Monday, January 23, 2017

2017 NDAA addresses ship scrapping, maritime heritage funding

An update to earlier posts related to the legislative actions surrounding the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017. Public Law 114-328 was signed into law by President Obama on 23 December 2016, a month ago today. The text of the NDAA is located here:

The language related to STORIS and ship disposition is located under Section 3507 -- Use of National Defense Reserve Fleet Scrapping Proceeds. As you may recall, the specific language dealing with STORIS and many aspects of the underhanded actions of MARAD and other federal agencies was systematically stripped from the draft language by career bureaucrats and legislators sympathetic to MARAD and unfriendly to our position. That forced our side to pursue the legislative angles we were interested in on behalf of STORIS in a piecemeal fashion and without specific reference to STO.

As far as Maritime Heritage Grant Funding, Section 3507 returns decision-making authority regarding maritime heritage grant funding to the Department of Interior (National Park Service). The National Maritime Heritage Act of 1994 created the maritime heritage grant program.  The program was supposed to be funded by 25% of the proceeds from the sale of obsolete vessels located in the National Defense Reserve Fleet. The Department of Interior was responsible for determining the disposition of these funds. In recent years, MARAD has instead been hoarding the money.

In 2009, on behalf of the Maritime Administration, Congress amended the National Maritime Heritage Act and directed that MARAD not the Department of Interior determine how the maritime heritage grant funds were to be allocated.  MARAD then used the funds to collect agency employee oral histories and repair models within its own collection.

Now that authority has been rightfully returned to the Department of Interior/National Park Service, which means that there will now be more funds available for the 1000+ maritime heritage organizations that are already struggling to find funding in this tight economy. 

Section 3507 also requires MARAD to create an annual list of all government vessels available for disposal in the next five years.  This inventory will give MARAD greater awareness of the number and type of vessels for which it will be responsible.

Such a request was already posted to CG RADM Joseph Vojvodich by Congressman Garret Graves (R-La.) during a hearing last February. This was within the context of a discussion about CG Cutters during which STORIS’ illegal export to Mexico was specifically brought up by Congressman Graves. I am looking to see if there is any update to that request of the CG. If a response is available, I will share what I find.

The law also creates the expectation that MARAD, not GSA, is the federal agency responsible for the disposal of obsolete vessels. This is a huge development as GSA should never have been involved with the disposition of STORIS as her tonnage exceeded the 1,500-ton statutory limit to GSA’s involvement. Above that limit, MARAD should have had jurisdiction as the federal government’s lone authority for government ship disposal. This also applied to the 2011 excessing and disposition through auction of the CGC ACUSHNET and several NOAA research ships auctioned throughout 2014 and 2015.

Lastly, entities interested in acquiring an obsolete vessel for museum purposes will now have more information about which ships will be available.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

17 January 1972 - Russian fishing vessels LAMUT and KOLJVAN caught illegally fishing US waters, seized by STORIS

In one of her more dramatic law enforcement missions, on January 17, 1972, STORIS found two Soviet fishing vessels within the territorial waters of the United States. Radar picked up the two vessels inside the protective zone and upon further investigation, STORIS found the 278-foot fishing vessel, KOLJVAN offloading its catch to the 362-foot fish processor LAMUT in violation of U.S. laws. STORIS sent armed boarding parties aboard each of the Soviet ships and ordered them to the naval base in Adak, Alaska. 

While the ships were in route to Adak, LAMUT attempted to flee with the Coast Guard boarding party still on board. After an intense one-hour chase, STORIS’ CO, Commander William P. Allen, received permission from the commandant to fire a shot across the bow of LAMUT. STORIS sent a message to LAMUT that she was prepared to open fire and the Soviet vessel stopped. STORIS arrested both Russian masters and took them into custody aboard the cutter. All three ships arrived in Adak and charges were assessed against the two Russian ships.

In the end, the Soviets paid $80,000 in fines and $170,000 in an out-of-court arrangement with the United States, marking an end to the event. Afterwards, the Coast Guard awarded STORIS with a Unit Commendation in Seattle. CDR Allen received a Meritorious Service Medal and the boarding party officers received Commendation Medals. After her dogged pursuit of the Soviet vessels, STORIS earned the nickname “Galloping Ghost of the Alaskan Coast.” 

Here she is moored alongside LAMUT.

17 January 1956 - Juneau Cold Storage Fire

On January 17, 1956, CGC STORIS led the waterborne firefighting efforts when the Juneau Cold Storage facility caught fire. A major business serving the Southeastern Alaska fishing industry, the conflagration threatened several neighboring businesses including the Alaska Steamship Line dock and hangars of Alaska Coastal Airlines. The navigation crew of STORIS gently eased her bow against the shoreline and held her there as the deck crew directed streams of water across the adjacent street in an effort to suppress the fire and keep the flames from spreading to other buildings.

