The Coming of Age - The 1960s--1980s

In 1965, the Coast Guard took a giant step forward. Throughout the country, the word "Lifeboat" was dropped from the unit title of the "Stations" that had performed so many different missions. Soon after, the distinctive orange and blue Coast Guard stripe was authorized to help distinguish the Service from the Navy. So begins the newest of the Coast Guard "modernization" programs. At this time, the Times Union reports (4/9/1965) that the Station is operating four boats: 40—foot utility boat, 30—foot light utility boat, 36—foot motor lifeboat, and 14— foot skiff. Communications improved with the shift from MF—AM (medium frequency) radio to VHF—FM (very high frequency). Initially, the Coast Guard experimented with this system for government traffic; but it was quickly adopted by the boating public. One of the Coast Guard frequencies, Channel 22A (157.10 MHz), was authorized for use by civilians to communicate with the Service. Through a system of Hi—Level antenna sites, supplemented by radios at each unit, complete coverage of the Great Lakes was attained. At Rochester, a Hi—Level site was located on top of the Russell Station power plant.
1967 was a big year for Coast Guard publicity. CGC White Lupine, a buoy tender, visited in late June. Then in August, CGC Mackinaw came to visit. Both ships held open house and drew large crowds. May 20, 1968 the unit received a new 44—foot, 3,600 pound Motor Lifeboat. CG 44380 was a vast improvement over the 36—foot "white whale." It was capable of 12 knots and was rated for seas up to 30 feet. It could roll completely over and right itself, ready to continue on the mission assigned. This boat was almost indestructible! It took ten days to ferry it up the East Coast and through the canals from Maryland, where it was built.
In 1972, the Auxiliary set out to assist the Coast Guard with the age-old problem of determining the positions of boaters in distress. From Oak Orchard to Pultneyville, 20—30 pelorus stations were to be established to provide lines of position to the distress sites. Volunteers in the area would be trained in the use of a pelorus, and when called would provide the bearing to a vessel. By combining two or more of these bearings, an accurate position could be obtained. [It was reported that a similar system was operational 12 years before, in 1960; but there is no information from the local press. The first attempt failed because the original volunteers either moved or quit.] The experiment was attempted for two summers. High water in 1973 destroyed many of the pelorus sights; only six were operational. Flotilla Staff Officer James F. Hilbert, coordinating the operation, hoped to reestablish the effort in 1974.
Group Buffalo announced that the Station in Sodus Point would close 1 JUN 1973. This would increase the Area of Responsibility for the Rochester Station, to stretch from Oak Orchard on the west to Sodus Bay on the east. However, with an 82—foot cutter stationed in Oswego, it was hoped the increased load would be minimal. After much Congressional debate, funding was restored to the Coast Guard to reopen some of the stations. On July 26, 1973 it was announced that the Sodus Point station would reopen for weekends and holidays. Experimenting with a new concept, the station would be run using only Auxiliary boats.
In May of 1976, the Coast Guard took another step into the age of technology. The Weather Service warning flags, flown at Rochester since 1936, were to be replaced by a radio broadcast to be made on 162.40 MHz. This broadcast would be revised regularly by the NOAA forecasters, and would be available much farther than the two miles the old flags and lights had been visible from Summerville. The broadcasts could also carry emergency information about missing boats, and an alert tone would activate special monitors to warn of impending storms. The system was a great step forward. (The flags had been flown from Niagara since 1/11/1904, and from Buffalo since 7/1/1907.) The summer of 1976 also brought some local conflict concerning the fog signal at the mouth of the river. A new directive had caused the foghorn to again mound continuously, as it had the preceding year; since March the signal had only been sounding daily until 10:00 p.m. After two days of discussion, the Coast Guard agreed to permit the fog signal to be silent whenever visibility exceeded 5 miles, interpreting the new directive as applying only to a different class of signal.
