ORLEANS — A private chat between leaders of the Orleans Historical Society and author Casey Sherman this morning (Aug. 22) led to questions about the future of the iconic CG36500 lifeboat that rescued 32 sailors from the sinking tanker Pendleton in 1952.
Sherman, author of “The Finest Hours,” said he participated in a conference call with OHS President Kathleen McNeil and two others and was asked to “leverage my relationship with the Coast Guard” regarding the potential for eventually moving the boat to Washington, D.C., for display.
“The idea of shipping the boat to Washington where only Coast Guard people would see it does a disservice,” Sherman said. “As Cape Codders, our mission is to save the boat.” He said OHS should make a stronger effort to obtain local sponsorship to keep the CG36500 on the Cape.
OHS Vice Chair Jay Stradal, the society's spokesman, was also on the conference call as well as a volunteer. After noting that the call “was understood to be in strict confidence – obviously that was not followed,” he said the discussion “was in confidence because it was strictly exploratory.”
For years, Stradal said, the board has been concerned “about what happens when CG36500 has to come out of the water. The boat is 72 years old. A wooden boat has to stay in the water, or if it's taken out, be preserved. Once it dries out, there are leaks. Our volunteers are not getting any younger. We want to be able to preserve that boat long-term.”
Stradal said the society recevied an inquiry about the boat two or three years ago from a civilian Coast Guard procurement officer in Washington, but the discussion “went nowhere.”
Don St. Pierre of Chatham, who's devoted decades to the care of the CG36500, was disturbed by the possibility of a move, even to his town. “There is no place for it in Chatham,” he said. “It can't go to the fish pier, and it would just get beat to death on a mooring. Orleans has a nice dock, and thousands can see it.”
Ironically, it was the Chatham Historical Society that turned down the lifeboat so associated with the town decades ago when it was offered by the National Park Service. Bill Quinn of Orleans arranged for it to be deeded to the Orleans Historical Society. St. Pierre said many private donations funded restoration and maintenance work performed over the years by volunteers.
Speculation about what sort of monetary settlement might be involved in transferring ownership of the lifeboat spread in the community after today's call became known, with some wondering whether such funds would be used to help the society purchase the Capt. Linnell House, its intended new headquarters.
“It's no surprise we're in a capital campaign,” Stradal said. “The two are not necessarily connected. Something has to be done with the boat regardless of Linnell.” To that end, he said, the board's leaders will continue to explore options, and share these when they acquire more substance.