Search & Rescue

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July 31, 1974
I don't recall traveling to the Taylor's Island Coast Guard Station, but I remember my time there very well. I loved it there. It is ironic that I had hated icebreaker duty enough to go AWOL rather than face it again, but I loved search and rescue enough to consider making a life out of the Coast Guard. The men and women in the Coast Guard perform a great many task, but the job they all love the most is search and Rescue, what we call SAR.

Station Taylor's Island wasn't a military base in any conventional sense. The facility itself was a large houseboat moored in a private marinara. The commanding officer was an E-7, Chief Petty Officer from North Carolina whose name I don't recall, but a man I have always liked and respected. He was the kind of man I wanted to be when I grew up, a goal I never reached. The base had two shifts of eight men each and one cook. We had three boats, two were standard Coast Guard SAR boats of the time period, a thirty footer and a forty-one footer. Both were heavy steel hulled boats with twin diesel engines. Both boats could tow a vessel three times it's weight and size and were strong enough to handle any seas the Chesapeake could throw at them. Both were slow. The third was a commercially available Boston Whaler with an outboard motor. It was light and fast, but not good for heavy seas. Generally when we were called on a SAR the seas were heavy because that's when most boaters found themselves in need of our services.

Our two crews had separate sleeping quarters and opposite duty hours. We worked two days on and two days off with a three day weekend of either on or off duty. When we were on duty we couldn't leave the marina area which was small enough to immediately respond to a call. Duty was twenty-four hours for each of those days.

Sometimes you could sleep and play all of those hours. Sometimes you were at sea the entire time. When you were off your time was your own. You could leave and go where ever you wanted and many guys used those three day weekends to go home. You could also stay on the base when off duty which some guys did too. That's what I did at first. I loved it too much to leave.

Other than SAR there was little to do other than maintain the boats and keep the houseboat clean. But we did have the onerous task of maintaining one light house and several channel markers and buoys. This required replacing batteries and lights and cleaning sea gull droppings. None of that was fun, but we didn't have to do it very often. I was part of changing the batteries in the lighthouse once and that was a chore. Hard dangerous work, but necessary work so I didn't mind. There was no such thing as busy work at Taylor's Island CGS, which is one of the things I loved about the place.

Most of our Search and Rescue operations were more like performing sea going tow services. The Chesapeake Bay is home to some of the nations best oysters and its famous blue crab. To harvest these fine catches there was a sturdy group of men known in the area as "Watermen". They weren't called fisherman because they didn't fish in any conventional sense. During crab season they laid long weighted lines of string (not rope, actual string) across the bottom with a float on each end, usually old plastic milk jugs. To the line they tied pieces of raw chicken, or other such things for bait. They didn't use hooks. They slowly moved their boats down the length of line with the string looped around a wheel hanging over the side. The string would slowly raise out of the water a foot or so. The Waterman would then use a small net to scoop up crabs hanging on to the chicken.

During oyster season they used long handled tongs to dig oysters off the bottom. These are difficult to describe, the best analogy would be that of a manual post hole digger, only different. The handles were fifteen to twenty feet long and the hardware on the end was more like a clawed double basket that is brought together by moving the handles apart. When you watched them work it looked like they were digging post holes in the sea bed, only they brought up oyster shells instead of dirt. I've never tried this, but it's evident it was hard work.

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