U.S. Coast Guard Oral History Program
Letters To Home
C. William Bailey
Captain Bailey was one of the old "Sea Dogs" in the Coast Guard. He commanded nine ships during his long career, the cutters COO'S BAY, EASTWIND, and CHASE being the last three. He was a man that showed great concern for his crews. He implemented a policy of writing letters home to the crew's families and many of his friends. This is one of those letters.
21 April 1969
This will be the first letter I have written to many of you as "Friends, Acquaintances and Families" of the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter CHASE. To my many personal friends who through these letters followed the adventures of the Coast Guard Icebreaker EASTWIND last year, and to all who receive this letter, Greetings.. It is always a pleasure to share with folks back home some of the always interesting, and sometimes exciting, life aboard a ship of your United States Coast Guard.
The CHASE is one of the finest, newest, and fastest ships in the Service. For the past three days we have been on an errand of mercy, running at top speed through balmy mid-tropical waters, with a seriously ill sailor which we removed yesterday from a British tanker. We were fortunate this trip to have Doctor Frank Holzer, USPHS, aboard for duty. Often we go on certain of the ocean station patrols with no doctor assigned.
We were just getting settled down to routine drifting on ocean station ECHO, located about 1200 miles east southeast of New York. The cutter which we had relieved had only steamed over the horizon a few days previously, when a radio call for help was intercepted. The British tanker "Hunter Cambridge" radioed that she had a man in a diabetic coma and asked for medical advice. She was nearly three hundred miles north of our position and was about half way to another Coast Guard cutter occupying Ocean Station DELTA. Unfortunately they had no doctor on board.
Our doctor was making his first ocean voyage and had not even had time to wonder whether he was going to have to prescribe for his own seasickness, when he was put to work. It is difficult enough to try to treat medical cases at long distance, but when the case is one of this type, with the patient going in and out of coma, and the ship that he is aboard has no facilities even for a simple test nor any trained personnel, you can see that our doctor had his work cut out for him.
Alarmed by the deteriorating progress of the patient as reported by the hourly radio messages, we worked our ship up towards the northern edge of station (about a hundred miles) so that if it became indicated, and if our higher authority in New York gave the word, we could crank up our gas turbines and speed to the aid of the distressed mariner at nearly thirty knots. Normally, Coast Guard cutters do not leave their ocean station since many transatlantic planes use our radiobeacon and weather reporting services. However, medical advice at sea (called MEDICO)is one of a long list of services rendered by the Coast Guard in the furtherance of the protection of life and property at sea, to which our organization is dedicated. There are many men serving today on ships the world over that owe their lives to the prompt medical advice passed by radio from shore stations and from other ships. This is part of the close bond of the fellowship that is typical of all men who sail the waters of the world, regardless of nationality or political views.
Our patient was not doing well and we were gravely concerned. Permission to proceed was not long in coming, and down below in our spotless engine room where our engineers control the plant from a soundproof booth the two-18,000 HP gas turbine engines began their eerie whine, and behind our ship a long rolling rooster tail of wake began to grow. Our raked, forward leaning bow knifed through the short chop, lookouts were doubled, and the long trek to the north began.
Navigation at high speed requires a much higher degree of accuracy than drifting around on station, and the bridge crew of officers and men settled down to the precise routine of their watch, feeling a sense of excitement.
CHASE was off on a mission; this was what all hands look forward to -- what they drill constantly at so as to be ready to do the job when it is expected. Knowing that the ship’s small boat will be required to take the doctor over aboard the tanker, the deck force checks over their equipment, plans who the boat crew will be, and makes a last minute rehearsal of every man’s duties, so that the boat launching will be smooth and, what is more important at sea, safe.
Fortunately the weather is not particularly rough on this case. Not that it would matter -- the mission would still have to be performed – but at least this time we were not called on for the near impossible.
Naturally, everyone kidded our doctor and told him how rough the small boat trip would be when he went over to get the patient, and how he would have to grab the tiny, swinging pilot ladder on the fly, hold grimly on, and pull himself up the high sides of the merchant ship. All of this was of course true, but since the doctor was a good sport anyway, perhaps we over-dramatized it a bit to see how he would react. Well, I have the photographic evidence. He was up that ladder like a born sailor when the time came for it, and I must admit that he didn’t dally along the way.
It took us about 20 hours to rendezvous with the tanker. Within an hour we had the patient aboard resting comfortably down in our sick bay. We got to him just in time and now it appears that he will pull through. For the past 24 hours we have been racing towards the Azores Islands where we can put him into a hospital and we have had to treat him constantly with medication.
Looking out I can just see the first sign of land, one of the smaller islands to the northwest. We still have over two hundred miles to go and will be putting the man ashore early tomorrow morning. We have had wonderful cooperation from many sources throughout this case, from the shore Coast Guard radio station in constantly sending and receiving messages; from the Coast Guard office in Mew York who made the many arrangements for us to enter these foreign islands on short notice, from the officials ashore in the Azores who are preparing to take our patient in the morning, and last but by no means least, the wonderful crew of CHASE, all of whom have done their jobs with the spirit that typifies our Service, SEMPER PARATUS - - ALWAYS READY. . The seamen have kept their sharp watch and have steered the ship straight as an arrow, the engineers have kept our "kittens’ purring steadily, eating up the miles with never a failure, the navigators have kept us from straying off our course, and as proven by our landfall I saw just a few minutes ago, right on time.
As I described to you in my earlier letters from EASTWIND, a ship is just one big team of men who really work together. We aboard CHASE, are proud of our team, especially our cooks who keep us weight-watching.
I could go on and describe for you some of the scenes that we will shortly be seeing in the Azores. Most of us have never been here before, and we wish that it were possible to stay a while.. However, duty calls, and we must refuel the ship and return to our Ocean Station immediately. With luck our men may get ashore for a couple of hours though, and since that is possible I am going to close this letter so that they may include it in the letter I am sure they will be wanting to send to you from Ponta Delgada where we will stop for fuel tomorrow afternoon.
I hope that you enjoy this description of our duties and will ask for more news of the Cutter CHASE in the future. I am very happy to be in command of such a fine ship and crew, and although this is only one of many such assignments, every ship seems to feel better than the last. I feel that it is very important that the officers and men of the Service have a close relationship of understanding with their civilian friends as well as their families, and I am glad to have an opportunity to institute this series of "Dear Friends Letters" from the Cutter CHASE to better acquaint you with our life at sea. I hope that when I leave CHASE (reluctantly) for administrative duties ashore this summer, that this policy will be continued.
By the way, don’t forget that your crew member is looking forward to receiving YOUR letters too.
C. W. Bailey
Captain, U. S. Coast Guard