Grounding of the Southwind

by Ralph Breschini


25,000 miles from home the ship hit a pinnacle and started taking on water .......

SOUTHWIND departed Coast Guard Yard, Baltimore, Maryland for "Operation Deep Freeze 68" on 16 November, 1968 with CAPT S. R. Dobler, Commanding Officer. The radio gang of "NMBT" [Southwind’s international call sign] was: ENS Hipkiss, Communications Officer; RMC Roesing, RM-in-Charge; RM1 Wedge; RM1 Ritchie; RM2 Breschini; RM2 Alberly; RM3 Banke; RM3 Dozal; and one other RM3 whose name escapes me at this time.

I had an additional duty, Postal Clerk, with a fully commissioned post office on board.

SOUTHWIND was loaded with tons of food, 3.2 beer for "Happy Hour," a ship’s store full of smokes, goodies and movies for many hours of good entertainment. What else could one need for a cruise to the bottom of the world?

Our first stop was the Naval Weapons Station in Yorktown, Virginia where cargo and ammunition were loaded aboard. Then, on to Craney Island in the Elizabeth River for fuel to the tune of 420,700 gallons, with an additional 11,858 gallons of JP-5 fuel. One more stop at Norfolk, where two HU-2B Navy helicopters were flown aboard and made ready for sea in the hangar on the flight deck.

We departed Norfolk on the 19th of November with stops in the Panama Canal Zone, Valparaiso and Punta Arenas, Chile, where a Navy SeaBee Detachment came aboard.

On November 30, SOUTHWIND crossed the equator and the usual hype and physical activity took place. We who had never crossed the equator before were initiated "to the fullest." We never did find the "golden rivet." One ensign locked himself in his stateroom; when he finally emerged, he really got the works. I felt sorry for him.

CGC Southwind Operating in the Ice

We arrived at Palmer Station, Antarctica on 21 December 1967. Our mission was to provide support for the Sea Bees while they constructed Palmer Station II. One SeaBee fell from scaffolding and was injured quite seriously. Our doctor and corpsman did a great job, but we finally had to take him to Argentina for medical treatment. He ended up going back stateside a short time later.

During the entire cruise, we drilled constantly. GQ, man overboard, fire, everything. We always moaned and groaned, especially if you had just gotten in the sack, but weekends brought Happy Hour, pizza and two cans of beer for each man. One could amass a number of cans if you had the right stuff to trade.

Every couple of weeks, SOUTHWIND would cross Drake Passage and head for Punta Arena, Chile for liberty, some fresh fruit, meat and mail. During one of the visits, "crabs" were brought aboard by some unsuspecting sailors and they spread throughout the berthing area like wildfire. During the day our mattresses and bedding hung out all over the ship. What a sight!

Boxing and wrestling matches were often held in the hangar, so if you had a problem with a shipmate, you could settle it on the mat—rank meant nothing there. The X.O. was invited into the ring by a Chief who had a little more respect for the X.O. when it was all over.

On 21 March 1968, Palmer Station II was finished and a dedication ceremony was planned. All the Sea Bees and two duty sections put on dress uniforms and went ashore for the event. USCGC GLACIER, which was on another ice operation in the area, arrived at our location in time to take part in the dedication.

SOUTHWIND was underway soon after the ceremony was completed and heading north for home when she struck an uncharted rock pinnacle, becoming hard aground. I had just gotten off watch and was in the sack when General Quarters sounded. We had heard and felt the sickening sound of something ripping out the bottom of the vessel. My GQ station was CW operator on 5ии KHz, the international maritime mobile distress and calling frequency. Half-dressed, with life jacket on, the order was given to send an SOS on 5ии KHz. The text, as I remember it, was: "SOS SOS SOS DE NMBT NMBT NMBT USCGC SOUTHWIND (time) (position) TAKING ON WATER AND ARE AGROUND." Well, needless to say, no one responded to the distress call from the bottom of the world. While I was doing my job, the call to the GLACIER from the bridge using 157.1 FM was made to "stop your forward progress, we are aground and taking on water."

The ship’s company performed their assigned tasks flawlessly. Enginemen and damage control personnel knew what had to be done. Our forward dry stores compartment and an area in an engine room was flooded, but water tight integrity was held because of our professionals.

After crossing Drake Passage for the final time with GLACIER as our escort, a thorough inspection was made. It was determined we could make it home. With pumps going on deck keeping the water level down, we pulled into Maryland Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Baltimore on 27 April after traveling more than 25,000 miles during Deep Freeze, completing our mission.

Hats off to a great crew!


Postscript: I was temporarily sitting at the Ice Breaker type desk, Naval Engineering Division in Headquarters when the dispatch came in. The entire maintenance section of ENE went to GQ to assist as much as we could. I am pleased that this story is being told by a crew member thirty years later - Jack


From Coast Guard Stories by Don Gardner


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