Photos 6, 18, 25 and 38 in the USCGC STORIS Album on USCG Base Kodiak's Facebook page have additional photos of the efforts, including the after effects on STORIS' paintwork from getting so close to the scorching flames. The photos were taken by EM2 Al Cottle and were shared with Base Kodiak by his widow, Luanne Heiner Cottle.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

TAMAROA reefing on hold pending PCB test results

The ex-CGC TAMAROA is still waiting to be reefed pending results of PCB testing. This is one of the main issues we have with STORIS being sent out of the country for scrap, since it is almost certain that she had PCBs on board in various cables and original paints. Exporting PCBs is illegal under the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976...

FOIA Appeal sent to CG - Effort now over three years old

The response to the CG FOIA Release of 7 October went out this afternoon. The text is as follows:

27 December, 2016

Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard  - STOP 7710
2703 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE 
Washington, DC 20593-7710
Staff Symbol: CG-611

RE: Final Response - FOIA Appeal 2014-025

Dear ADM Zukunft (CAPT Michael Ryan), CAPT Messale, et al --

I am writing in response to the “final response” from the U.S. Coast Guard dated 7 October 2016 regarding the above-referenced FOIA request and associated appeal. Despite the lengthy amount of time that elapsed between the submission of my appeal in November 2015 and the CG response in October 2016, the answer from the U.S. Coast Guard is still deficient in that the Coast Guard’s efforts to fulfill the original request was insufficient/incomplete. This matter should still be considered open.

In a general observation, there is a ridiculous amount of over-redaction throughout the documentation. One of the main purposes of FOIA is to prevent the government from hiding information about its operations and to provide accountability. Hiding the circumstances around the actions of government employees and officials to prevent a range of response from embarrassment to prosecution is certainly not a legitimate reason for the government to withhold information. This flies in the face of what FOIA is intended to do. Though his administration is now over, when he was taking office in 2009, President Barack Obama issued a letter to all Federal department heads to supposedly usher in a new era of open government. 

This withholding of information is inconsistent with the transparency and good government guidelines established by President Obama in his Open Government Initiative announced in 2009. 

The President’s instructions were very clear: 

“Government should be transparent.  Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.  Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use... “ 

And further:

“A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency. As Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” In our democracy, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government. At the heart of that commitment is the idea that accountability is in the interest of the Government and the citizenry alike.

The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.

All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government.  The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA…”  

This openness is also backed up by then-Attorney General Eric Holder in his March 2009 memorandum related to FOIA.   

“First, an agency should not withhold information simply because it may do so legally. I strongly encourage agencies to make discretionary disclosures of information. An agency should not withhold records merely because it can demonstrate, as a technical matter, that the records fall within the scope of a FOIA exemption. 

… But as the President stated in his memorandum, ‘The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.’ 

… FOIA professionals should be mindful of their obligation to work ‘in a spirit of cooperation’ with FOIA requesters, as President Obama has directed. Unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles have no place in the ‘new era of open Government’ that the President has proclaimed.”

Coast Guard officials assert that the redaction of the STORIS documents released on 7 October is necessary to protect the privacy of those whose names were redacted. The problem is that we are not asking for private information related to these Coast Guard officials and officers. This isn’t matter of invading anyone’s privacy by requesting addresses, birthdays or Social Security numbers. These emails and documents are directly related to official actions these officers carried out as part of their duty in service to the U.S. Coast Guard. This is not protected personal information or other sensitive data to justify redaction. It appears to simply be an attempt by the Coast Guard to arbitrarily redact and hide the identity of various officers and officials who do not want to be associated with the destruction of the ship. There has been a backlash from STORIS Veterans and members of the public who cared about that cutter. Now the agency involved wants to hide the involvement of those responsible. The arbitrary nature of the redaction becomes clear when you realize that other officers’ names were not redacted, up to the rank of RADM. The actions and comments within this context is official action within the official capacities of these officers and officials as part of the U.S. Coast Guard. This redaction of these STORIS-related documents is an overreaction and overreach to my request.

The specific problems that were not addressed in the Coast Guard’s response of 7 October are very similar to the issues I pointed out with my last appeal letter submitted on 15 November 2015. These are as follows:

1. The response did not address at all the missing hazardous materials manifests and remediation documentation that was requested in the original submission of 4 November 2013. 

Once again, it is my understanding from speaking with several retired Coast Guard officers that it is a routine procedure that once a cutter has been decommissioned from Coast Guard service, the associated records and documentation for that cutter are removed from the Technical Library/Office of Cutter Forces. At the time of my original FOIA request of 4 Nov. 2013, the CGC STORIS had been decommissioned almost seven full years. Therefore, as a matter of procedure, the records associated with CGC STORIS would have been purged well before my inquiry. Yet the Coast Guard has responded that a comprehensive search of Cutter Forces records was undertaken, at a facility – according to operating procedure – that would no longer serve as a repository for those records. 

