THE HIGH WINDS OF NOVEMBER 1944

By Donald H. Ward

 

The Beach Apparatus used in this story is no more. Some Coast Guardsmen of long time service believe that this gear was never used, it was only something to drill with. This story tells what happened when the lines get fouled and panic set in  pulling a survivor off a wrecked boat in a near hurricane.

Beach Cart Drill

It was on Cape Cod that the storms really raised havoc when they struck. I had been stationed there for a short after coming out of Signal School in New York. I wasn’t to pleased with the way the rates were handed out after three months of classes. I had worked my butt off and I was pretty good with flashing light and  skivvie waving. Unfortunately I was number 103 in a class of 500 that went through the school.

A group of us were sent back to Boston and waited for orders to the next duty station. Four of us were transferred to Sandwich Mass. COTP (Captain Of The Port) Cape Cod Canal entrance. I was still a striker as far as I was concerned and figured I would be pounding the beaches again. We arrived to find that there was more then met the eye at this station. There were Officers from all branches of the service. The Coast Guard was the basic service. There also was HECP Army, COTP Navy, and a barracks full of Spars. They were assigned to most of the paper work and operated the radio room. You guessed it they were all shapes and sizes;  from Redheads to Blondes.

Upon arrival we were assigned to the signal tower and given our duty roster for watches. This was better then I expected, no beach duty, and was doing signal duty. It was not very long when I was asked if I would take the test for signalman from one of the Officers. He had remarked that I was good and should have a rate. Well it finally came to pass I made SM3c and you could not touch me with a ten foot pole I was walking about 3 feet off the ground. (ed. note -- Our hero must have been walking with a 15 degree starboard list.)

The duty was good as was the food. I believe that the food was so good because of the amount of Gold Braid at the station.

After about Two months I was assigned duty on the Lightship 116, Chesapeake that was on Examination Duty, anchored out in Cape Cod Bay. She was in the center of the bay where all shipping had to pass through the canal when headed south.

I had just returned from compensatory leave and was at the station awaiting transportation back to the ship. The weather was not the best for return trip as there had been storm warnings posted and we were in for a big blow. The wind did not worry me as I had been through a few when pulling duty on the Portland Pilot Boat in Maine. I had experienced some strong gales and one hurricane along with some real cold winters. The wind had started blowing about 40 to 45 knots and was just over gale force.

Some shipping had to be held up out side in the bay because of trouble with a ship transiting through to New York South bound. There was an Ocean Going Tug with three barges heading south and they were detained because of problems in the canal and had to anchor off shore. In the mean time we found out that a ship had gone aground on the other end of the canal and was on the sand bar off Cleveland Ledge Light. All hands turned to and went to the rescue site with the Beach Apparatus to take anyone off if need be. I was in the jeep with a Chief. We could not see to well as the sand was blowing so bad that it blurred the windshield of the jeep. The sand was cutting like a knife I had drawn hat down to protect my face.

All went OK and the ship just stayed and waited for high tide to move off the bar. No one was hurt, just the Captains pride for doing such a stupid thing. He had plied these waters for many years and never had such a thing happen before.

All went back to the canal entrance at Sandwich and stowed the gear back in the building. The wind had picked up now to 60 knots and was gusting much higher. It was about an hour or so later when some one heard a SOS being sounded by one of the donkey men on one of the barges just off the entrance to the canal. They were having trouble pumping water to stay afloat. The tug that was hauling these barges had tied up at the entrance and was waiting clearance to go through. The Captain had made one trip and had taken one barge to the other end and anchored it in Buzzards Bay. On hearing the whistle blowing the SOS signal the Captain started out to bring the barges into the canal for safety.

The tug went to help the barges and bring them in but things just did not work out for the best.

They came along side of the barge to throw a line to tow them but the hawser dropped short and caught in the rudder of the tug and they lost control. It was about this time the Coast Guard went into action with a boat was assigned to assist the tug. All attempts failed. The Coast Guard tried everything to get the tug in tow but to no avail. They were headed for the rocks that lay just a short way from them and the Coast Guard had to call off their rescue attempt.

At this point the Breach Apparatus was again broke out and brought to the scene of the Tug Boat that had gone aground on the rocks. The towboat had really hit the rocks hard and was being brutally battered by the waves. The Beach Apparatus was in place and the operation to save lives was in progress once more by the Coast Guard. The wind was now blowing over hurricane force at times, the gusts would exceed 100 MPH, and the spray was blowing back inland almost a quarter mile.

The beach crew proceeded to take men off by breeches buoy and all was going as well as could be under the conditions that we were working. While this operation was taking place the Coast Guard had gone and taken the men from the barges and brought them ashore safely.

All hands were taken from the towboat all except for Captain Givens who was the last to leave.

He proceeded to get into the breaches Buoy and come ashore. He was about halfway to shore when a wave hit the Tug and sent it up on the rocks higher and then it slipped back into the water.

At this point the hawser that the breaches buoy was riding on snapped and the Captain went into the water. It seems that at this point all hands panicked and everyone was pulling one a line to get the Captain ashore. They didn't realize that they were pulling the wrong lanyard and the Captain was headed back for his vessel. The waves were quite high and breaking awash on the shore about four to five feet high. I noticed that the Captain was not getting closer to shore and without hesitation, I took off my jacket and boots, and I dove into the surf and was instantly thrown back up on the beach. I again dove back into the water and with some experience life saving I stayed lower to the bottom and went out with the undertow. I reached the Captain and he was down into the breeches buoy and had a suitcase under his arm. As we came up for air at one point I told him to drop the bag. At this point I was standing on the breeches buoy and pulling him up so as to clear the ring and swim back to shore. All of this took about one minute and I swear thought I would freeze to death before getting ashore. We cleared the buoy and were on our way to shore I had him under one arm and he was gasping for air but we made it safely.

The men on shore grabbed Captain Givens and rushed him to safety. I had to pick up my own damn boots and jacket and walk back to the station, but on arrival the Chief Pharmacist's Mate met me and had a cup of hot coffee for me as I changed my clothes. That was the best damn coffee I had ever drank it was 10 percent Coffee and 90 percent alcohol; what a cocktail. Even the ships mascot Jock the dog was saved. One of the crew jumped over the side and swam ashore prior to us  setting up the beach gear.

Things settled down and some one called the news papers and flashing light bulbs and questions so fast I just went to the head and stayed until all calmed down.

I received a letter from Captain Givens after he had returned to his home on Long Island New York. In his letter he thanked me and said he was very pleased that I had stopped him from trying to drink all the salt water in Cape Cod Bay. He said  he was getting another vessel and if I ever needed a job he would hire me as one of his deck hands. All turned out for the best I went back to the Big Red Boat and on to more experiences in the US COAST GUARD.

                                                                                   

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