December 26, 2014

Wooden boats and iron men

NOW AND THEN I think uncharitable thoughts about the U. S. Coast Guard. That’s because each member swears an oath to protect the U. S. Constitution and then promptly goes out and boards private boats, by force if necessary, without the due cause that the Constitution mandates. It’s unfortunate, in a way, that our maritime lifeboat service eventually became a branch of the military, with full powers of unconstitutional search and arrest.

On the other hand I have to concede rather reluctantly that when the Coasties on potty patrol are not busily poking their noses into boaters’ heads they do a magnificent job of rescuing people in trouble at sea. They are well trained in search and rescue and they coordinate boats and aircraft in exemplary fashion.

We are lucky, I guess, that things have changed so much in little more than a man’s lifespan. For example, let me quote from a book called Olson’s Small Boat Seamanship, by Louis B. Olson (Van Nostrand Company, Inc.). Here is a vivid description of an inshore rescue by the Atlantic City station of the Life Saving Service (later, the Coast Guard). It took place on July 21, 1907, and is the official report written by the anonymous keeper of the station:

“At about 630 PM Mr. Gimbel came to Station and reported a Gasolene Launch capsized on the bar. Harry Smith and I ran down to the boat pavilian got the boat ready and call for volunteers. 6 men got in the boat and we started out. I soon found out most of the men was not used to rough water. The sea was very high and the men [those to be rescued — JV] was on the bottom of their boat. So I took chances and won out: My crew done all that any unskilled men could do: At last after the lost of three oars we got over the bar and was rowing for the boat when I heard a call from the water. I looked and saw a man (Mr. Sturgis) clinging to an ice chest: he had lost his hold just as one of the men got hold of his coat we got him in then rowed down to the Launch and got the other three men: Then we started for the Shore: As the sea was so heavy and the tide running out so strong and my crew almost plaid out from their hard row I made up my mind to go down the beach and land near the ocean pier. After I reached the end of the pier  I drilled the men in what I wanted them to do. We then started for the shore and by watching my chance I made the shore without mishap: We got the rescued men ashore and they walked to their homes: Not one of my crew showed the white feather although it was the first time some of them had been in rough water and they deserve lots of praze. Arrived at station at 11 PM changed my wet clothes. Then went back to boat and looked out for him till Sunrise. Then got an express co. to cart the boat up to the Boardwalk and Atlantic Ave.”

It was a time of wooden boats and iron men. Brave, brave men.

Today’s Thought
Heroes may not be braver than anyone else. They’re just braver five minutes longer.
— Ronald Reagan, 40th U.S. President

If an S and an I and an O and a U
With an X at the end spell Su,
And an E and a Y and an E spell I,
Pray what is a speller to do?
Then if, also, an S and an I and G
And H E D spell side,
There's nothing much else for one to do
But go and commit sioux-eyesighed.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

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