William Clyde "Billy"
First hand account of the USS Searcher's attempt to rescue crew from a sinking ship
and 10 days later she loses her screw
MARCH 1, 1964
March 1st, began as a normal day in the North Atlantic. The sea was rough because there had been a storm the night before. Even though the sea was rough in the morning, it was considerably rougher during the storm. So rough in fact, that the Searcher bobbed around like a toy boat in a bathtub the entire night.
At 0830 we started to sweep down and clean up the ship. The Navy word for it is titivate, but no matter how it is said, it still means the same thing. The clock ticked closer and closer to 1000 when finally Holiday Routine was passed over the P.A. system.
Most of the crew, that wasn’t on watch, headed for the berthing compartments. Everyone had the same thought and that was to catch up on a little sleep. We were all sleeping like babies until 1100.
At 1100, the word was passed, “ALL HANDS MAN YOUR RESCUE AND ASSISTANCE STATIONS.” Everyone thought that this was probably a drill, but we later found out that this was no drill.
When we had manned our stations, we were informed that there was a Liberian tanker, THE AMPHILAROUS (*), that had broken in half during the night in the storm. We were on our way to help the sinking vessel, which was located about 45 minutes from our own position.
When we arrived on the scene, here was the situation. There was a Canadian Destroyer, H.M.S. ANTHIBASKIN (**), which had already rescued 17 men that were in a lifeboat. There were still 18 men left on the floating hulk. The sky had filled up with airplanes from the Royal Canadian Air Force, and United States Coast Guard. The Coast Guard planes had pontoons on them, but it was too rough for them to come down.
The next word that passed was, “AWAY NUMBER 2 MOTOR WHALE BOAT.” We only had one motor whale boat at this time as the other had been sent to Boston Naval Shipyard for repairs. The weather was really too rough for a boat to be in the water, but it was urgent that those 18 men were rescued. The boat had started toward the sinking ship. About halfway there the fan belt came off the engine. The engine was stopped, the fan belt was put back on, and when the boat was tried to be restarted, it would not budge.
Now there were 18 men on the wreck, and 6 of our own men in our dis-abled boat. Of course, now our main concern was to get our own men back so the ANTHIBASKIN, carried on the rescue operations of the wrecked ship, and we tried to get our boat back.
On the fourth pass by we finally got a line into the boat. It was brought along side and attempted to brought aboard. It was starting to be pulled up when the after boat hook let loose. The after end of the boat filled up with water, so the forward end was lowered back into the water.
After several attempts were made and failed to get the boat aboard, the 6 man crew was pulled aboard one by one. After the crew was aboard, there was one more gallant effort to try to regain the boat. This effort also failed, so the boat was ordered to be cut loose, by the Captain. It floated closer and closer to the fan tail, and after a few seconds it was struck by the four blades of the screw.
Meanwhile the ANTHIBASKIN, had rescued the remaining men on the ship by putting her stern right next to the skin of the wreck.
After we had left the area, the destroyer was aided by another one and both opened fire upon the wreck and sunk it.
About 1800 we secured
from the long 7 hour ordeal which we will all remember as long as we
MARCH 11, 1964
The thought of every man in the crew, at this time in the picket, was liberty just 9 days away. Our arrival in Davisville had been set for Friday, March 20th. Everyone knew that we would never get into port on time but we were all hoping anyway. Even though this was our main thought, the experiences of 10 days before, were still in everybody’s mind.
The weather was overcast, winds were hitting a height of 50 knots, and
waves as high as 35 or 40 feet. The conditions were so bad that no one was allowed to go topside unless it was a real emergency.
The day passed slowly, time always seems to drag a little more when it is rough. Finally after many hours of waiting, the word that we all listen for every day was passed. “KNOCK OFF SHIPS WORK”
Almost immediately what appeared to be a rumor started to spread through out the ship. It was that we had lost our screw. Hardly anyone believed it until the Executive Officer got on the squawk box and made it official. He said that there was nothing that we could do right away, except to sit tight. He ended his excited speech by saying that there was help on its way, and would be ready to give assistance, if necessary by mid-night.
In a report from the throttle man, he said that the engine just seemed to double or triple its 66 RPM’s that it was turning at the time of the casualty. Even though he had never been through a similar situation, he knew what had happened as soon as “OL JOSH” started turning so fast. The engine and boilers were secured as soon as possible after the screw twisted off the shaft. Every man on watch had something to do, and he did it.
All night long we were at the mercy of the sea. We all wondered if the old “boat” would survive the 45 and 50 degree rolls that we were taking.
Deep inside I guess we all know she would. The Searcher had been through rougher seas than this, but this was the first time without any means of fighting the millions of gallons of water, which now ruled her every movement.
The next morning the sun was bright, and the sea had calmed down. The Coast Guard Cutter, Yakutut (***), was there when we woke up. They were to start towing us, until we met a Navy sea tug the following morning.
Shortly after reveille on that Thursday morning, all hands not actually on watch were called topside to get the towing chain to the Yakutut. The sooner this was accomplished, the sooner we could be under way to Boston or New York. As of that time no one knew where we were going, but it was going to be one or the other.
The Yakutut towed us all day and all night. Bright and early the next morning we met the sea tug, U.S.S. Luisino (****). The tow was changed from the Yakutut to the Luisino, and we were under way again. At this time the word was put out that we were going to Brooklyn Naval Shipyard for repairs.
The Luisino towed us all day Friday and Saturday at an average speed of between 12 and 14 knots. This was better time than we could have made on our own power. The big difference in speed was accounted for by the fact that the Luisino had twin diesels for propulsion. Her average speed with no load is about 20 or 25 knots.
Sunday morning we were towed into New York Harbor by the Statue of Liberty, the New York skyline, and under the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.
Our berth assignment was number 12 until Monday. At that time we would be moved to Dry Dock number 5. The same dock that U.S.S. Constellation was built, and later burned and rebuilt in.
The first thing that was done after we were tied up was the off loading of ammunition. An all hands working party was called for the big job ahead. After all the ammunition had been off loaded, liberty was granted to the crew,
Early Monday morning we were moved into the dry dock. After the dock had been pumped out, and the Searcher was sitting on the bottom blocks, work on the shaft was commenced.
We were in dry dock from Monday until Thursday. At that time we were returned to berth number 12 for dock trials. The dock trials were started, at about 1400, and were secured at about 1700.
Now it was off to the big city for the final time before we got under way for Davisville.
Friday morning we were under way for Davisville at about 0900. The trip took us about 16 hours. When we got to the channel entrance, we had to wait until the sun came up before we could go in. We were finally tied up at the end of pier 2 at about 0900.
The sight of the Davisville piers was a welcomed sight to everyone, after all that we had been through in the past month. March of 1964 had been a month of all months for the life of the Searcher, and all the men aboard her.
The North Atlantic had a reputation during the winter and early spring months. Believe me, everything that is said about it is the truth.
Sketches by Billy Veach