One overall question becomes a matter of what the full procedure for the records purge involves. Are the records for decommissioned cutters disposed of/destroyed or are they moved to a separate archival facility somewhere else, such as the National Archives and Records Administration? The only records for STORIS that are immediately identifiable within NARA holdings are some Night Order books, many ship’s logbooks in Washington, DC, and a drawing set at the NARA facility at College Park, MD. Again, to say that a full search of the Cutter Forces facility was performed when that facility as a matter of procedure would no longer hold the requested records is quite disingenuous.

There is also the matter of the “completeness” of the described search.

2. Attached is an email from retired Commandant Papp to Jim Loback, president of the STORIS Museum. Copied on this email is current Commandant Paul Zukunft. It’s likely that there are other such communications and documents within Coast Guard holdings. Once Admiral Papp became involved, he would have sent correspondence related to this issue to his Chief Counsel (Judge Advocate General) and to Coast Guard Congressional Affairs.  I have received none of these related emails. In addition, these other parties would have responded via email as it is standard practice for Coast Guard senior leadership to communicate internally for these types of matters using the email system. It is also likely there was other correspondence among the officers involved to discuss further this situation with the ship. Again, we didn't receive anything of the sort.

3. Another critical document not provided by the U.S. Coast Guard is the “Specifications for the Lay Up Preparations of USCGC STORIS (WMEC-38) May 2007,” prepared by the U.S. Coast Guard Maintenance and Logistics Command Pacific Naval Engineering Division. This document was obtained by searching other U.S. government resources, and was not provided by the Coast Guard. This is particularly problematic considering it contains specific information directly related to the request. There is also likely a separate stream of communications from within the Coast Guard related to the creation of this document. There would also be communication between the Coast Guard and the external contractors who performed the work. We have seen nothing related to this document.

4. Pages 28-29 of the materials released on 7 October directly reference a MISLE report for a vessel inspection performed on STORIS on 3 September 2013. The email correspondence discusses the report directly, but the Coast Guard did not provide an actual copy of the report, which is likely No. 4706182 based on the link, which obviously cannot be accessed outside the CG computer servers. This is an obvious deficiency for the response. The correspondence is attached for reference.

These examples clearly demonstrate that there are materials that exist related to CGC STORIS and her excessing, sale and disposal that the U.S. Coast Guard did not send in response to my FOIA inquiry.

As stated previously, STORIS was a nationally significant historic ship listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This recognition should have encouraged her preservation and interpretation for posterity, following established Federal law, best practices and precedent. Instead, she received expedited destruction at the hands of the Federal Government bureaucracy. There is keen interest in how this great ship was allowed to be destroyed and an expectation of full transparency from this administration.

Your attention to this matter is greatly appreciated.


Jon A. Ottman

on behalf of the STORIS Museum of Juneau, Alaska (dissolved 2014), The Last Patrol Museum of Toledo, Ohio 
as well as the veterans and supporters of the USCGC STORIS

CC: Nikki Gramian, Office of Government Information Systems, NARA
Ref OGIS File No. 201400438 - USCG FOIA 2014-0566 of Nov. 4, 2013 re: USCGC STORIS (WMEC-38)   

Danielle Ivory, New York Times

31 December marks four years for STORIS on National Register

Four years ago,  USCGC STORIS was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, officially recognized as nationally significant and worthy of historic preservation with her listing on Dec. 31, 2012.

Just a few short months later, the same U.S. government that recognized the ship as nationally significant and supposedly worthy of preservation sold her to a shady scrap merchant who then held the ship hostage in an extortion scheme over the summer. The government then allowed the ship to be illegally exported for dismantling in Mexico.

We are still left to ask WHY?

This was no ordinary ship... This was STORIS, Queen of the Fleet, Bulldog of the Bering and Galloping Ghost of the Alaskan Coast.

It is sad to read knowing her ultimate fate, but her exploits and history are forever enshrined in the National Register documents. Section 7, uploaded at, is a physical description of the ship as well as a description of the ship's evolution over time. Section 8, uploaded at, is the narrative history of the ship.

If you haven't already done so, please read these documents to fully understand what we have lost. We should be walking her decks and admiring fresh paint in Toledo where she was born. Instead, we only have black and white on paper to remember her.

And for this is why we fight for accountability with the STORIS Act legislation and various components of similar legislation. We know there are issues with bureaucratic corruption and incompetence from what we have gleaned from the various FOIA releases we have received in the last three years. And yet we are still waiting for answers as we are owed more in the way of FOIA. 

It's been over three years since we lost STORIS but there is still work to be done. 

Best wishes to STORIS Supporters in the New Year and I look forward to continued correspondence with all of you.

Remember your friends, remember good times gone by.
Remember the Mighty STO!