On June 10, 1977, Station Rochester received a 41—foot new aluminum utility boat — well, almost! The flatbed truck delivering the boat was stopped on Highway 47 by a low bridge only a few miles from the station. After finding an alternate route, the boat was delivered to the Genesee River. It is not known how long this boat remained at Summerville, but it didn’t stay long. A 56—foot Coast Guard cable boat sank on December 2, 1977 as it was transiting from Oswego to Niagara Station. It experienced 6—foot waves and winds of 50 mph as it approached Nine Mile Point. The boat was a converted landing craft (LCM), with an open deck, and it was taking water over the gunwale faster than the 3—man crew could pump it out. Rochester’s motor lifeboat was dispatched to the scene about two miles offshore, where it found the 50—ton cable boat listing to port. They took the boat in tow, but a wave parted the towline and the cable boat sank 2.5 miles east of Nine Mile Point. Two weeks later, a helicopter from the Sheriff’s Department located the sunken cable boat in approximately 70 feet of water off Ginna Power Plant. The boat was salvaged the following week, and returned to Coast Guard service. A couple of weeks later, a feature article described winter duty at the station. After the motor lifeboat was hauled from the water December 5, the crew commenced a duty rotation of 24 hours on/48 hours off. They maintained a fourman crew to respond with the ice skiff if needed. Most of the time was spent fighting boredom, working on cars, and sleeping. "After a while, it gets to be a real drag," said MK2 Roy Short, OOD. "The boredom really settles in during January and February" (TU, 12/30/1977). SA John Garbarino adds, "Summer duty makes up for all the winter drag." SA Mark Rudolph agrees, "Yeah, in the summer you get all the excitement you’d ever need." (Ibid.)
The Coast Guard began monitoring CB (citizens band) radio traffic at Rochester in the spring of 1978. They listen on channel 9, the channel designated for emergency traffic; and they only respond to distress calls. Even so, two-thirds of the calls received were determined to be prank calls. Also in 1978, the Coast Guard sent to Rochester a new fast-response boat, CG 214170. This 21—foot Boston Whaler was an open boat, reportedly capable of 50 mph, according to BNC Ben Critchley (D&C, 11/19/1978).
1980 proved to be a different year. The fifteen men attached to Rochester Station heard the news in August that they would be carrying sidearms on a regular basis during boardings. They didn’t think they needed this type of protection for the cases they handled that summer, like the derelict "Port—sPot" (construction—site outhouse) that was located and rescued 1 .5 miles off Durand Eastman Park. Initially the three-man crew was afraid to open the door in fear it might be occupied, but such was not the case. The crew tried to sink the seven-foot fiberglass structure, but even after several holes were chopped it continued to float; so they lashed it to the stern of the motor lifeboat and towed it ashore. When they arrived at the Station, a Monroe County Sheriff’s boat offered to relieve them of their burden. The crew of the motor lifeboat is still trying to figure out what the Sheriff would have done with it!
A couple of weeks later, the crew was a little more serious when a 55—gallon drum which appeared to be a bomb was located a half mile off Webster at 10:54 p.m. The drum was tied to a wooden raft and was marked with "Danger, Explosives, Caution" and a skull—and—crossbones. An orange tackle box was attached to the drum, later found to contain a clock, toggle switch, and four wires. The motor lifeboat stood watch from a distance overnight, and the Sheriff’s bomb squad dismantled the drum and found it to be a fake. (The clock was set to activate lights on the raft at 10:00 p.m., about the time the GG received a report of an emergency flare.) Even so, the crew began to seriously think about security.
In October 1980 the District announced that Rochester would again receive a 41—foot utility boat. Oswego had their motor lifeboat transferred, and it was decided they needed one more than Rochester; so the boats were swapped. This would provide the unit with a faster response resource, to supplement the 16—foot Boston Whaler. The Station responded to 213 calls in 1980, compared to 160 calls in 1979.
The following May, the 41—footer was transferred to Station Erie, Pa; and Rochester received a 44—foot motor lifeboat (CG 44316) and a 22—foot Boston Whaler. It was reported that, over the next winter, the motor lifeboat would add one ton of lead ballast to increase her righting capabilities. In addition to the MLB, Rochester had two Boston Whalers (21 ft. and 14 ft.) and a fourteen foot aluminum ice skiff. P01 Kenneth Mitchell, the unit’s Engineer, also stated they could rely on the CG Auxiliary: "If we lost two kids in a sailboat out on this lake, you’d probably have 50 to 60 units out looking for it." (D&C, 8/10/1980).
