by: Robert Stokes
When I was assigned to the USCGC Heather stationed in San Pedro, California, there were two Coast Guard cutters tied up at the wharf, the Heather and one other.
I wish I could remember the name of the other ship there because there was a joke about her which was bantered about over at the Naval station across the channel.
The story told was that one day the ship left the wharf and the Naval commander sent a boat over to see if she had broken her mooring lines. (I think the reason she did not go to sea much was that she was stuck on the coffee grounds.)
But the USCGC Heather went to sea almost every day. But our captain, with the exception of two trips a year up the coast and to the islands, made sure that we were back in San Pedro by 4 pm. He wanted to be home by 4:15.
This segment is about what happened on one of those two trips.
A buoy tender's job, which the Heather was, was to maintain the navigational buoys of the nation. She was to locate the exact position of the buoy down to a fraction of a second of latitude and longitude, pull it aboard, clean it, either replace or recharge the batteries, and replace it exactly on station.
Once a year the ship went on a several day trip up the coast to Santa Cruz Island and Santa Barbara in the north and another overnight trip to San Diego in the south.
On the northern trip, one of the buoys we serviced was at Richardson Rock.
Richardson Rock is just a short distance northeast of San Miguel Island and is marked with the largest buoy the Coast Guard had at that time.
The procedure for working on the buoy was to first put a man on the buoy
who was to slide the "hook" through the "lifting bail" which was a
large padeye welded to the top of the buoy.
The "hook" on the Heather at that time was large, 12 inches across the nose and 12 inches up to the cable, and HEAVY, HEAVY, HEAVY.
For some reason, at that time I was working the deck as a seaman first class, I was chosen to jump on the buoy, grab the hook, and pass the hook through the lifting bail.
"Sure footed Bob" jumped on the bouy and slid the nose of the hook through the lifting bail with no problem at all. GREAT!
The buoy was lifted up and placed on the ship's deck in order to clean and service the batteries with Bob riding on top of the Richardson Rock buoy.
The deck crew cleaned the barnacles and seaweed off the bottom, put new batteries in the well, and got ready to put it back on station.
After this servicing, since I had done such a good job of hooking on to bring the buoy on board, I was to hook up again and ride the buoy over the side so that I could unhook it when we checked the location.
I jumped up on it, grabbed the hook, and as the ship rocked back and forth with the swells, I missed the lifting bail the first time. I held onto that heavy hook so that I could slide it in the hole when the cable swung back.
As the cable pulled the hook away from the buoy, Sure Footed Bob went with it, swinging out away from the ship as it continued to rock at rest in the swells. There was no reason that I could not get back to the buoy and hook up.
This time I knew I could hang onto the hook and slip in in the lifting bail.
Once again I let the cable pull me off the buoy and swing me way over the side as the ship continued to roll in the swells.
This time someone yelled, "Drop! You're going to hit hard!"
I dropped. Over the side!
Someone else hooked up the Richardson Rock buoy. Robert Stokes, they pulled aboard.
The placement of the buoy was checked and the ship went on to the next buoy to be serviced.
Two things came out of this:
Throughout the Coast Guard service, the heavy iron hooks were exchanged for light weight steel ones.
AND . . . .
And Robert went to radioman school!