A STORIS Sea Story for Christmas by BM3 Malcolm Robert Dick

Everybody likes a good story at the holidays. But just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean that the hard-working vessels and crews of the US Coast Guard get any slack. Forty-nine years ago, in December 1967, the cutter STORIS and her crew were having a busy month, with search and rescue, a burial at sea and heavy weather complicating their efforts. A boatswain's mate aboard ship, BM3 Malcolm Robert Dick, recorded the experiences of the crew in a letter home to his parents. To look back, it's amazing to read of what serving on STORIS was like in heavy weather, even more so to realize it was "just another day at the office" for that brave ship and crew. Reposted with permission from Mr. Dick.

Accompanied by a STORIS Christmas card posted recently by Ray Rebmann, Jr. to his Fred’s Place Tribute Facebook page and a photo of STORIS taken from the stricken freighter STEEL FLYER by David Dent…  More photos are on the way and can be posted once I have them in hand.


Friday, 8 December 1967 

Dear Mom and Dad, 

CG Cutter STORIS is underway as before in the Gulf of Alaska some two hundred miles south of Kodiak. Our course is 185 degrees T, enroute an unknown position four hundred miles 
off Kodiak to intercept and tow, standby or destroy a drifting Foss Tug barge. I am sitting on the mess deck writing this as we churn our way south. 

We’ve been involved in this search and rescue (SAR) mission since 0500 Monday morning and probably will be involved with it until the middle of next week; it’s been one SNAFU after another. A combination of both in port and underway weather and events has made it difficult to write. 

The last two weeks are good examples of why no one in his right mind would live on or near Kodiak Island. The wind rarely has dropped below 40 knots since Thanksgiving and last week was one solid williwaw. We guys in the deck department have been on the go checking mooring lines, replacing broken gear and generally keeping the ship where it should be at the fuel pier. 

Maybe my mood is affected by the departure of – or soon to be departed – friends, Mike Usilton, Duane Kennedy and Steve Derry. Mike already left for 40 days leave, after which he goes to USCG Group Chincoteague about 50 miles from his home. Duane also is taking 40 days leave to Iowa and will return to duty at Portland, Oregon. Steve Derry, my bunkmate for the past year leaves in less than two weeks, and is headed for Texas. Man, I’m going to miss my buddies. 

Ok, enough whining and back to the story… 

The real wind began last Wednesday; it blew hard all night and quieted during the day. By Friday, it just got stronger as the day wore on. I had the duty Friday and stayed up late to watch mooring lines, all of which were taking a heavy strain. It blew 40 to 50 knots all day Saturday, and I stayed aboard ship. CITRUS returned Saturday with a full load of ice; her bow and everything forward of the bridge covered with six inches of ice. One of her crewmen slipped on an icy deck and somehow pulled his kneecap half off. I didn’t see him but understand he was in a lot of pain. 

Mr. Rudolph called me to the wardroom early Sunday morning to give me the day’s skinny, since I had the duty. A large storm was working its way up the Aleutian Chain and two other systems were converging with it in the Gulf of Alaska. Nice. By 0900, Sunday, the wind was a steady 60-70 knots with gusts of 80-95 miles per hour, blowing us directly off the pier. 

We had every mooring line, breast line and even tow hawsers set to keep us moored. By 1200, Sunday, winds were 80-90 knots with gusts to 120 +. Our anemometer only goes to 120. The winds ripped enormous sheets of spray off the bay, blasting over the ship, all in bright sunshine. At one point, the anemometer gauge unwound back to zero, a little strange. One glance up the mast told us why: the anemometer propeller was gone. 

The Captain was aboard all day and spent much of that time on the bridge. He told us he probably would have gotten the ship underway and out of the harbor had he known the storm’s severity. I’m sure he was right but the pier looked pretty good compared to what the sea must’ve looked like in 120 knots of wind. However, there was no way we could get underway for sea, as we would have blown ashore had we tried to cast off. 

All mooring lines were taught to the point of parting. Line 5 actually smoked it was so tight. We were afraid to slack any of the lines, but, in the end, had to adjust for the tides. By the way, it is also bitter cold, well below freezing. 

CITRUS got a recall about noon, Sunday, but couldn’t get underway till 1500 when the wind slacked enough for her to spring off Marginal Pier. She had the opposite problem we did: the wind kept her plastered against the pier tight as hell. Her SAR was a fish boat that dragged anchor and was going aground in Puale Bay, across Shelikof Strait. The crew of the F/V ST ANTHONY reportedly was abandoning ship, near suicide in this weather. I say, “was” because it’s been almost a week now and CITRUS still is looking. Not much chance for the fish boat crew. CITRUS is looking for bodies now. 