Again in 1982 it was announced that Rochester CG personnel would begin carrying sidearms. Although weapons had seldom been carried in the past, the war against drugs in Florida and the Gulf states was having its impact on the Great Lakes. BMC Donnie Gordon reaffirmed the policies announced by BMC Vern Williams two years previously, that the Rochester Coast Guard personnel would be ready to handle any problems that arose. The motor lifeboat received two additions to its electronics package in 1983. A new radar was installed, with a range of 12 miles and reported capable of picking out people in the water. At the same time, a LORMI—C unit valued at $7,000 was installed to aid in navigation. These would have helped with many of the 194 assistance cases performed in 1982.
In January 1984 the Auxiliary proposed to establish a substation at Point Breeze on the Oak Orchard River. Orleans County was leasing an 11—acre site from the state, and agreed to provide space for the Auxiliary. Three boat slips, a headquarters, radio room, and classroom were planned. The Coast Guard was expected to fund the developsent. BMC Donnie Gordon agreed to seek an excess office trailer to use for the headquarters, to keep expenses low.
The following May, the 41—footer was transferred to Station Erie, Pa; and Rochester received a 44—foot motor lifeboat (CG 44316) and a 22—foot Boston Whaler. It was reported that, over the next winter, the motor lifeboat would add one ton of lead ballast to increase her righting capabilities. In addition to the MLB, Rochester had two Boston Whalers (21 ft. and 14 ft.) and a fourteen foot aluminum ice skiff. P01 Kenneth Mitchell, the unit’s Engineer, also stated they could rely on the CG Auxiliary: "If we lost two kids in a sailboat out on this lake, you’d probably have 50 to 60 units out looking for it." (D&C, 8/10/1980).
  Unit security was tightened in the spring of 1984, as a result of threats of terrorism and sabotage against all military installations by organizations like the Puerto Rican FALN. With it came the policy of keeping the fence gates locked and closing access to the east Government pier. This was the only place available to fishermen while the west pier was closed for repairs. After meeting with the City Recreation Bureau and the Monroe County Fishery Advisory Board, BMC Donnie Gordon agreed to open the station gates from 6:30 a.m. to sunset; but guards would continue to patrol the grounds.
Rochester celebrated its sesquicentenial in 1984, and part of this celebration was the Tall Ships Festival. Twenty ships arrived July 12 from a stop in Toronto, as part of the Lake Ontario Tall Ships Rendezvous ‘84. The 180—foot buoy tender CGC Mariposa, homeported in Detroit, also joined the fleet. 20,000 people were estimated dockside to greet the boats when they arrived. BMC Don Gordon estimated 1—2 thousand boats were drawn to the four square miles of water daily to see the various craft, with more anticipated on the weekend when the local boaters joined the crowd. To protect and control this crowd, 36 boats and over 100 personnel were drawn from law enforcement agencies at all levels, the Coast Guard Auxiliary and Reserves, as well as Station personnel. 24—hour patrols were run in the Genesee River and surrounding waters. The Station served as the command and communications center, as well as maintaining the communications guard for CGC Mariposa. Over 30 citations were issued for safety violations. BMC Gordon attributed the small number of problems to the large "visual presence" of patrol vessels. CWO3 Hank Murak, a crew member on the Mariposa, reported, "The station treated us real well" (Shipmates, Summer 1984). As a result of this effort, the Station, Reserves, and Auxiliary involved were awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation.
Two Auxiliarists died in July, 1984 when their twin— engine Apache crashed shortly after takeoff. Herman "Skip" Mau, 38, and his mother Madeline, 60, were departing for a Safety Patrol of southeastern Lake Ontario when they crashed near New Hope Airport. Madeline Mau was killed on impact; Skip died ten days later from burns suffered when he tried to rescue his mother from the wreckage. The effect of this tragedy, and a similar accident near Kenosha, WI. when an Auxiliary plane on patrol crash—landed injuring the pilots, was to seriously cut back the use of Auxiliary air facilities in the Great Lakes for many years.
