Fond Memories of Lightship Duty...
by John Wampler
Fresh out of boot camp (Alameda) in 73 and served as SA/SN aboard into 74 until MK school. Ahhh, the smell of Blue Death and Red Lead paint. Poor Bouy Night at the Base Seattle club.
I remember the Panther Star nearly running us down; we threw nuts and bolts and pinged the hull of the ship while in life jackets around the for'mast.
While repositioning from Base Seattle to Tongue Point, a ship tried to follow us up the North Channel while the bar pilot was looking to board him at the LV that was on station (guess he didn't know what Lima Oscar stands for). And while on the subject of Tongue Point...
Oh MAN!! 17 years old, on my first underway deployment and pulling into CG Base Tongue Point (the back side of an old Navy base) with all the Job Corps women hanging out their barracks windows inviting us to carnal knowledge. The old WWII bunkers with complete bedroom suites!!! The L O N G walk from the CG Base to the front Job Corps gate!! Pretty impressionable for a 17 year old.
While on station, we used to grapple the commercial crab pots within throwing distance. Ran the line through the amidships davit to the windlass. Had a steam kettle welded right on deck. Towards the end of our 4 month station, the pots were getting set farther and farther from the swing of the lightship. EN Chief MAY (acting OinC) started the main and stretched our chain so we could get more crabs!! We ate a kings ransom in Dungeoness Crabs!!!
Remember the XO (steel plate in head from having an 82 shot out from under him in Nam) chain smoking in the wardroom late at night sitting at the typewriter with mountains of crumpled up paper all around him (remember all the missing bolt holes in the wardroom/rec deck bulkhead to peek through?).
Also, when it would rain, water would drip from the main deck into the Rec Room. It was said that the only true watertight compartment on the whole ship was the paint storage locker below the bos'un locker.
Taking and broadcasting wx reports. Swinging the dew point temp thermometer, usually while wearing ear phones cause the horns were blasting (ohh how I would love to hear them diaphones again). The unlimited supply of Small Craft Advisory flags. Getting dragged 8 miles off station in the '100 year storm' winter 74/75 (all the chain run STRAIGHT out).
Puking my guts out riding the 44s from Cape D to the LV (if you're on deck of the LV helping, watch out for the whipping HF antenna on the 44/crew change was an extremely dangerous evolution)).
Watching 800 foot ships 'SURFING' the bar in HUGE swells!!
Christmas replenishment when the crew of the bouy tender were wearing elf hats and blaring Christmas from their bridge wings (we would use an inflatable rubber ducky to float out messenger line back to the tender.)
Fishing for salmon off the fantail; getting into a school of 'doggies;' pulling one on deck, slitting it up and tying a piece of hemp to it then back into the water and watching school of dogs thrashing around it, then opening up with M-16s.. well, no more fishing today.
Actually dialing in the oscilloscope on the LORAN C to compute our position!! The long, lonely night watches were the radio beacon is clicking 'get some p---y, get some p---y and the diaphones blast F__K YOU!!'
And finally, when we pulled our chain during the swap, the CWO sitting Indian style on the capstain with a bottle of Jack going round 'n round laughing like a nut case.
Yep, this crew flew over one too many cuckoo nests. You know, all in all... it was a pretty lonely duty station. But I would sign on again, no questions asked!! We truly are the last of the Old Guard.
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© 2009 USCG Lightship Sailors Association International Inc. Larry Ryan, President