|US Coast Guard STATEN ISLAND|
"My favorite Coast Guard icebreaker is up for sale. She's Big Red, moored at Pier 90. I drive past her each morning from home to work. She's formally known as the Staten Island and by either name is a good old gal.
But she is 33 and retired. I don't think I will bid on her through the General Services Administration. She would cost as much as a yacht at 269-ft long, 64-ft wide, and drawing 29-ft of water.
Besides, at today's high fuel costs, I couldn't steam far on the six main propulsion engines totaling 10,000 HP. The fuel tanks hold 676,000 gallons of diesel oil plus 17,000 gallons of jet aviation fuel. A helicopter on the stern isn't part of the package.
Big Red got her nickname from me as a news chronicler. All the Coast Guard's breakers used to be white. But they were difficult for returning helicopters to see against dazzling white polar ice and snow.
So she was painted red––as eventually, all others were, and I dubbed her in newsprint as the first Big Red in the Pacific Northwest to wear that color.
I live near Piers 90-91, her home base, and got acquainted with her men and skipper, Capt. Bob Moss. They showed me around. Big Red is the only ship I've seen that could rock-'n-roll her way out of an ice trap. Huge ballast tanks were in her. Water was pumped at a tremendous rate from one side to the other to make her roll from side to side. Or maybe she wallowed with a waddle––whatever.
She was packed with sophisticated electronic equipment. In March of 1973, I was sitting at home and the phone rang. Big Red was somewhere in the Arctic on a scientific mission with Russians. The caller was Captain Moss. His radio voice was loud and clear and it ricocheted off a satellite spinning somewhere in space.
Moss phoned to tell me that all was going well in Big Red and with the Russian ship Priboy. They were in an ice pack with the ship positioned to permit the radio Ping Pong game with the satellite.
The captain's radio voice traveled 186,000 miles a second and bounced off the satellite to a Kodiak station that relayed the communication to my home by a telephone line. The conversation was monitored by stations in Hawaii and Alaska and by a Goddard Space Center station in Maryland.
The Big Red had historical character. She was built in 1942, in San Pedro and delivered to Russia under wartime lend-lease. She was returned to the USN in Germany in 1951. In 1955 the Navy transferred the ship to Seattle and assigned her to the Coast Guard in 1966.
A national news-service reporter said crewmen nicknamed her Big Red because she had been used by Russians. The story was teletyped nation-wide. But Big Red got her nickname because I tagged her with it after she was painted.
The old seahorse made many trips to the Arctic and Antarctic, but she first gained national prominence by helping the Manhattan then America's biggest tanker, make its historic voyage through the Northwest Passage.
But I remember her best for her last return from the Far North on 2 October 1974 when I reported:
'Big Red came home with ice-damaged bow sections last night from her last voyage, but she wasn't limping.
The 269-ft breaker and her 175 men came steaming around Magnolia Bluff with all six engines pounding smoothly at 16 knots. The old gal slid around Pier 91 with a flourish and skirts flying.
The Staten Island was back from 11 weeks in the Arctic and three decades of service. A thousand kisses and hugs were exchanged in a matter of minutes.'
That night I encountered Lt. Pat Denny who regarded Big Red as special for personal reasons. His mother had worked in the wartime shipyard at San Pedro, CA, and helped build her. Denny served aboard as a CG officer, and in 1973 his son, Pat was aboard as a civilian shipyard worker.
That made three generations of involvement with Big Red, and she was my favorite."
Above essay was written by Glen Carter from My Waterfront. Seagull Books. Seattle, WA. 1977.
Carter was a Chicago-area reporter before joining the Seattle Times in 1967. He was their magazine feature writer and columnist––then became Editor for Maritime and lived aboard CAROSEL. Four other articles of his are included on this Log.