The boathouse was enlarged in 1985 as part of a general renovation, to enclose the 44—foot motor lifeboat for winter maintenance. The addition was a needed improvement, providing light and heat to work through the cold winter months. This boathouse was not in line with the boat slip; in fact, it was at right angles to it. A wheeled cradle costing $18,000 was provided for a 41—foot UTB, and was still taking up space in 1989; but it was worthless for the heavier 44—foot MLB assigned to the unit. To haul out the motor lifeboat, a commercial crane was hired to lift the boat onto the welded cradle. The cradle was then jacked up and rollers (like telephone poles) were pushed underneath. The cradle was wrenched around and hauled into the boathouse. In the spring, this evolution was reversed to launch the boat.
The Station was renovated at the same time as the boathouse. Office spaces were modernized, and living quarters were redesigned to accommodate female crewmen. The second deck was built with four two—person rooms, each with a separate head (bathroom); and the third deck had two larger rooms for TAD berthing and a common head.
There were seventeen men attached to the Rochester Station when BMC John M. Young took command 30 AUG 1985. Arriving from duty in Ocean City, N.J., Chief Young brought a new meaning to the concepts of communications and community involvement, continuing to build on the foundation laid by BMC Gordon.
When the Coast Guard Station at Sodus Point closed in 1973, it was reopened as a subunit of Station Rochester to serve as operations center for Auxiliary patrols. In 1986, it was recognized as an independent command again, with BM1 Curtis Bull serving as Officer in Charge. Rochester continued to provide communications and computer support, and remained responsible for Sodus Bay for SAR during the weekdays; but local Auxiliarists and the Wayne County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol could usually be counted on to respond at short notice for any needs in the area.
BMC Young spearheaded the rejuvenation of Rochester’s Boating Safety Council. In a unique approach to merchandising, Boating Safety Week was declared to coincide with the celebration of Rochester’s Harborfest. This had the effect of using the associated land parade and carnival to draw attention to the safe boating information and displays. Each year a different maritime agency was honored at the event. In 1987 it was Pultneyville Fire Department with their WR—II (an old CC 40—foot UTB); in 1988 it was the Rochester Power Squadron. The 1987 lighted boat parade was highlighted by the impromptu water fight between the Marine Fire Department’s Fire Tug "Sandy" and MLB 44316, with Monroe County Sheriff’s Marine Units joining in fearlessly with water balloons. Sailing ships from Canada and the Canadian CGC Spindrift attended both years, and the USCGC Nesh Bay (a 140—foot icebreaking tug) was present for the 1987 show.
The Rochester Boating Safety Council has been honored by the New York Safety Council as having the most effective boating safety effort in the state for the years of 1986 through 1988. Under the leadership of Monroe County Sheriff’s SGT John Nichols in 1987, and Mike Kelly of the USPS in 1988, and the continued service of BMC Mike Young as Vice President and Secretary, the efforts continued to improve. The Rochester Offshore Powerboat Association (ROPA) attempted to host its first race in July, 1986. The course was laid out between Webster and Sodus Bay. A headquarters was established in Pultneyville, with an independent radio center to control race operations. The weather for the race was miserable, with heavy seas. National officials, present to supervise and sanction the race, gave orders to start the first heat before the course was secure. The event ended in total chaos and confusion. Eleven minutes after it started, the race was canceled When a race boat snagged a wave and injured all aboard. Had it not been for the total support and involvement of the Reserves and Auxiliary, as well as sheriffs’ and fire boats, the event could have been truly disastrous.
