Recollections of Plum Island Seeing The Light

By David Robb Home Back

Safety Patrol and Lighthouse re-supply

Safety Patrols were pretty simple in preparation. You stuffed your pockets with candy bars and got on the boat. Once away from the dock, we got up on a dashing plane and flew down the west shore of Door County with the twin wakes of our boat converging twenty yards behind us. Our mission was to ensure that all boats in the area had proper lifesaving and safety equipment aboard. If they didn't, we politely instructed the people them about what was required and suggested that if they didn't want a ticket next time or worse, lose a life, they should affect a remedy as soon as they got back to port. Most boats were tourists and vacationers who were out for a nice day. No one was intentionally out to thwart our mission or press the point. We tried to leave them feeling good rather than mad at us. Once, a boater took exception to our boarding routine and got pretty obnoxious about it. Rather than punching the guy in the nose as he deserved, Oldenberg simply escorted the boat to the nearest dock and told him that he was never allowed back on Green Bay - ever again. I guess he believed him because we never saw that guy again that year.

In 1965, commercial fishing was big business on the Great Lakes and so it was on Green Bay. Every morning we would see the hog backed enclosed 45 foot fishing tugs heading for their nets. We got to know a lot of the fishermen as fellow professionals. They were strong men of enormous character, experience and few words. It was not unusual to come close aboard a boat working its nets in the early morning and catch a brown paper bag full of freshly caught Chubbs. Being from the area, Oldenberg knew just what to do. While one of us took the wheel, he would open one of the engine hatches and lay the Chubbs sizzling on the large engine exhaust manifolds until they were cooked up and ready to eat. As I write this, I can feel my stomach lurch as it did then but most of the guys loved them. Hot, greasy little fish fried in diesel oil - mmmmMMMMM-Muh! Won't get romance like that at your local I-Hop.

The cruise took us into each of the quaint little towns on the shore and then out to Chambers Island where there is a monastery or nunnery, I was told. Then, we would shoot back around the tip of Door County and out into the open lake down to Cana Island Light. Along the way, we may do a couple boardings and then into Bailey's Harbor for lunch at a local restaurant. With a belly full of French fries and hamburgers, we headed back north to the approximate position of the rescued barge we chased and then west around St. Martins Island with a wave to the guys on that station. From there, there were several more boardings in the area of Washington Island and then home as the sun sunk in the west over Marionette-Menominee. Total distance traveled was usually a little over 100 miles each day. If this sounds pretty enjoyable - it was. Our mission was to insure safety and show a consistent presence. I always thought of it as a bit of reward for the dangerous rescues we sometimes got into or the dreaded lighthouse re-supply missions.

Within our assigned area, there were several abandoned lighthouses that were operated by battery. When a report from a mariner came in that one was out, we would load up the forty foot boat with six volt deep cycling batteries and head to the particular light. The furthest was Summer Island that was about 1 hours away. Once there, we would form a bucket brigade and pass the fifteen-pound batteries down the line until all were ashore. Then, we would put one battery on each shoulder and climb fifty to ninety steps through the inside of the light until we were at the top. It would take about a dozen batteries to recharge the light. The trip down the light was as bad as the trip up. Three men would make 2 trips while the engineer connected and tested everything. It was actually a fair trade off because if a report that the light was not on after re-charging, it could be pretty rough on the engineer.

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This entire story is copyright by David Robb, and appears here with his permission.

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This page last modified 08/23/2003