ISS1 2018

Reservist Magazine is the award-winning official publication of the United States Coast Guard Reserve. Quarterly issues include news and feature articles about the men and women who comprise America's premier national maritime safety and security

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 34 of 59

spend most of his career at Brazos Station. By 1915, he had already advanced to Brazos Station's Number 1 Surfman (or boatswain's mate first class by later standards) and recognized by his superiors as "a very efficient man." Two years older than Valent, Surfman Holland joined the Life- Saving Service in 1915, the same year it became the modern U.S. Coast Guard. And Surfman Lopez began serving in 1919, only a few months after his discharge from the U.S. Army. He suffered from gas poisoning in World War I, an injury that would plague him till his early death in 1933. Unknown to these men, a tropical disturbance in the Lesser Antilles had spawned a storm, which grew rapidly into a Category 4 hurricane. The storm grazed the Florida Keys and slipped into the sheltered waters of the Gulf of Mexico. This hurricane later became known as the notorious "Florida Keys Hurricane," one of the top ten deadliest storms in U.S. history. In its path sailed numerous unsuspecting vessels, several of which would be lost with all hands. One of these ships, the 77-ton schooner Cape Horn, had been fishing far out in the Gulf. The storm descended on the schooner and its crew of eight the night of Saturday, Sept. 13, capsizing the vessel and flooding the hold. The crew managed to cut away the sails and rigging, allowing the mastless vessel to right itself. But for the next two days and nights, the crew had to man the bilge pumps non-stop to keep the hulk afloat. Meanwhile, the men clung to the foundering vessel as the storm pushed it toward the Texas coast. At daybreak on Tuesday, Sept. 16, the Brazos Station watchman spotted the Cape Horn in the distant, storm- tossed seas. She was lying low in the water with stumps left for masts, and it was obvious that the schooner was about to sink. Station Keeper Wallace Reed, Valent, Lopez, Holland and the rest of the boat crew knew quick action was required. They launched the surfboat in some of the worst sea conditions ever seen in the area. Huge waves broke as far as the eye could see, and the bar they had to pass to reach the Gulf was a cauldron of cross currents, roiling seas and angry whitewater. Nonetheless, the crew deployed its Type "E" 36-foot motor surfboat into the teeth of the storm. The Type E relied on oar power as well as an early internal combustion engine. Starting out in the storm-tossed surf, the craft rolled onto its beam-ends, throwing the men violently from side to side. The surfboat constantly shipped seas and flew over bruising combers. Several times the surfboat jumped clear of the seas to come crashing down into the trough below. A veteran of 20 years' service, Reed had never seen such dangerous and confused seas in his life. After battling the elements for two hours, Valent, Lopez, Holland and the rest of the men managed to reach the foundering schooner. Cape Horn's dispirited crew managed to hang-on even with heavy seas surging over the schooner's deck. To avoid wrecking the surfboat against the submerged vessel, the Brazos crew used their oars to accelerate the surfboat to the hulk in the interval between each breaker. Using this method, they snatched off the survivors one at a time, retreating before the next breaker and then returning for another victim. The lifesavers brought all eight survivors into the boat for the ride back to shore. Unfortunately, the return trip appeared more dangerous than the struggle to reach the ship. The lifeboat was overloaded with 15 men, and heavy seas formed huge breakers cascading onto the beach. Turning back was not an option, because the Cape Horn had slipped below the waves shortly after the last survivor was rescued. As the surfboat neared the shore, Keeper Reed found the surf pummeling the beach and had to choose a landing point two miles from his original embarkation point. Though crewmembers Valent, Lopez and Holland were skilled surfmen, the boat shipped seas constantly as huge waves boarded the surfboat from the stern. With his crew soaked and exhausted and the Cape Horn survivors clutching thwarts and gunnels for safety, the odds weighed heavily against a safe landing. Reed deployed the surfboat's drogue, a service-issued bucket-like device made of canvas and designed to work like a sea anchor. This contrivance controlled the boat's speed as it surfed over powerful waves and helped Reed keep the boat on course for the beach. Disaster struck within 100 yards of land when heavy seas burst the drogue. With huge breakers curling all around, loss of the drogue could propel the surfboat into the deadly surf, overturning the watercraft and killing or injuring those inside. In more than one such case, an entire surfboat crew had been drowned. But Valent, Lopez, Holland, Reed and the rest of the crew managed to hold the boat steady using their oars and, with the aid of the boat's engine, powered the boat on top of a towering wave headed for shore. Riding Pablo Valent shown later in his career as a chief bosun's mate. Coast Guard Collection Issue 1 • 2018 � RESERVIST 33

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Reservist - ISS1 2018