Another attempt was made in July, 1988. This time the race was run strictly by the local organization. A triangular course was set up between the Genesee River and Irondequoit Bay channel, to a third buoy 4 miles offshore. A patrol of 18 Auxiliary boats, 3 Coast Guard boats, 4 police boats and 3 fire boats was assembled to supplement the sponsor’s patrol for course integrity. The weather began moderately, but the wind and waves grew as the day progressed. The buoys to mark the spectator area never were placed, and there was a shortage of sponsor boats to protect the course. After a 90 minute delay, the course was clear and the first race commenced; but the racers didn’t know the course. Instead of heading for the first mark, the boats turned 90 degrees at the starting line and raced at full speed into the center of the course, miming at the Patrol Commander’s boat "SOMEDAY." Recognizing their mistake, some racers headed for Buoy 2, where they swung wide and ran through the spectator fleet. As BM1 Jim Molds, one of the Area Commanders, reported over the radio: "Chief, we’ve got trouble in Dodge." The race was stopped, but it was a slow process to notify all the boats. As the Patrol Commander met with race officials to correct the problems, some of the sponsor’s boats decided to leave; and the remaining races had to be canceled.
A third attempt to hold a race was made in September the same year. For this race, the sponsors solicited suggestions from the Coast Guard to avoid the prior problems. For this race, the course was located between the river and Irondequoit Bay, but close inshore. With the shoreline providing a natural control line, and taking the course out of navigation lanes, it was much easier to patrol. The racers were taken on one lap for familiarization before the competition started, so they would know the course. This time, the race was completed successfully, prompting the sponsors to plan another race for 1989.
The Station has worked closely with the other maritime agencies in the area. Through the winter of 1988, station ice skiff crews drilled with fire departments from West Webster, Lakeshore, Seabreeze, and others to practice and share ideas. Fire departments would usually be closer to any calls for assistance, but the Coast Guard would now be called for backup and support. For calls on Lake Ontario while the motor lifeboat was in winter storage, Rochester Marine Fire Tug "Sandy" was always available and would respond. St. Paul Blvd. Fire Department provided the unit with ambulance support whenever it was requested.
Another field of improved relations was in law enforcement. In 1987 and 1988, agents of the FBI, Customs, Drug Enforcement Agency, Sheriff’s Departments, and Coast Guard Intelligence were invited to join Coast Guard boarding officers in several all—night law enforcement activities. The second year, it was difficult to find enough boats for all the officers who wanted to participate! The result was increased liaison between the various federal and local agencies. Through the late 1980’s, Reserve and Auxiliary support gained new heights. Reserve duty sections qualified personnel to run the boats, with MK1 Jeff Klein, MK1 Gary Landry, MK1 Jim Marshall, and PS3 Tom Richards qualified as coxswains. Each weekend, the Reserve section would take charge of the station boats for training and SAR, leaving the regulars free for law enforcement. In 1988, when financial cutbacks reduced the number of Reservists augmenting, only three weekends per month would be covered by Reserve crews.
The Auxiliary provided the primary Search and Rescue coverage on weekends during the summer. Four boats were regularly patrolling each weekend day, with boats from Oak Orchard, Sandy Creek (4—8), Braddock’s Bay (4—5), and the Genesee River (4—2). In addition, facilities from Flotilla 4—7 and 4—9 patrolled Seneca and Conesus Lakes; and Flotilla 4—4 spearheaded the Division’s support for the Auxiliary Operated Station at Sodus Point, working with OinC BM1 Steve Oliver. Rochester initiated the procedure of refueling Auxiliary facilities from the unit’s hand—cranked gasoline tank to stretch the limited patrol funds. In 1988, over 300 sets of patrol orders were cut by Station Rochester, with an additional 60 sets issued from AUXSTA Sodus Point.
Rochester also reached new heights in Auxiliary operational support. A petty officer was detailed to liaison with each flotilla in Division IV, to assist with training, communications, and leadership. BMC Young personally provided the liaison with the Division IV Board and Staff. The Station’s computer was made available to process Auxiliary administrative records, regularly entered by Auxiliarist Lyle Van Tyne. Auxiliarists Michael Scott and Lyle Van Tyne explored new ground when they qualified as Officers of the Day in the fall and winter of 1987, respectively. Both were qualified as watch-standers at the unit, with Van Tyne having considerable experience from working at AUXSTA Sodus Point. Scott had been recognized as an OOD at Station Wilmette Harbor, where he had worked under (then-BM2) Jim Nolda; but augmentation in that role had been limited to SAR cases when the regulars were occupied.
