Friday, April 24, 2015

USCG Cutter Cartigan - "The Big Storm" by George Copna

Everybody who has sailed aboard ship for any length of time will have a story to tell about a storm. Some are better than others. But basically, they are all good. They provide an insight, for those who will never experience it, of the wonder, along with the sheer terror, that comes of facing waves larger than the vessel in which you are riding. They serve as reminders that we are all just visiting, and all at the mercy of something, at sometime in our lives. Here is George Copna's latest story of the USCG Cutter Cartigan, during which she encounters some very nasty weather. This story takes place around 1961.

THE BIG STORM by George Copna

Once, while on CAMPAT, we were on the tail end of the patrol looking forward to relief. The weather was warm, the seas calm and we were stopped, just drifting at a certain latitude awaiting relief from the CGC SEBAGO out of Pensacola, FL. I was the RM on duty and I heard them, via CW (Morse code) getting underway enroute to relieve us. I copied their radio traffic which included a weather report to 8th CG District New Orleans, LA. The SEBAGO was reporting winds in excess of 60 mph and seas running 25-30 feet. I thought how lucky we were to be in calm seas as opposed to what they were experiencing.

Let me pause here and say that the SEBAGO was literally twice our size at 255 feet as compared to our 125 feet in length. After being relieved of my watch, I went below and hit the rack. I awoke the next morning to some violent ship movements. All the hatches to the exterior decks were 'dogged down' and nobody was permitted outside on deck. The only way to get to the radio shack was through a hatch in the radio shack deck. I climbed up the ladder to relieve the RM on watch and found that we were in the midst of the weather that the SEBAGO had reported. The duty RM advised me that we had absolutely no communications with anybody. The wind and waves had torn away our whip and wire antennae. The only sounds coming from my earphones was loud static.

So, I spent the next four hours standing in the radio shack door watching the helmsman trying to maintain some semblance of a course while plowing into the seas head on. I watched in awe and some fright as we rode up one wave 25-30' and crash down into the trough with a crash. The next wave would cover us up, sometimes to the flying bridge. It was certainly a wild and somewhat frightening ride, and it was the first time I didn't get seasick in rough weather. I guess I was just too scared to think about it.

At one point, a large wave struck the face of the bridge directly and broke out several windows, showering the bridge watch with water and glass shards. This was truly getting to be a worrisome ride! After getting relieved from my watch, I went to the mess deck for some chow - I actually felt good enough to eat. When I got below to the mess deck, I found the cook fore-lonely seated with the evening meal of oyster stew and biscuits sloshing around his feet. So much for chow, so I just went back to my rack.

I was wakened for my next watch (0001-0400) and found we sere still in the maelstrom so all bridge watch standers were still being routed through the radio shack. I hadn't been signed on long before the sliding door that leads to the bridge flew open. A non-rated seaman watchstander stood there and entered the radio shack, endeavoring to close the door behind him. He looked like he had a mouthful of regurgitated stomach contents (a.k.a. vomitus). His abdomen was spasming and his cheeks were puffed out like a chipmunk. I told him I'd shut the door, just get down below, out of the radio shack. He lifted up the electrical matt covering the hatch that led down below - right into officer's country. He finally got the hatch open and literally slid down the ladder, hitting the deck HARD! This sudden stop caused him to lose control of his ability to maintain control of the contents in his mouth and he sprayed the area with its contents. He then had to clean up the stinking mess.

We rode like this for close to another day before the storm subsided and the seas began to calm themselves. If my memory serves me correctly, we had ended up in the 7th CG District waters (we were assigned to the 8th CG District).

We limped home, beat up, torn up, canvas all gone from fore & aft, port & starboard, low on fresh water and food and very tired. We finally made it into our home port two days longer than we were supposed to be out. St. Andrew's Marina never looked so good!!

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