San Juan Island, 1946.
|United States Coast Guard 83483|
Standing by in Friday Harbor,
the county seat of San Juan County.
Click to enlarge.
Original photo by Webber from the archives of S.P.H.S.©
The San Juan Islands would wander around lost in the wet grass, like young turkeys after a rain, if it wasn't for that same boat.
Coast Guard boat, 83483, is the very mother of the San Juans. She's our ambulance: when you are sick, call the Coast Guard and they will rush you to a doctor. She's our rescuer: when you get stuck on an uncharted reef, don't worry; get in your dinghy, row for shore and telephone the Coast Guard, though chances are someone on shore has seen you and done it already.
The Coast Guard will take the county nurse around to the islands, or the county superintendent of schools, or any government official who needs to get somewhere fast. They patrol the islands for lost boats, patrol the international regatta races, answer calls from the lighthouses, occasionally hunt somebody on vacation who is wanted quickly back home.
One day Farrar and I were standing on the dock above the the float where we had our boat, looking around at this amazing, busy scene of the Friday Harbor waterfront. (The water was just as still, Mt. Baker was still and white, the boats tiptoed in and out of the harbor.)
A nice looking fellow in faded, spotless jeans came up to us and asked if we'd like to come aboard the Coast Guard ship lying off that dock.
We would! All week we had wanted to, hadn't got up the nerve to ask.
The tide was low. We climbed down the sturdy ladder onto that lean, spacious deck, met the crew of three and went below for coffee.
Charlie Novak of Nebraska, 20 years in the CG, is the skipper. Roy Rosensier, also of Nebraska, is seaman first class and Gene Carrigan of Missouri is the machinist mate. These three keep a boat normally meant for a nine-man crew and they keep it in apple pie order, too.
Inside the pilot house we are allowed to look through the eyepiece into the radar machine, which takes a miraculous moving picture of whatever is around.
Day or night, in fog or sunshine, this contraption can find a lost boat or show the way through the islands. Radar beats a cat for seeing in the dark.
Below deck, two big 1,200 HP engines start with a push on a button, shove the big boat along at racing speed. This tall blond machinist mate loves these horses.
How lovingly he brushes and curries them till their coats shine! How neat his stable where the tools are all in their places––no curry combs, but monkey wrenches and pliers.
Below deck, forward, we see the galley with its electric range and refrigerator––the ship generates its own electricity. The captain's quarters are behind this, the crew's quarters still farther forward, all clean as pins. They can sleep 14.
The first two numbers of a CG boat tell its length; the next three, its class number. This ship is 83 feet long and is the 483rd in that size. This ship is copper sheathed, fast, utile, powerful and handsome.
We sit in the galley having coffee. The skipper gets down his report for this month to show what kind of calls they go out on.
The boat took a land office inspector from Friday Harbor to Waldron to see some land a man had built on without knowing that it belonged to the government. (It came out all right. I guessed it was young Ethan Allen from the description of the location. He had written the land office, telling what he had done; they appraised the land, gave him a chance to pay for it and that was that.)
Governor Wallgren came up, was taken around on 83483.
They searched for a missing plane. Found it on Waldron Island with a missing propeller. Transported a bomb disposal officer to Lopez Island––found it was nothing.
Searched for the Malibu Steelhead.
Looking after smaller boats seems to be the main job of the Coast Guard. Fishermen are pretty good, the boys say. They take care of themselves. Yachtsmen who go in herds are okay, too. But when they go singly they're forever getting into trouble. And hunting for lost boats in all the nooks and crannies of these islands is nobody's idea of a picnic.
The Friday Harbor CG boat serves all the islands from Smith Island north, from Bellingham west––the whole archipelago. But when it isn't out on some call, the big gray ship lies here against the dock reserved for it.
The tide is not so low as we leave. The ship has climbed up part of the ladder for us. As we step out onto the dock we turn to look again at the slender ship that is the guardian angel of the islands."
One Hundred Days In the San Juans.
First published by the Seattle-Times. Summer 1946.