BMC Young received approval from CDR Steve Cornell at Group Buffalo to utilize these Auxiliariats on a regular basis. Scott, as a high school math teacher who was free over the summer, assumed QOD of the Starboard Duty Section for the summer of 1988; while Van Tyne stood OUD when the Port Section had weekend duty, and for several holidays throughout the year to give liberty to regulars. This is the first known utilization of Auxiliarists as OODs for a Regular Station since the War Years. With the Reserves, Auxiliary, and regulars working so closely each weekend, Rochester served as a prime model of the One Coast Guard Family.
In the fall of 1988, Rochester was visited by an inspection team from the National Motor Lifeboat School at Cape Disappointment. This team toured the country to compare the material condition and training at units with MLBs. Rochester ranked highest among those units visited. The weekend of 24—25 September 1988, Station Rochester served as the operating base when over 80 Reservists and regulars trained on the new 22—foot Raider port security boat. Based on a battle-gray Boston Whaler hull powered by twin 140—h.p. outboard, with radar and armed with .50 cal. machine guns, this boat was an awesome sight. A security zone with a 5—mile radius was established nine miles north of Sandy Creek, with Auxiliary and Sheriff’s boats patrolling the perimeter. PSC Jim Volke was in charge at the range sight, coordinating the firing runs and crew changes. An Auxiliary aircraft provided an overflight of the range to ensure the area was clear before firing commenced, and later it was called to assist searching for an overdue pleasure craft. This was the first Auxiliary air patrol known on Lake Ontario since the fatal accident in 1984, and it was appropriate that it would be flown from Rochester.
Following a personal trip through the Erie Canal to ferry a boat home for his parents-in—law, BMC Young requested the Auxiliary to check the bridge lighting in Rochester’s section of the canal. The results were discouraging. Not one bridge was showing lights, and many were even missing the fixtures to show lights. The District Office in Cleveland was immediately advised.
The Coast Guard has long been concerned with the rights of commercial operators to earn a living assisting disabled boats, and policies were established to avoid competing with commercial operators. In 1988, the first such commercial service appeared in the Rochester area. Timesaverm, Inc., based in Irondequoit Bay, operated the tow vessel Mavis for a couple of months until September 15, 1988, when a new law for licensing operators engaged in commercial towing came into effect. When vessels calling for assistance were determined not to be in distress, the Station was required to issue a Marine Assistance Request Broadcast (MARB) before the Coast Guard could respond. The MARB would be used to request assistance from any source, private individual ("Good Samaritan") or commercial, that would be listening to the marine radio. If no response was received, the Coast Guard could then respond by dispatching Auxiliary facilities or station boats.
When the first press release was issued, announcing the new procedures, weekend SAR came to an abrupt halt. Area boaters were heard calling friends for assistance instead of the Coast Guard, to avoid paying for commercial assistance. The Station responded to 303 cases in fiscal 1988, but only 26 were performed in the last month of September. 247 boardings were conducted in the same year. Most notable of these was the boarding done in conjunction with the Monroe County Sheriff’s deputies following a complaint that intoxicated boaters had large quantities of fireworks on the Genesee River on board the cabin cruiser "Iron Maiden". When the boat was located, a small amount of drugs was found along with the fireworks. This led to the first seizure on Lake Ontario under the federal government’s new "Zero Tolerance" drug enforcement policy, supervised by BM1 Jim Molds, OinC (Acting); and it created a significant impact on the local community.
Two weeks later, the first boarding enforcing new federal regulations on Alcohol Condition was conducted. Monroe County Sheriff’s deputies reported a boat operating suspiciously with many teenagers on board. When the boat was located, the operator was tested and found to have a blood alcohol content of 0.18. The new regulations provided an effective way to combat accidents due to intoxication.