The Coast Guard talked the Navy into letting them "borrow" a retired Yard Oiler (YO) that was moored in Apra Harbor to haul emulsified asphalt from Guam to Yap.

THE ONLY EVER COAST GUARD OILER

By Fred Goodwin

 

The following events occurred over 30 years ago. I have no written record of the events described here and have to rely solely on memory. With a few exceptions, I have omitted actual names even though I do remember them.

As a young RM, I would rather have stood a CW watch than eat—it was a job that I would have done for free; in fact, I am still on the "ham" CW bands licensed as K7LF.

In August 1962 I reported for duty as a 20-year-old RM3 at Coast Guard Radio Station Guam (NRV), having been transferred from CG Radio Station San Francisco (NMC) with a short stop aboard the USCGC MATAGORDA. I left San Francisco with orders for the WINNEBAGO, but when I arrived in Honolulu, the Cutter was at sea, so I was reassigned to the MATAGORDA, but since they had a "full" shack (8 RMs), I was re-reassigned to Guam after three days, traveling by R6D via Wake Island.

The radio station was located with Commander, Mariannas Section (COMARSEC) in an Elephant Quonset on Cabras Island, Guam. I knew one person there, Mike Ruszczyck, an RM3 I had served with at San Francisco Radio.

When Mike received his orders for Guam, I jokingly told him that I would probably see him there, although I had no intention in the world of actually desiring to go to there—I just told him that so he wouldn’t feel so bad about being transferred to the end of the earth. Mike had a great laugh when I reported in.

The radio shack at COMARSEC (NRV) was somewhat smaller than the shack on a WAVP-class 311-foot Cutter. There were four RMs attached: RM1 Bobby Warbutton was RM-in-Charge, a fellow by the name of Shawn; an RM2; RM3 Ruszczyck, and myself. We stood a modified two-operator schedule unless there was a buoy tender from Honolulu in the area, then we stood several more hours per day to accommodate the ship.

In early 1963 our radio station was enlarged and upgraded with new equipment. In the late summer the Coast Guard was in the process of building a new Loran-C station on Yap Island and needed to improve the old Japanese-built dirt and gravel fighter strip, which had several old Zero fighters still parked along the runway. The Yapese had taken the seats out and broken the instrument glass, but otherwise they were intact. The Coast Guard talked the Navy into letting them "borrow" a retired Yard Oiler (YO) that was moored in Apra Harbor to haul emulsified asphalt from Guam to Yap.

The oiler, YO-257, was approximately 175 feet long of WW II vintage, or earlier. It, of course, was painted Navy gray and was in poor condition. The Navy towed it to a pier near Naval Station Guam and turned it over to us.

Chief Patton, our new RM-in-Charge, asked for a volunteer to be the duty RM aboard the YO. I think all of us wanted to go—I had been on the island longest without an R&R flight out so, to give me a break, Chief Patton let me have the ship; therefore, I, RM2P-1 F.C. Goodwin, was ordered TAD to YO-257.

With a crew of 20—although I can recall only 13—we were trying to get the YO ready for sea. We worked hard overhauling the main engine, painting, chipping, and checking out all of the machinery and electronics.

The CO, a BOSN-1, was not very particular with how we dressed after hours. Formality was not a strong suit aboard YO-257. During this period, we were tied up bow to bow with a new 10-class* DE named, if I remember correctly, McMorris.

These guys did have a thing for formality. While we wandered about our well deck in swimming suits and go-aheads, they were in dress whites and had a sentry marching about the bow in dress white with an M-1 at his shoulder.

Apparently some jealousies were developing. The Captain of the McMorris did not appreciate our motley crew strolling around on deck in plain view of his sparkling crew, in various stages of dress, none of which could even remotely be considered a uniform. He decided to take action and assert his superior naval rank. I suppose he figured that a simple Coast Guard BOSN-1 would be no match.

Boatswains Mates, I thought, were promoted based on just a few tried and true principles. A couple of them being their degree of nastiness and their ability to yell louder than anyone else.

With the McMorris Captain perched on his bow, he called for our skipper to come forward. They began a mild, low-key discussion on the merits of uniformity and general cleanliness. The low-key part of the discussion lasted perhaps 30-40 milliseconds. The BOSN more-or-less told the Captain to mind his own business.

