Fatal Voyage of the
By Stan Barnes and Jay Schmidt
People try unusual or
high risk events to gain fame. In May of 1966, two British journalists under
contract to The People, a London Sunday newspaper, attempted to row across the
Atlantic from the United States to England in a 16 foot custom-built red
and white rowboat named the Puffin.
They would be seen alive for the last time by crewmembers of the USCGC Duane
(WHEC-33) two months later.
The story began on May
26, 1966 when the Puffin left Virginia
Beach, VA with lots of publicity and photo coverage. The two crewmembers David
Johnstone, 34 and John Hoare, 29, expected to reach England by rowing across the
Atlantic Ocean. It seems that back in those days, there was a competition to see
who could row across the Atlantic the fastest.
At that time, the Coast
Guard provided assistance to transatlantic shipping and aircraft by maintaining
ships at strategic locations in the Atlantic Ocean. These locations were known
as Ocean Stations. Ocean Station Delta was located some nine hundred miles east
of St. John’s, Newfoundland. It consisted of a one hundred square mile grid
broken down into ten-mile square grids. The cutter assigned to the station would
situate itself in the center and either drift or remain underway in order to
remain centrally located. The purpose was to provide emergency assistance to
ships and aircraft if needed. The cutters also provided weather observations for
On August 11, 1966, the
Coast Guard Cutter Duane was
drifting in the center of Ocean Station Delta. The weather was partly sunny with
a visibility from the flying bridge of five to seven miles and a sea of two to
four foot swells.
QM3 Stan Barnes was on
watch with Ensign Potter, QM2 Gallagher and with a seaman (lookout) on the flying
bridge. The Duane was drifting and Barnes was the helmsman. He went to the
flying bridge for a breath of fresh air with a pair of binoculars hung around
his neck. In the early afternoon, Barnes thought he saw a red object off the
starboard bow at some distance. As he concentrated on the area, he saw it again.
He asked the lookout if he could see it, and the lookout replied that he did.
Barnes called down to the bridge through the pipe and told the OOD, Ensign Potter. Mr. Potter came up to the bridge and also saw the object. The object was only visible as it rode over the crest of a swell. Captain Frost was notified and the word passed to make ready to lower a boat and to take the people aboard if needed. The wind and sea were favorable, and the little red row boat came alongside on its own.
All hands were totally amazed to see two men who left Virginia Beach two months before, rowing a boat on Ocean Station Delta.
When the boat came
alongside, a ladder was put over. By rules, one person had to stay on or in the
boat at all times. The gentleman who came onboard immediately became seasick due
to solid footing and was taken to sick bay for medication. The captain and
others interviewed him there. Their only request of us was that we notify their
club of their location and get some provisions in the way of candy bars,
cigarettes and Playboy magazines, which we had no problem supplying. After a
while, they were on their way happy to have made our acquaintance.
newsletter, known as the Press, was
written each day by RM1
Bill Gulledge. The August 11, 1966 edition of the Press
had the following story:
Delta, Aug. 11. The 21 foot custom-built, self-righting boat “Puffin” which
is valued at $6,000, paid OS Delta a one hour and 21 minute visit today. They
arrived at 1437 and departed at 1558. The “Puffin” which departed Virginia
Beach, Virginia on May 21st is bound for England. Crewmembers Mr.
John Hoare of Lancastshire, England and Mr. David Johnstone, of Surrey, England
appeared none the worse for spending the past 83 days at sea aboard the cramped
quarters on the “Puffin.” Mr. Hoare became “landsick” aboard the
stationary “Duane” though. Mr. Johnstone remained aboard the “Puffin”
since one man must remain aboard at all times. He reported that they were
alongside a Russian merchant ship 10 days ago, while downing four cups of coffee
in record time. After passing navigational charts, water, magazines the past two
days copies of the “Press” and the taking of numerous pictures by
crewmembers of the “Duane,” Mr. Hoare reboarded the “Puffin.” Mr.
Johnstone took to the oars and away they went—with the “best of luck” from
the crew of the “Duane.”
Nothing more was heard from the Puffin, and it was not seen again. In early September, hurricane Faith hit the Atlantic. The British passenger liner Ocean Monarch reported spotting an overturned red and white small boat in mid-Atlantic. It was believed to be the Puffin. They passed within 200 yards and saw no signs of life. They reported the position as 46.04 North, 37.35 West which is about 200 miles east northeast of the sighting by the Coast Guard.
The Associated Press at
the time reported that the men were last seen alive in the mid-Atlantic on
August 11, by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter. The Duane
was not given credit.
UPI in September, 1966
wrote that Canadian Search and Rescue Headquarters had reported that the
Canadian destroyer-escort Chaudiere
picked up the Puffin some 600 miles
southeast of St. John’s, Newfoundland and found no signs of life.
Although capsized, the
small craft contained one set of oars, binoculars, a direction finding receiver,
cameras, exposed film, compass charts, food and personal items. The Puffin
was found in the same location where the British liner Ocean Monarch reported sighting an overturned boat on September 16.
A ship’s log was
discovered on board the Puffin. Log
entries indicated the men were getting discouraged and were on short rations. On
Sep. 2, the entry read: “But where are the ships?’ One of the last entries
on Sep. 3 included the phrase, “no rowing because of north-northwest winds of
our return to Boston, an interview of our Captain with either Life or Look magazine took
place. The article was printed with pictures sometime in the following months.
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