Learning History And Lending A Hand

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Coast Guard , Local History

Aboard the 36500 are (from left) cadet Mitchell Campbell, advisor Lisa Goodwin, and cadets Cole Francavilla, Abigail LeLievre, Alexa Smith and Jacob Bolles.  ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

Mass Maritime Cadets Work On CG36500

CHATHAM — It was a little bit like visiting with a celebrity.

For a handful of Mass. Maritime Academy cadets, all future officer candidates in the Coast Guard, spending a morning working on the venerable rescue boat CG36500 left them paint-splotched and starstruck.

“It’s incredible. This was the actual boat,” cadet Cole Francavilla said. “It’s crazy.”

Francavilla and his peers are members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary University Program, akin to an ROTC program in the other armed services. For young people entering the Coast Guard, the story of the Gold Medal lifeboat CG36500 and its role in the 1952 rescue of 32 men from the stricken tanker Pendleton is required reading.

The five cadets climbed ladders and sat aboard the wooden rescue boat, which was inside the maintenance garage at Station Chatham for regular maintenance. Before donning their work clothes, they listened to the story of the rescue from volunteer John Norton of the Centers for Culture and History (CHO) in Orleans, which owns the boat and operates it as a floating museum. The cadets marveled at the tiny survivors’ compartment in the bow of the boat, inside of which about 18 wet, cold crewmen crammed for the uncertain return trip to Chatham in the teeth of a blizzard. Thanks to the Disney film “The Finest Hours,” a wide audience now knows the story of the rescue, but the cadets didn’t need the movie to know the story.

“I’m kind of a really big nerd about it,” Mitchell Campbell said. Having wanted to join the Coast Guard since he was a boy, Campbell had already read books about the rescue.

Cadet Alexa Smith, who’s also in the Coast Guard Reserves, said it’s amazing to think that Bernie Webber and his three-man rescue crew made the trip over the Chatham Bar without the aid of modern technology of any kind. They opted to attempt the rescue, knowing they might not return.

“They had the courage to just go,” she said.

Following their history lesson, the cadets grabbed rollers and paint trays and went to work. The effort to get the 36500 ready for museum duty required lots of volunteer labor, led by a group of dedicated CHO volunteers, some of whom also volunteer to show the rescue boat to the visitors who come to Rock Harbor from around the world to see it. They got some help this year from volunteers from Coast Guard Station Chatham, which also offered its maintenance garage for the job. Together, they sanded and prepped the boat, top and bottom, making some repairs and applying a new coat of paint. The boat is in about the best shape it’s ever been in, volunteers say. It was scheduled to go back in the water early this week.

It was actually cadet Jacob Bolles’ second time working on the old lifeboat; last year, he and his colleagues replaced the zinc anodes that protect parts of the boat from corrosion. They also performed a courtesy safety inspection of the boat. Even that was a bit of a thrill that he’ll share with friends and future shipmates.
“When they ask me, ‘Hey, do you know what the 36500 is,’ I’ll say, ‘Actually, I worked on it – twice,” Bolles said with a smile.