The bottom line: We remained in our modified uniform of the day (bathing suits and "go-aheads") and pretty much did what we wanted.

YO Silhouette

The configuration of the ship was similar to a 180-foot buoy tender, with its high forecastle, long well deck, and the bridge, crew quarters and engine room aft. My radio shack was located at the rear of the bridge—just behind the helmsman. State-of-the-art navigational equipment consisted of one magnetic compass, a sextant, a couple of Polaris’, and one air-almanac. We did dead reckoning very well and maintained a record of our speed by using the old chip log method; that is, you drop a piece of wood from the bow, race it to the stern and see how many seconds it took. You then had a ratio/proportion problem. If it took ‘x’ seconds to go 175 feet, the length of the ship, how long would it take to go a nautical mile (2000 yards)? With this information you could figure your speed.

Ready for Sea

After several weeks of squaring the ship away, we were ready. My duty station during the Special Sea Detail was to man the engine room telegraph (appropriate for an RM huh?). The engine started and after a suitable period, we began to throw off the mooring lines and steamed about 150 yards from the pier before we realized that we had a hole in our after peak tank and were taking on water. Back to the pier. Pound, pound, pound, weld, weld, weld, pump, pump, pump, and we were ready for sea again. We loaded up with emulsified asphalt, cleared with Guam Control, and headed to sea bound for Yap.

The YO made about 9 knots top end. Yap is about 450 miles southwest of Guard, so the trip was about two days or so in duration. The first trip was fairly uneventful.

My day consisted of watch at 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. when I would pass the morning position report to CG Radio Guam (NRV) and copy Navy Guam (NPN) weather reports. Noon to 4 p.m; I would copy more weather, eat chow and after dark keep Polaris angle for the star shots. I would usually end the radio watch at midnight. Sleep from midnight to 4 a.m. then get up and do the star shot trick again. A few times they woke me between midnight and 4 a.m. to blink light with passing ships. I have never been one to sleep much while at sea.

We were very short of water, so the crew came up with a unique method to provide water for showers. We had a large gun tub over the after deck with scuppers all around. We plugged them all except one that was directly over the quarterdeck. In that scupper we put a wooden plug with a hole in the middle in which we inserted a pipe, and installed on the end of the pipe a shut-off valve and a shower head. We filled the tub with several inches of fresh water. With the 90 degree plus temperatures in that area of the world, believe me, that water got quite warm. In the evening you could station yourself under the showerhead and have a nice hotel shower. There was one drawback. You didn’t want to get soap in your eyes and wander about the stern. Falling into the Philippine Sea from a moving vessel can ruin your entire evening.

 

We arrived off Yap about midnight. Everyone who has sailed the South Pacific knows that you can smell the islands before you see them. Yap had what was called a "15-miles light"—the only lighted aid on the island. As mentioned previously, we had nothing like radar. I just knew we were going to end up on the reef as several other Japanese freighters had done. At any rate, we finally spied the light and lay off until morning, then entered the harbor. It was a trick getting through the reef; the opening was very narrow and there were only day markers to navigate by.

The CGC KUKUI had deployed a mooring buoy in the middle of the harbor some time previously, which we tied up to. The only person who went ashore was the skipper who made arrangements to pump our asphalt into a large barge. We completed this transfer within a couple of days, then headed back to Guam.

While we moored in harbor the cook would dump scraps from chow over the side from the well deck. We were probably 150 yards from the beach at the closest point when the ship would swing. I don’t think a piece of garbage got more than 20 yards from the ship before sharks devoured it. I had never seen so many, not to mention nasty-looking sea snakes.

Back Again

Our second trip was somewhat more eventful. It started out bad. While trying to tie up to the Alaska Bear, a Pacific Far East Line freighter that was carrying our asphalt, we collided with them. We were completely empty—a tanker without ballast is a tricky thing to maintain control of. At any rate, we backed down on the Alaska Bear and damaged several of her engine room frame members. The YO had a tremendous rub rail, so there was no damage to us.

