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U.S. Coast Guard Awards

Joseph O. Doyle

Awarded 2 August 1879

Among the distinguished surfmen attached to the Life-Saving Service, one of the very foremost was Captain J.0. Doyle, the keeper of Station the Life-Saving Station at Charlotte, NY. His efficiency upon occasions of shipwreck was always at the acme, but during 1878 he achieved, in two signal instances, rescues so splendid as to deserve the commemoration of the Gold Lifesaving Medal, which was conferred upon him. The first instance was at the wreck of the schooner B.P. Dorr of Chicago, which was discovered on the 11 September 1878. At half-past nine o’clock in the evening, the ship stranded about a mile west of Captain Doyle’s station, 1,200 yards from the beach. The night was dark and rainy. The vessel was visible by the flare of a strong torch on board.

The keeper at once ordered out the surfboat. It was dragged a mile up the beach, slid down a 20-foot bank, and launched. By eleven o’clock the surfboat reached the vessel. She was found in the worst possible position for crew operations. Her bows were directly headed to the sea so that the water was rushing along her sides like a millrace. They then converged at her stern, where they tumbled in great confusion. The life-saving crew had to get up alongside as best they could. Held to the schooner by a line they threw on board and maintaining their dangerous position with all the more difficulty, Captain Doyle constantly maneuvered the boat to keep it in the neighborhood of the vessel. These efforts, which were extremely laborious to the keeper and crew, were protracted and the steersman and oarsmen were subjected to great fatigue. The sailors on board the ship were determined not to abandon her. Captain Doyle and his men, on the other hand, were resolute not to leave them in their plight. The matter ended when the sailors consented to risk getting the cook into the boat.

At the word of command the surfboat darted alongside the hull. It rose upon the great swell and the woman, dropped over the side by the sailors, was caught by the surfmen’s strong arms. The boat then fell away. On another run up alongside, the mate jumped for the boat, fell partly overboard, and then was hauled in. Just then a terrible sea swept the boat fifty feet astern. This snapped the line which held her to the schooner and threw her up on the stern in an almost perpendicular position. This nearly pitched her end over end. To add to the terror, the same blow that flung the boat up on her stern broke out the starboard scull-hole in which the steering oar lay. With that the stout hearted Doyle had the coolness and intrepidity to change his oar from the broken scull-hole to the scull-hole in mid-stern and lashed it securely. The boat was now down in her normal position, steady in the line of the rushing undulations. At the same time, by good fortune, the vessel swung around broadside on to the sea, which gave the boat’s crew the desired lee for operations, and enabled them to dash up alongside and quickly take off the five men on board.

Despite the late hour, the storm and the darkness, a large crowd of men and women had gathered on the beach. They saw the boat, with the six men and the woman on board, drive swiftly toward the beach under the steady oar of the keeper. At length her bows grated on the sand and it was safely over.

The other case of rescue in which Captain Doyle showed his great skill and bravery involved the wreck of the schooner Star of Millpoint, Ontario on 23 October 1878. This vessel made an effort to gain the harbor at Charlotte during a fierce northwest gale, but missed the harbor entrance between the piers and was driven eastward about a thousand feet. Here she dropped her anchors to ride out the storm. She was no sooner fast than the sea mounted her bulwarks and swept all over her. The seven-man crew had to climb to her cross-trees for safety. This was at 6 o’clock in the evening. The night was very dark and the rain fell in deluge. The piers were completely flooded. The sea ran so high that it dashed in the windows of the lower lighthouse and leaped over the tower. This prevented the lighting of the lamp.

Captain Doyle and his men were assembled on the beach opposite the wreck. The vast drift was sweeping in from the northwest in huge rolling breakers, changing under the action of the wind. To launch a boat was simply impossible. It was equally impossible to reach the wreck with a shot-line. All Doyle could do was to wait until the wind had fully set to the northeast and somewhat beaten down the waves. The large beach-lantern of the station was lighted and planted in the sand. Signals were continuously made from the beach and pier to encourage the sailors upon the wreck. Under Doyle’s orders a lantern squad constantly scanned the surf ready to aid any men that might be washed ashore.

About eleven o’clock it was finally determined to risk the launch. The sea was then terrible. Although the cross action had ceased, the water was rushing with tremendous volume, breaking as it reached the beach. Over all was the sightless gloom and the streaming rain. After a few moments of wary and daring effort, the launch was made and the boat, dizzily lifting and falling cleaved its way with a strong roll of oars. It was some time, but the skeleton masts and rigging were seen dimly looming above the sunken hull in the darkness. The seven men, nearly exhausted, were still in the cross-trees of the foremast. They were gotten down into the boat and at ten minutes after midnight were landed on the beach. The vessel was demolished by the waves. But for the noble keeper and his men, her crew would have been lost.

Last Modified 1/12/2016