Blue Water Sailor
By Edward R. Wagner
I graduated from Patchogue High School in 1958 without the slightest clue as to what to do next. Growing up on the south shore of Long Island I had always been around small boats and the beautiful beaches of Fire Island. During my high school years and my one year of “adulthood” after high school I had worked at jobs that taught me what I didn’t want to do for the rest of my life. I had been a store clerk, delivery driver for a drug store, tree climber, construction laborer and my least favorite – asphalt raker.
I had tried hard to “score” while in high school but didn’t have the guts to date one of the girls all the guys claimed were notorious for doing the “big one”. The girls I usually tried to date were of “the nice catholic girl” variety. The thought of making out with a nubile catholic maiden made the quest even more tempting to us big-time high school seniors. Rumor had it that Catholic girls loved to party and always carried a bottle of holy water in their purse for good luck. I guess it just wasn’t my time yet.
While hanging out on the east end of Long Island that first summer after high school I noticed the sailors assigned to the United States Coast Guard stations at Hampton Bays and Montauk Point seemed to have a great life. They got to play around all day in their little patrol boats and hang out in the local east end party joints at night wearing their sexy white uniforms that seemed to always attract the best looking girls in the place. It looked like a great life.
The Coast Guard recruiter was a little vague about which cushy life boat station I would be assigned to after boot camp. He also forgot to tell me the well kept secret that the Coast Guard also operated a small fleet of large Blue Water ships that spent most of their time at sea conducting long range Ocean patrols.
I soon learned that being assigned to one of these ships was similar to being an American seaman impressed by the British Navy to man their navel ships during the years that led up to and caused the United State’s war of 1812 with England. Being a deck seaman on a USCG Cutter doing Ocean patrols was a tough life at times, but it did have an occasional perk for a young single sailor.
During 1959 I found myself standing helm watchs on the USCG Cutter Mackinac as it plowed through storms and heavy seas in the North Atlantic Ocean. The Mackinac was a rusty, 311 foot WW II navy hand-me-down having a second life as a USCG Cutter, held together with duct tape and countless coats of white paint.
Much to the surprise and wonder of our smart-ass, ivy-league CIA agents, events began to heat up in Cuba during late 1959. Fidel Castro was quickly turning Cuba into a
Poster boy for the Soviet Union – resulting in the Mackinac being assigned to help patrol the area. After a month of patrolling around Cuba, our Captain, a real liberty hound, decided the crew needed a little shore-time liberty. We immediately sailed for Kingston, Jamaica with the black-gang pushing the ship’s ancient diesel engines until they screamed for mercy.
2 I was a horny19 year old United States Coast Guard sailor ready for liberty in Kingston, Jamaica, hell-bent on sampling its renowned fleshpots for the first time. There was a good reason Errol Flynn hung out in Kingston Jamaica – in fact there was a tall, pointed obelisk monument dedicated to Mr. Flynn in the garden of Kingston’s famous Myrtle Bank Hotel.
As soon as we docked in Kingston and the rat guards were lashed to the mooring lines, the Chief Boatswain Mate piped “liberty call”. Meanwhile, sailors were stationed on the bow and stern with M-1 rifles to shoot any of the giant wharf rats that made it over the rat guards. It was great sport for them as long as they didn’t hit any of the Jamaican hustlers and pimps hanging around the dock.