The wind hit again, harder, about chow time, Sunday, and blew with no let-up during the night. The entire deck crew was up all night keeping the ship secure. About 2100, I was down below, aft, and heard a tremendous, “BANG!” I scrambled into my foul weather gear (walking and standing on deck was impossible…you kind of pulled yourself from point to point) and hustled topside to see what had busted. It turned our line six, our stern line – ½” 
cable –parted at the chock. The noise we heard below was the fairlead and parted line slapping the fantail deck. We replaced the cable with 5” nylon tow hawser, bowsed with chafing gear, and went below to find hot cocoa or coffee. 

All was relatively quiet till 0400, Monday morning, when one of the guys (we took turns making rounds of the mooring lines) noticed the hawser parting at the chock. By the time we got dressed and on deck, one strand was taking the strain. We got the bad part aboard, the hawser reset, all just in time to go gulp more hot coffee and then prepare the ship to get underway for a SAR call. A little easier said than done, I might add… 

This is where the story of the barge really begins (By the way, we’re back in port now and I’m writing this letter on the bridge. Everyone on the mess deck thinks I’m writing an encyclopedia.). 

No one has time to eat and we have little desire, knowing what probably lies ahead at sea. We are anxious about the boat ride out to the barge, wherever the hell it is. STORIS is ready to get underway by 0800 but mooring stations aren’t set until 1015. There isn’t much point standing in the wind until we have a reasonable chance of getting away from the more reason why we will follow our skipper to hell and back. The Captain watches the wind for what seems like hours; when it lulls for a moment, we cast off everything holding us to the pier (including buoy chain by this time,) and depart the pier at close to full power, nearly washing poor old USS KODIAK ashore in the process. That’s the most excitement those guys have had in years! 

The wind steadies to 40-50 knots once we clear Kodiak and we ride pretty well in a following sea. It is crystal clear and the sea surface is covered in six feet of tattered “sea-smoke,” and it seems like we are sailing over puffy cotton ripping by a lot faster than Storis will ever go. As we get further to sea, the seas rise considerably and sleep is out of the question. I have the mid-watch and get to lie in my rack for a while, anyway. 

We find the barge with our radar about 0400 Tuesday and chase it till noon. The weather is deteriorating (yes, it actually gets worse) and it is impossible to put a boat over the side to transfer towing gear to the barge. About noon, it becomes immaterial as we are ordered to secure from our barge to assist Alaska Roughneck, the tug that lost the barge. She evidently is making heavy weather of it and in her skipper’s words, “Don’t know exactly where we are.” So, we are supposed to find and assist these guys somewhere in 
thousands of square miles of really ugly ocean. Jeez. 

We finally get RDF bearings on Roughneck and spend the rest of the day cruising around the North Pacific looking for him. By Wednesday morning, we are still looking, with seas building into the significant class. Did I add that no one is able to sleep? Or get hot meals? 

A CG aircraft finally finds Roughneck 50 miles offshore and gives us the position, which is a lot closer to Kodiak than we are. That puts our course right into steep, nasty seas that later cause us to come about and run with the seas for a time to fix stuff that came adrift earlier. Cargo secured on the well deck washes from its moorings, the LCVP is full of ice and salt water; the anchors are loose in their hawse pipes, a block on the starboard ready 
boat fails, allowing the strongback to fall to the deck; and the port well-deck door is broke, so we tie it shut and finally close fresh air vents on the 01 deck that allow salt water into parts of the ship not built for that kind of foolishness. The power of water is amazing. 

We locate the tug on radar about midnight, just as he pulls into a nice calm bay on Sitkinak Island. We are ordered to return to Kodiak, sick of the barge, the tug, the North Pacific, and everything associated with this SAR. Not to mention we are going on five days with little or no sleep and mainly sandwiches for food. 

We arrive Kodiak at 0900 Thursday morning, only to be told we must immediately get underway to recover Mr. Foss’s goddamned barge. The skipper’s reaction is priceless. He strings words together to describe the situation in terms most lumberjacks would admire. We couldn’t agree more. We also wonder why Mr. Foss’s own tugboat isn’t assigned the job. 

We are underway, again, by Thursday, noon, with an additional passenger, a recently deceased Captain Frank Curry, who evidently expressed a desire to be buried at sea. 

It might have been okay if the body had come complete with box or casket, but no such luck. Capt. Curry arrives trussed up in a canvas bag appropriately embalmed and weighted with 350 pounds of lead. Several of us seamen cart the departed Captain from a station wagon to the fantail where it falls to me to secure the body against the superstructure. We Bosuns make our duly appointed rounds at night, which requires us to check and see if the Captain is still with us. Brrrrr. 

Friday morning finds us underway as before in deteriorating (I hate that word) weather, building seas, snow, wind, all the ingredients needed to send Capt Curry to his reward. We aren’t in a giant hurry to find the barge, which, by this time drifts 500 miles out, so we stop and commit Capt Curry to the deeps. All hands muster on the fantail and I have the dubious honor of being a pallbearer. The skipper reads from his seaman’s bible and, “commits the body unto the deeps.” Splash... 

It will be a very, very cold day before they do that to me. 

