Digest>Archives> August 2005

Off Course From Anacapa Island

By James W. Baker


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Leo Whaley (left) and Larry Boylan were avid skin ...

A sense of humor is essential among crews aboard isolated or semi-isolated units.

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Fog drifting around the base of Anacapa Light at ...

Early one morning, Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Leo Whaley took the station boat for our Monday mail and grocery run from Anacapa Light Station into Port Hueneme, 11 miles away on the California coast. The transit across the Santa Barbara Channel usually took an hour and a quarter, give or take a few minutes.

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Dave Hickey watches the station boat approach the ...

Crews normally left the radio antenna stowed alongside the boat’s cabin to avoid damage from lifting gear used to launch the boat, but the coxswain always checked in upon reaching the mainland.

After more than an hour and a half without a radio call, our officer-in-charge, Boatswain’s Mate First Class Larry Boylan, began worrying. With calm seas, there appeared no reason for the crossing to take so long.

Adding to Boylan’s worries, a fog bank sucked in the heavily trafficked channel. With visibility down to less than a hundred yards, he felt special concern about the possibility of our 30-foot boat striking the long tow cable between a tug and barge.

Finally, Whaley called. He couldn’t find the harbor but the fog had lifted some and he reported seeing several tall radio towers along the coast.

After a quick check of the ocean navigation chart for the area, Boylan located the antennas several miles north of Port Hueneme. Later in the morning after Whaley finished his duties and started back, the island stood clear on the horizon so he aimed the boat rather than set a compass course. Upon his arrival, we kidded him about being a boatswain mate who couldn’t navigate.

Boylan took the next mainland trip, and again, heavy fog lay on the ocean surface. An hour and 40 minutes after his departure, he called in laughing. He said he’d be a little late; he’d found some antennas on the coast. Whaley just smiled.

The fog had dissipated by the time Boylan headed back. As soon as he cleared the harbor and pointed the boat’s bow toward the island, he noticed a significant error in the compass reading.

During his ensuing investigation, our newest crew member admitted knocking a compensating magnet loose from the compass while cleaning the boat. He didn’t understand the importance of the small metal bar and reversed it when he put it back in place.

Leo Whaley had been vindicated.

This story appeared in the August 2005 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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