the dory line and we would row over to the ship. You could not row straight—you had to row with the tanker moving about three to five knots, and then the bow man took hold of the sea painter to pull us along side. This was no easy task—your timing had to be just right or you stayed of till it was right. This time we got the pilot onto the ladder but we had to stay a while longer than usual because the pilot had trouble climbing the ladder. The ship was rolling and we thought he would be washed off the ladder, so we held on for a while longer. But then as the ship rolled, we were caught under the docking band and the stern was ripped open. Water started rushing in. I was the bow man and yelled at Melvin to row and to keep rowing to get clear of the ship before she rolled on us again. Water was rushing in but we could not stop to bail—we rode into the wind to keep the water from coming in. Every time we went down a wave the dory would fill with water.

The Boatswains Mate got the boat over to us and took the bowline in. We climbed out soaking wet and cold. We had to close haul the dory trip back to port or it would have ripped to pieces strung out behind us. This was not to bad because it could have been in the dead of winter and every thing was iced up.

This is one more story of the Coast Guard doing their job so others would be safe. During the war U-boats were lurking off shore to sink any ship they saw.

Edited by Donald Gardner

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