Seas are rough, but we search the entire day for the damned barge. CG Station Kodiak tries to send out an airplane to help us search but the weather is bad. No kidding. We figure that out all by ourselves. By now the barge could be almost anywhere in the North Pacific. 

The weather improves on Sunday, enough so that a CG amphibian (we call them “Fighter Bombers”) locates the barge at 1400 hours. It is 80 miles NE of us from a poor LORAN fix by the aircraft. Our airborne friend loses an engine and returns to Kodiak for afternoon tea. Needless to say, our search is fruitless. The plane returns on Monday and finds the barge some 50 miles NE of us. 

It’s pretty ironic that the barge drifts from just off Sitkinak to 500 miles at sea and now is drifting back towards Kodiak. Seems the only way for Storis to get out of the North Pacific is to follow the barge ashore. 

We prepare to take the barge under tow all day Monday, which entails raising the A/C crane to its full vertical position, then rotating it 180 degrees to secure it to the mast and a bulkhead. It is a ticklish operation at sea, because the lifting cables go way slack in the fairleads allowing the cables to jump the shivs if things go wrong. We know that, but we need the crane out of the way. 

I am on the well deck about 1115, looking aft down the starboard side of the 01 deck as the ship takes a deep starboard roll. As it reaches the depth of its roll, I hear a loud “BANG,” and watch the A/C fall outboard over the starboard side. I don’t see it hit the deck but I sure as hell hear and feel it, as the ship vibrates for several seconds. It takes me about two seconds to reach the fantail, where I see the A/C draped over the starboard warping winch, hanging outboard, dragging in the water. By some miracle, no one is hurt although there are several white faces staring over the side. 

As far as we can tell, the lines slipped their shivs and jammed so they were immovable. The ship’s hard roll caused the crane to move on its base turntable, come up hard on the now immovable cables, cutting them like butter, sending the crane to the deck. Really hard. It is bent and twisted, hanging over the side, severed lines hanging; every time the ship rolls to starboard, the crane groans and shifts from the force of the water. It is only a matter of time till something really bad happens like a line getting in the screw. That is big trouble. Over the next hour, our First Class Boats, Vandervest, crawls out on the crane (hanging over the side in a substantial sea) where he clips together the topping lift line so we can raise the crane from the water. I volunteer to operate the controls and raise the crane to the deck, which goes without incident. But not without a couple of fervent prayers for those six cable clips! We all had to write statements and I had to wait a few minutes for my hands to quit shaking. 

We finally arrive at the barge by 1500, an hour later than planned. The ready boat is lowered, no mean feat in the large swell and sea that is running. The boat crew is supposed to secure a light line on the barge’s towline so we could bring it aboard and use the barge’s towline to tow the barge. Cdr. Hein, our XO, brings the ship close aboard the barge on our port side to assist our boat crew in the towline exchange from the small boat to the ship. 

Good plan in theory. We are all on the port side watching the operation when it quickly becomes obvious the barge is setting down on Storis a whole lot faster than anyone anticipates. For a moment, it looks like the port ready boat davits; along with any stray ship parts on the port side will be forcibly removed. By the time Storis clears the barge, there are maybe ten or twelve feet separating us. Remember, there is a large swell and six more 
feet of wind waves on top of the swells. One moment, we are many feet above the barge; the next moment, the barge seems ready to launch itself onto our fantail. All of us on the fantail watch it all unfold, fascinated, from the starboard side. 

I am responsible for getting a heaving line, with messenger line, to the ready boat, which I do. The ready boat crew intends to put a sling under the barge’s tow hawser and reave the messenger line through the tow straps. We would take aboard the messenger till we retrieve the barge’s 3” Manila hawser (none too big for an ocean going barge, by the way), which we will bring aboard to our port warping winch, allowing us to secure the towline to our main tow bitt. Hope that makes some sense. You probably had to be there to understand it. 

Seas are rising fast and it is getting dark. We do not recover the barge’s towline and still have a boat away in seas quickly getting nasty. The prudent decision is to secure, which we do. Too bad. We could’ve done it. I learned a lot even if we didn’t capture our barge. The next chore is to recover the ready boat in high seas at dark. Friedenbloom, the boat cox’n, receives the painter and orders the falls secured to the ready boat, just as an enormous swell shoves the boat away from the ship. The ship just as suddenly (it’s amazing how fast this all happens) lurches to starboard, leaving the ready boat instantly suspended in twelve or fifteen feet of air, slamming the boat against the ship, sending it under the hull, almost out of sight of those of us on deck. 

Just as quickly, the ship rolls back to port, squirting the boat out from under the ship’s hull. There is much crashing, banging, lines thrashing, falls and davits bending and groaning, plus all the boat/ship collision noises coming from below us. As soon as the boat reappears, it is hoisted aboard with six wet, shaking souls mighty glad to be back aboard Storis. The barge will wait for another day. 