After nesting with the Alaska Bear, we commenced pumping asphalt into the YO. During this evolution a 6-inch pipe broke and sprayed asphalt over everything. Our crew immediately started cleaning up with diesel fuel and rags. I asked the Bosun aboard the Alaska Bear if he was going to clean up the mess on his ship. He said, "No, it would cost the company too much money to break out the crew and clean it up."

After completing the job we were ready to get underway. I saw a fellow on the Bear with a can of beer in his hand just standing around and asked if he would throw our lines off. He said, "Can’t do that, it’s the seaman’s job." A seaman finally came out on deck, threw off our lines and we were underway.

We arrived at Yap without further incident; instead of mooring out in the harbor, we tied up alongside the pier near the hospital. I was in charge of the 5-man duty section and we commenced pumping into the barge while the remainder of the crew hit the beach.

There are three bars on Yap. The Trust Territory bar/lounge, a bar near the pier where we moored, and a bar located some distance from the ship along a canal. The skipper drank at the Trust Territory bar and the crew at the other two.

Later in the day towards evening, the crew started returning to the ship, all completely inebriated. I was told there was a detachment of Navy ordinance people temporarily on the island to find and detonate old WW II bombs. These two forces, Coast Guard and Navy, met at the bar by the canal and the fights commenced.

Once back aboard with no more Navy guys to whip on, our crew started fighting with each other and generally raising hell. About this time the skipper came back aboard. Naturally, he tried to settle the crew down and maintain some order. One of the SNs started giving him some grief, so he retreated to his cabin and came back on deck with a loaded .45 and announced: "We are getting underway."

Of course it was dark by then and my duty section, a QM1, and myself departed the ship and made our own announcement, "By God, we are not getting underway."

With no lighted aids in the harbor, reefs, a tricky approach through the reef at best, and more sharks than you could count, getting underway seemed a little extreme.

The skipper again retreated to his cabin and didn’t make an appearance until the next morning, when all hands made amends and we were all shipmates again. We threw off the lines and were underway for Guam.

It was a rough trip with green water running continuously over our well deck. A typhoon was closing on us and we were trying to make our best speed to avoid it. Early in the evening, somewhere between Yap and Guam, with the swells at 15-feet or so, we went dead in the water, having lost suction on our fuel supply for the main engine—it was being starved of fuel and quit. I immediately prepared a distress message for the skipper. All hands, except for the helmsman and me, left the bridge for the engine room to see if they could lend a hand in getting the main back on line.

In the middle of this confusion I received a CW message from CG Radio Station Guam that an earthquake had occurred somewhere off of Japan and a Tsunami had been generated. Guam was abandoning the radio station for higher ground!

After Guam left me hanging, I started searching for someone to communicate with. I thought about going up on the maritime calling bands and looking for the commercial maritime radio stations KHK, KPH, KFS; however, I heard a Navy vessel working Pearl Harbor Control, contacted him, and made a few exchanges. Then I started looking for CG Loran Station Marcus Island and found him. "Please don’t lose me," I asked.

Being a young fellow and not really understanding the implications of a Tsunami at sea, I totally expected to see these huge waves overwhelm us. The helmsman did, too. I guess you could say we were "mildly" concerned.

At about 2100 we got the main back on line and began making headway. The typhoon was getting closer and the seas were very high. I remember standing on a bridge wing watching the sea. We would go into a trough and you could look just about straight up and see the water. On a crest, it looked like forever downward to the water.

Back in Guam

We finally arrived off Guam and were "surfing" around Orote Point to make an approach on the entrance to Apra Harbor. As we made our approach, trying to hit the split between Orote Point and the Glass breakwater, we met the USNS CORE, a "baby" flattop. She had a deck full of planes that, I believe, were bound for Vietnam. As we bore down on her, our skipper exclaimed, "If we can - - - - with the ALASKA BEAR, we can - - - - with the CORE." We passed the CORE at the harbor entrance with inches to spare!

Tying up at the Coast Guard pier at Cabras Island ended the voyage. I packed up my logs, speed key, and clothes, and reported back to the Commander, Mariannas Section.

I have no idea what happened to YO-257, her crew, or the ship’s logs. However, it was fun for a couple of trips, and I’ll bet no other Coast Guard Radioman has ever sailed as the radio -operator on a Navy tanker.

 

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