So there I am on watch as quartermaster ( record keeper, position keeper, chart plotter etc) on the Coast Guard Modoc off the Oregon coast in 1977. It is near midnight and that is when I will go off watch and I am glad as beating around in 6 to 8 ft broadside seas in a roly-poly seagoing tug built in 1944 is tiring at best. The ships nickname of ìThe Pukerî is well deserved. And though I am one of the ones who does not normally get seasick just having to deal with it is tiring. My relief is on time and I update him on the course, speed and other details. I inform him that no other vessels are in the immediate vicinity. So it should be a good watch for him nothing going on. I stop in the radio room on my way down to my bunk to check on the one radio transmitter that has been a bit balky of late. I am beginning to think I have an antenna problem that comes and goes. I am the ships only electronic tech and doing quartermaster of the watch underway is just one of the other things I must do in addition to my regular stuff. It makes for long days and short sleep when the watch schedule is 4 hrs on and 8 off for 21 days at a time.
All is well and i settle into by bunk the 3rd one up from the deck at the very top of the compartment. Sleep comes and I am content.
ìHey joe. You have to get up.î I open one eye to see the Bmow (bosín mate of the watch) with his flashlight gently tapping my bunk. I grumble at him that I have only been asleep for 90 min and what is going on. His reply of that need to go 15 miles west of here only confuses me. I reply that the only thing 15 miles west of here is ocean as I just came off watch and what is he babbling about. His reply was to go see the captain who would explain it. Well that got my attention. So I get up from my bunk bang my head on the overhead and get down and dressed.
Finding the Captain I was informed that the sister ship to the Modoc The Comanche has radar trouble and has asked assistance from us. So that explains the 15 miles west comment. I am to be transferred by zodiac boat asap in the middle of the night. Oh Goodie----NOT.
You see the ships will be no closer than a half mile together. And the zodiac boat we had was 8 ft long but only about 28 in tall. A veritable raft with an outboard.
So it goes over the side and a bosn, an engineman and myself the ET are off. It was one of most exciting events in my life. As we pulled away we went down into the trough of a wave and I saw nothing but black. Not even a star as it was overcast. It was as if I had fallen into a roaring blackness that never ended. The zodiac had no lights on it. When we crested the wave I could see the lights of both the Modoc and the Comanche. The Modoc lights were bright and the Comanche dim. As we made our way across the roar of the ocean never ceased and talking was impossible unless one yelled loudly.
At the halfway point both ships lights looked very small and dim. Then we dipped way down into that inky black hole of roaring ocean.
For a moment time froze and I remembered the unofficial Coast Guard saying ìYou have to go out but you do not have to come backî.
Time started again and we bobbed back up on top. The Comanche lights were getting brighter.
Finally we made it and I gladly climbed aboard. The zodiac began its return trip to the Modoc.
I will forever remember that ride into blackness as long as I live.
I helped work on the radar system and then crashed out on an empty bunk for a while. After reveille at 0800 I managed to grab some breakfast and check to see about my return trip. The weather had calmed a bit so the return trip during the day was much less eventful.
So thatís how i managed to be crew of two sister ships on one voyage.
You can see the Modoc at www.cgcmodoc.org. She still exists today as a private yacht in Gig Harbor wa. She was part of tall ships Tacoma in 2008 as a support ship.
The Comanche also still exists as a floating museum in Olympia Washington where she is being restored not to her navy sea tug days of 1940s but to her Coast Guard days of the 1970s. She served as an active commercial tug from 1980 to 2007 on the west coast.
The Comanche is at www.76fsa.org/comanche or www.cgccomanche.org
Joe Bartlett ET1 USCG 1972-1980