Heading South On Board the USS Edisto – copyright 2009 Jack W Cummings
On 10 December 1964 the USS Edisto left Boston Harbor and set a course for Anvers Island on the Palmer Peninsula in Antarctica (Some time ago the peninsula was renamed “Antarctic Peninsula). Commander Norval E. Nickerson had been the commanding officer of the Edisto since May, 1963. He had completed 3 Arctic deployments since taking command. During that time the Edisto had participated in Arctic replenishment of all the areas requiring icebreaker services in Labrador and on both the east and west coasts of Greenland. CDR Nickerson had under his command not only a crew well trained in Polar Operations, but also a ship that had been proving herself since she was commissioned on 20 March 1947. Anyone wishing to learn more about this proud ship can do so at http://www.uscg.mil/history/webcutters/Edisto_1965.asp
It would be four long months and over 16,000 miles before the Edisto would return to Boston with another “Mission Accomplished” in her log book. In addition to the ships company, she would be transporting eleven members of Mobile Construction Battalion, Detachment Ten (MCB-6 Det 10), four Antarctic Support (ASA) personnel, support crewmen, and helicopters of Helicopter Utility Squadron Four (HU-4). Somewhere along the way she would pick up five members of the United States Antarctic Research Program (USARP).
The mission for (MCB-6 Det 10) would be to remodel an existing structure at Palmer Station, formerly the British Antarctic Survey Base F (BAS Base N), as well as erecting a new prefabricated multi-purpose facility, and installing three power generators, placing fuel supply bladders and erecting three communication antennas. The ships company and HU-4 would be involved in offloading and delivering supplies and materials to the site. All hands would be involved in making certain the station would be ready to face the isolation of the oncoming Antarctic winter.
The four navy ASA personnel were; Charles Axworthy (HMC) – Corpsman and Chief in Charge, Tom “Cookie” Adkins – (CS1) station cook and morale builder, Construction Electrician Charles “Chuck” Ferguson – (CE1) station maintenance, and me Jack Cummings (RM1) – official and amateur communications.
There are several things that stand out in my memories of this “cruise”: a night time transit of the Cape Cod Canal – even though I had crossed the canal by car earlier that year, little did I realize that I would ever sail the length of it on an icebreaker; a full moon bathing the ship as we cruised through the Caribbean with a following sea; witnessing waves “curling” over the stern, dousing those sleeping on deck with warm sea water; sailing the fresh waters of Lake Gatun with sailors on deck hosing down the weather decks – and each other; and my second transit of the Panama Canal.
In the early morning hours of the 18th of December we entered the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal, and by that evening were docked at Naval Station Rodman. The next morning I paid a visit to the Naval Communications (NCS) Balboa for the purpose of obtaining the crystals for my KWM-2 transceivers that would facilitate send and receiving on military frequencies. The main responsibility for NCS Balboa would be the relay point for messages from our Navy Communication Network to me at Palmer. This message traffic would be “broadcast” to me at scheduled times each twenty-four period. It was also planned that I would contact NCS Balboa (as conditions permitted) to transmit my outgoing message traffic.
After my business was concluded with the CommSta, I was free to spend some time in Panama City. All I remember about that visit was looking across a barrier to a prohibited zone that had been involved in a civil disturbance earlier in the year. Returning to ship that afternoon, we crossed over the Pan American Bridge and had a great overview of the Pacific canal entrance.
We sailed from Naval Station Rodman on the 20th, headed for our next port of call: Valparaiso, Chile. As we sailed south, the Shellbacks of the Edisto were making preparations to introduce us pollywogs to the “Ruler of the Raging Main”; Neptunus Rex! That fateful day arrived on the 22nd as the ship arrived 60 miles off the coast of Ecuador at Latitude 00 2.5 degrees South – Longitude 80 57.2 degrees West – the Equator. Subpoenas and Summons were issued and since I was a pollywog, having never crossed Rex’s domain while aboard ship, I was not overlooked. My Subpoena read as follows:
Charge I “That Jack Cummings has hitherto willfully and maliciously failed to show reverence and allegiance to our Royal Person, and is therein and thereby a vile land-lubber and pollywog”.
Charge II “Neglect of Duty; failure to procure a Ham Operators License prior to being deployed to Antarctica and prior to entering His Royal domain of the Deep”.
Charge III “Disrespect to a member of His Royal Staff in that you did refuse to volunteer for a working party at quarters on 21 December at the request of a trusty shellback”.
Of course Neptunus Rex’s court provided no “public defenders” who could plead my case; therefore I was automatically convicted on all counts! I have no pictures to share of the ceremony that took place that day, however it was all done in good fun and no one was seriously “violated”. Overall it was a very humbling experience and one that I would gladly participate in anytime. (Of course now that I have my Shellback Certificate, I can be on the other end of the shillelagh) There is something to be said about navy traditions, as they tend to bond together those who sail the seas and make men and women a more cohesive force that in time of peril allows them to prevail. I still hope that in the US Navy of the 21st century clings to these historical traditions – they make our Navy something special.
Christmas day 1964 was spent at sea – as I remember it was just another day at sea, with the exception of a very nice Christmas feast.
As we sailed along the coast of Chile, the seas were smooth as glass, however, a smooth sea does not always insure a smooth ride. The closer we got to our next port, and as our speed of advance (SOA) slowed, we started to feel the effects of the ocean’s undulation beneath us which was intensified by the smooth rounded keel of this ice breaker.
(Next: Part V – Beautiful Chile to Antarctica)