The next day, Tuesday, 12 December, I get up at 0330 for my watch after spending five or six hours being tossed around in my rack. Sleep is impossible. The wind is 45-55 knots and rising quickly; the seas prohibit putting a boat over the side to recover the barge’s towline. By 0800, all hell breaks loose: a Navy plane in our vicinity loses two of four engines and plans to ditch near us. That’s a really bad idea with high seas in our vicinity. A freighter, SS Steel Flyer, reports losing its rudder in heavy seas 250 miles SW of our position at almost the same time. 

Evidently the plane figures we are a poor bet and does something else; we head for Steel Flyer. She is at least 30 hours away and it is apparent the weather is taking a serious turn for the worse. The skipper estimates sea height at 65’ during the worst part of the day. No one argues with him about it. They defy adequate description. 

A few words about life on USCGC Storis in bad weather: it’s not a lot of fun. The simple act of walking is an art, sometimes impossible, when it’s rough. At times, it IS impossible. Today, Tuesday, we are underway as before, headed yet further into the North Pacific to render assistance to Steel Flyer. 

The weather steadily deteriorates overnight and the seas by mid-morning are huge. Enormous. Staggering. I can’t begin to describe their ferocity. We head into the seas, turning for 13.5 knots, our service speed, making perhaps 3 knots. The ship is pounding heavily, lurching, crashing, no one able to take more than few steps without grabbing something, smashing into a bulkhead, getting thrown across a compartment or passageway. Noise is everywhere; wind, the seas roaring over the ship, the ship, itself, stuff falling, guys groaning, swearing. The ship frequently stops, dead, as it smacks headon into a huge sea. Everything else continues forward until it or they encounter something solid. The entire ship shudders, surges upward at a dizzying speed, then falls off, usually canted to one side or another, and crashes into the bottom of the wave, waiting to do it all over again. Man, it gets old. 

On the bridge, forward visibility is limited to maybe a quarter mile but it doesn’t matter. All we can see through the spray and snow is a forest of enormous waves with equally huge breaking crests, all coming dead at the ship, seemingly bent on killing our ship and us along with it. The forward third of the ship routinely disappears underwater. One minute in this stuff is an eternity. 

Somewhere in all of this, noon chow is piped and we dutifully trundle to the mess deck and gulp what the poor cooks prepare. It’s funny…you would think food would be the last thing on our minds but most of us are used to the violent motion and go on with life as best we can. Including food. You know me! 

The cooks deserve special mention because they do their best to prepare decent meals in an ancient galley under conditions that defy description. The simple act of heating soup becomes a hazardous chore. We bitch a lot about our food, but generally are well fed, three hot meals whenever possible, which means in all but the worst weather. The messdeck portholes, today, look like commercial washing machines. They normally are 10’ above the waterline but on days like today, they often as not are under water. 

Most folks disappear after chow and quarters. I make a giant roast beef son-of-a-bitch (Pacy Handlovsky’s description of a roast beef sandwich) and head for the main hold, which is forward and rough riding. The bosses won’t be down there this day. I crawl down the ladder and inch my way forward to the watertight door leading to the hold. Ducking through, without getting bashed by the heavy door (timing is important), I scuttle across the hold to the bosun’s locker, where a chair is tied to the bulkhead. 

I settle in to chow down on my roast beef son of a bitch when a bunch of things happen all at once: the ship rises and just keeps going up. The sea must be beyond enormous. Swede Hanson is crossing the main hold and another guy is stepping across the coaming at the watertight door. 

What happens next is unforgettable. The ship abruptly stops its ascent and falls off to starboard. In a millisecond, we are falling so fast that I float out of my chair; Swede levitates off the deck and the guy stepping through the watertight door floats over the coaming. No one has time to think or react…just imprint what happens. We hit bottom with unbelievable force. I thump into my chair, Swede flies across the entire hold into a batch of fenders and all hell breaks loose. The ship vibrates, resonates, flexes. We watch our great big home shudder from the force of hitting the bottom of that sea. We think the forward half of the ship has torn away from the rest of the ship. Stuff flies everywhere. The noise is more than deafening; it assaults us from every direction. We are scared stiff. 

After an eternal second or two, the ship rights herself and rises to meet the next sea. We are thoroughly frightened and want nothing more than to be somewhere else on earth. Anywhere else on earth. I read somewhere there are no atheists in a foxhole. I know what the guy means. 

Shortly after that escapade, the ship’s PA tells us we were coming about to run with the seas and to stand by for heavy rolls. In sixty-five foot seas, that could be a life or death decision. We all painfully are aware the Captain is taking a necessary action to ensure we live to sail another hour, another day. It isn’t a great choice but if the Old Man believes it gives us the best chance of survival, it is ok with us. Not that he asks our opinion…. 

