Each month, an interesting aspect of the world’s oldest continuous maritime service will be highlighted. The men and women of the United States Coast Guard follow in the fine tradition of the brave mariners who have served before them. As sentinels and saviors of the seas, the United States Coast Guard proudly continues its commitment to honor, respect & devotion to duty to maintain their vigil – Semper Paratus.
The Rescue of Cracker Boy
The door of The Key West Citizen Newspaper swung open. Though a little out of breath, Joseph Burns asked to speak to one of the paper’s reporters. Burns had a tip and wanted to give the home-town paper the scoop. After catching his breath, he explained that while he had been lazing about at Porter Dock he had heard a crackled radio message from one of the shrimping boats. One of the shrimping boats from the fleet was taking on water and needed assistance. Dorothy Raymer, a staff reporter, took down the initial information and picked up her desk phone. A quick phone call to the United States Coast Guard confirmed the plight of the shrimping boat and her two man crew. The boat was floundering near the Marquesas Islands in the waters of the Florida Straits. Cracker Boy was sinking.
As Raymer hung up the phone and continued to jot down her notes, the United States Coast Guard had already diverted an 83’ patrol boat to commence its search and rescue effort. Additionally, the United States Navy was in preparation to launch an aircraft from Boca Chica to assist in the search for the sinking shrimper. Raymer, grabbing one of the newspaper’s photographers, Mr. Ellis Finch, rushed out of the office and headed to the Porter Docks. Additional information was gathered from the employees of the Dayco Company. The shrimping boat Porpoise had picked up the distress signal from the Cracker Boy and had put out from the docks moments earlier to try and assist in the rescue. With permission from their editor, the newspaper duo went to Faraldo’s Flying Service where they rented an airplane and hired a pilot. The aircraft alighted into the clear skies over Key West and banked toward the Marquesas Islands to join in the search of Cracker Boy. Finch scanned the horizon with hopes that he would get a picture of the sinking shrimper for the next morning’s – November 8th, 1952 – edition of the newspaper.
Soon after, the United States Coast Guard received word from another shrimping boat from the fleet, the Mary T, that they had been able to get a rough estimate on Cracker Boy with their radio equipment. The coastguardsmen relayed the information to the various afloat and aloft assets. The scope of the search was hopefully narrowing. Meanwhile, the crew aboard Cracker Boy were starting to lose faith in their languishing boat. Would assistance arrive before Cracker Boy slipped below the crystal blue waters?
Suddenly, high above the serene straits, U.S. Navy Lieutenant, J.G. Phillips spotted a shrimping boat matching the description of Cracker Boy. With all of the shrimping boats in the region though he wanted to confirm he had found the right boat. Banking, he eased the aircraft lower to get a positive identification. One of the men on the deck waved frantically. As the utility plane made its pass, Lieutenant Phillips saw the sternboard with her battered letters spelling out CRACKER BOY. The sinking shrimping boat had been found. Lieutenant Phillips swung around for another pass as he radioed the position to the United States Coast Guard communication’s center. His duty of locating the boat complete, he tipped the wings of the aircraft to acknowledge to the men aboard that he had passed word to the rescue team. Hope buoyed for Fred Jones and Jessie James Simmons aboard the sinking boat. Lieutenant Phillips got his bearings and banked for his return flight to the air station.
Within forty-five minutes, the United States Coast Guard aboard their 83 foot patrol boat arrived alongside of the sinking shrimping boat. Immediately the coastguardsmen sprang into action. Several de-watering pumps were lowered into the holds to begin pumping out the waist-deep water. As the hoses began discharging the water over the stern rails, coastguardsmen, working alongside Jones and Simmons, began stuffing oakum into the seams of the planks. Despite the efforts of the men, the water was not receding. The coastguardsmen radioed for additional pumps. The only way to stem the tide was to engage more de-watering devices. Several hours later, an additional United States Coast Guard patrol boat arrived on scene. With the additional pumps transferred and engaged aboard the Cracker Boy, the water finally began to recede.
Once the water had been appreciably lowered and with temporary damage control techniques in place, the United States Coast Guard rigged for a stern tow of Cracker Boy. Slow and steady, the patrol boat towed Cracker Boy into port and had her safely moored at the Gulf Oil Docks as the dawn of the new day was rising in the Eastern sky. As water continued to be de-watered from her holds and as she waited for a berth in a nearby dry dock, the men aboard Cracker Boy telephoned the boat’s owner’s wife. Fred Jones and Jessie James Simmons did not want to upset the owner Captain Ned Turner. Turner, the former skipper of the Cracker Boy, was laid up in a hospital in Miami, Florida, recovering from a heart attack he had suffered a few days earlier. Best, the men thought, to let his wife know first and then she could pass on word of the situation at the right time. While the exact cause of the leak would not be identified until the shrimping boat had been put in dry-dock, the general consensus of the shrimpers and the members of the United States Coast Guard was that the rough waters had undermined the caulking of the boat’s planks. Though safely moored at the docks, the plight of the shrimping boat was far from over. On Monday, November 10, 1952, the local Key West Fire Department was called to assist the Cracker Boy as temporary measures to stem her flooding had failed. The efforts of the local firemen were successful and the shrimping boat was once again “rescued.”
The efficient and quick rescue of the Cracker Boy in early November 1952 is a reminder of the steadfast resolve of the United States Coast Guard and her ability to effectively coordinate search and rescue efforts with Good Samaritans and sister agencies alike. When boaters or fishermen face adversity, the men and women of the United States Coast Guard have and continue to stand ready to launch to answer the call and to provide succor to those facing peril. It is this core tenet of the United States Coast Guard’s mission that ensures that they remain as the true sentinels and saviors of the seas.
Flynn, James T. Jr. U.S. Coast Guard Small Cutters and Patrol Boats 1915-2012: Vessels of less than 100-feet in Length. U.S. Department of Defense, 2014.
The Key West Citizen Newspaper.
“Shrimp Boat Captain Drowns last night in fall from Trawler,” April 25, 1951.
“C.G. Saves Sinking Shrimp Boat, Rescues Cracker Boy’s Crew of 2,” November 8, 1952.
“Fire Dept. Saves Sinking Shrimper,” November 11, 1952.
“Key West is My Beat,” November 11, 1952.