All this is going on while I continue to eat my sandwich in the bosun’s locker, six feet below water line. I guess we weren’t scared enough to quit eating! It is interesting, however, to hear the story of how the skipper brings the ship about. A Quartermaster named Carney tells the story best: Carney is at the engine telegraph, and the skipper is watching the seas. The skipper is quiet, apparently calm. How he can be calm in situations like this is beyond me. 

Carney is anything but calm but also watches the seas, knowing what will happen if things don’t go right. The skipper waits for several minutes, and then waits some more. He’s watching wave patterns, waiting for a series of big seas, after which a series of smaller seas should follow. The key word, of course, is “should.” After what seems like an eternity, the skipper gives the command (Cdr. Hardy has assumed the “con,” meaning he is in direct command of the ship. That happens only in moments of duress or entering/leaving harbor) to come about and concurrently asks for full power. The helm is down, the engines at full power before the words are out of his mouth. Then begins the wait. The big Cooper Bessemer engines rumble and the ship vibrates with increased RPM’s. The ship begins to ever so slowly turn. It’s agonizing. One hundred people are riveted to whatever place they occupy, thinking, saying, “C’mon, baby. C’mon, c’mon, c’mon!” I assume everyone, including me, is asking God for a little help, too. The ship heaves over in the seas, as she begins her ponderous turn. Carney is thinking, “Go, baby. Goddamn, give me an oar; Give me anything to make this tub turn faster. Go, baby, pleeeeaaase.” 

The Captain has chosen his timing with skill borne of forty years at sea. We come about and steady up on a course with the seas. Suddenly the ride is smooth, or at least it seems so. The waves are so big the ship rides up and over with relative ease and slides down the other side like a surfer. That’s the catch. Running with big seas is a much easier ride but the ship could surf, broach and capsize if any number of things goes wrong. The helmsman must really be on his toes and the ship must go fast enough to maintain steerage but not so fast that we lose control on the downhill slide. 

I wander up to the bridge after things settle down and stare in awe at the seas. Lord, those big seas are running by us ABOVE the bridge. The overhanging crests crash around us, over us, longside us, but we remain afloat and moving. It is a brutal but beautiful scene, right out of a book. But it is all too real. Some day, this will make a great sea-story but I’d rather be anywhere else, right now. 

We run with the seas till the storm abates later that evening, when we came about and continue our journey to Steel Flyer. Oh, by the way, this is the ONLY time we’ve ever turned to run with the seas on a SAR. We’re proud of that. 

Steel Flyer is a C-3 freighter (so I’m told), 470 feet long and 8400 gross tons, displacement, a lot bigger than our 230’ and 2300 tons. She is in ballast, riding light and high. I’ll bet she had fun on Tuesday. Evidently she could maintain some steerage way using her engines. We are underway all Wednesday and reach Steel Flyer at 1900 in the dark, with a light sea and enormous swell. Two tugs are enroute, one from Seattle, the other from Adak. Get this: the freighter skipper declines our offer to tow because, he says, we are “too little,” and the danger to us would be too great. That damages our egos but saves us a lot of work. The master must’ve been quite a seaman. He had no LORAN so was doing all his navigation by celestial and DR, and doing a very good job of it as his fixes were accurate given  conditions. Roughneck’s skipper could’ve taken some navigation lessons from this guy. His  ship also survived high seas with no rudder, another impressive feat of seamanship.  

We stand by the freighter all Wednesday night and Thursday, and have a potentially serious boiler fire Thursday night. Seems the skipper was playing poker with the chiefs, left for a trip topside and discovered the smoking boiler. Bet the snipe watch standers got their butts chewed! Navy tug, Chanowac, a 210 ocean going tug, arrives 0300 Friday morning and the commercial tug, Sampson, is due Sunday, from Seattle. Seas continue to abate and we are released later Friday to go home. Halleluiah! We have a moderate sea off our port quarter, and are making 14 + knots towards Kodiak. “The Rock” will look good after this misbegotten series of events. 

Even after the past two weeks, I marvel at the sea’s beauty. Friday night is clear; the moon full, save for a few fleecy clouds racing across the sky. The moon silvers the clouds and a light sea breaks the reflected moonlight into millions of silver shards. Every ripple is like a silver spark. I stay on deck for half an hour watching the light show till I get cold and go below to warm up. It’s still November in the North Pacific. 

Mr. Foss’s barge is still somewhere “out there,” and we hold our breath. Maybe it sank… Supposedly a commercial tug is searching for it and we wish them well. We never want to see it again. . 

It’s not too long till Christmas and we will be here, or at sea. I really miss you guys and can’t wait till I rotate next July. Seems like forever. Our weeks at sea are three days long: yesterday, today and tomorrow. Nothing further back or ahead matters. Just yesterday, today and tomorrow. July seems like a million years away. Maybe that’s just the way it has to be to maintain some sort of sanity in our world. 

Merry Christmas from the USCGC Storis!