Ensign Bafflestir

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 As a teenager, Ron Marlett's sense of humor was influenced by MAD magazine, especially the one-page cartoon strips contributed by Don Martin. In 1970, Ron joined the Coast Guard and was stationed aboard the 255-foot cutter Winnebago, homeported at Honolulu, Hawaii. The following year, the Coast Guard 14th District Office was in need of a driver who would also serve as a representative in their public relations office. Ron was chosen for the position, and within a couple of weeks he was spending most of his time answering phones and working on the monthly news magazine called Pacific Shield. The public relations officer Lt Gary Boyer came up with the idea of having Ron create a small cartoon strip that would run every month in the Pacific Shield. Ron drew a four-panel strip about coastguardsmen being inspected by two officers, and JO1 Jim Gilman wrote the dialogue for the characters. Gilman named the tall, skinny ensign in the strip "Ensign Bafflestir." Ron liked the name so much that in the next issue of the Pacific Shield, Ron presented the strip as Ensign Bafflestir. Ron took over the responsibility of writing his own storyboard and the strip eventually became a full-page piece. Ensign Bafflestir became famous within the Coast Guard, which allowed Ron to experience a celebrity status during the next three years of his enlistment.    

 After Ron's discharge from active duty in 1974, he pursued a career in the fine arts and Ensign Bafflestir was shelved. In 2008, Ron created a mixed media portrait of Ensign Bafflestir that was fashioned after a painting of Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson and submited it along with information  about the cartoon's history to Wikipedia. To read Wikipedia's article on Ensign Bafflestir, please go to wikipedia.org

To enjoy the cartoons, click on one of the pictures to the left.

 


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USCGC Winnebago by Ron Marlett.

Fender Man

This essay was written by Ron Marlett to preserve his experiences aboard the USCGC Winnebago while serving in the Coast Guard from 1970 to 1974.


     In the 1970s, the United States Coast Guard still maintained many old ships that were built during World War II. The USCGC Winnebago was named in honor of the Winnebago people of Wisconsin and  was launched in July 1945. The Winnebago was built as a patrol gunboat but never saw action for the war was over shortly after her commissioning. After the war the Coast Guard subsequently refitted the Winnebago for peacetime service, which included, search and rescue, enforcement of maritime laws, medical assistance, navigation assistance, and weather monitoring. The 255-foot cutter had a complement of 148 officers and men. After I graduated from Coast Guard Boot Camp, I was assigned to the Winnebago as a crewman. Every other month, the Winnebago would take up a position near the shipping lanes between Japan and Midway Atoll. The Winnebago would remain on station for 2 weeks and then she would be relieved by another Coast Guard cutter. On our voyage back to Hawaii, we refueled at Sand Island which is one of three islands that make up Midway Atoll. After filling our tanks with diesel fuel, the Winnebago slowly backed away from the pier. A coastguardsman hoisted the American flag on the mizzen gaff as Navy sailors cast off the last mooring hawser.
   I was the fender man. I wish I could have been someone more important, like a line handler, or a quartermaster, or the Captain; but I was just a fender man. Every time our ship would dock or get underway, I would stand near the boatswain with my little cushion tied to a skinny line and watch everyone participate in working the ship. While standing near the boatswain, I would carefully coil my skinny line so that
 I appeared busy. The coiled line rested in my left hand. My right hand maneuvered the small fender into imaginary situations while I waited in vain for an order. Everyone knew his job well, and I became an expert at watching them: the line handlers pulling in the huge dirty mooring hawsers and stowing them into the hawser locker; The quartermaster quickly raising the ship's identification flags up to where the Coast Guard ensign proudly snapped in the Pacific sea breeze; The Captain on the bridge wing looking about with a keen eye to the activities taking place on his ship. During the ship's maneuvering into the channel, I could smell the greasy soot coming from the funnel. The stack-gas odor always reminded me of burning plastic. I coiled my skinny line again to keep myself busy. Suddenly, the stinky stack-gas smell dissipated, replaced by the fresh scent of the sea and Midway's coconut palms. It was refreshing not to breathe in the foul fumes of  the gigantic diesel turbines. I looked up at the funnel and noticed that the stack was not belching out smoke. The Captain left his position on the bridge wing and entered the wheelhouse. Everyone on deck stopped working and looked at one another, hoping that our problem was short lived. A ship that loses power while maneuvering near fuel lines can be dangerous.



The old ship's engines broke down and the ship was now adrift.    

   
    I followed the boatswain over to the decktalker who was plugged into the superstructure outlet. The Captain was coordinating the ship's functions through the decktalkers whose officers were standing nearby. The order was given to the deck officer that everyone was to muster on the fantail with the exception of the fender man. The boatswain gave me instructions to go forward and place my fender between the ship and the pier. The adrenalin began to rush through my body as I walked forward, passing crewmen who were making their way to the stern. I wanted to prove to my shipmates that they could count on me to accomplish my mission. Our ship was in a precarious situation. The vessel became a colossal weathervane as the wind pushed the ship's stern sideways. The ocean currents conspired with the wind; and together, they forced our ship on a deadly course torward the fueling pier. Now was my moment of truth. My job was to save the ship! I passed the forward superstructure and saw the Navy seamen who were tending the lines on the pier begin to run. The sailors on the pier were running for their lives. Fear overcame me and I froze. It was a paralyzing fear that held me fastened to the deck as if the steel I stood on metamorphosed into hundreds of hands that gripped my legs, ankles, and feet. My sweaty body was shaking and my hands could barely hold my fender. I faced my comrades. Their backs were against me as they hurriedly stumbled aft, the deck officer behind them like a cowboy herding cattle. I was running torward something that everyone was running away from and I became a coward.



 The old ship's bow was moments away from cutting the fuel line and causing an explosion.



    One comrade turned to see the tragic event unfold. Other shipmates turned and soon the entire deck force stopped and stared at me. I could see their distant faces fill with disappointment over my inaction to the crises. The crew was silent yet I could clearly hear their voices within my mind. "I knew he was a loser," said one. "I knew we could'nt count on him," said another. If only I could get a signal from the deck officer, or an encouraging cheer from the crew. I needed an inspirational gesture that would break the evil spell my fear cast upon me. The deck officer became angry. He stepped forward and violently jabbed his finger torward my destination. He became a knight who slammed Excalibur down on the deck, cutting my iron restraints, and setting me free. I ran to the bow jumping over hatches and vents as though the obstacles were merely tiny bumps on the deck. My body and mind became a finely tuned machine that was focussed on placing the fender between the ship's bow and the fuel pipe. I could not hear or feel. My eyes fixated on only what my mind needed to know to complete the mission. I wrapped myself around the jack staff  and lowered my fender down. There it was; the sharp bow of the ship and the old rusted pipe full of explosive fuel. I positioned the fender beside the pipe and watched the knife like bow slowly press into the pillow. The pipe began to buckle against the oncoming weight of the ship. The pylons that the pipe was secured to began to bend inward and the pipe line became distorted. The old wood mooned and creaked against the unwanted intrusion, but the solid pier robbed the ship of her forward momentum. It was like watching a tennis ball bounce off a wall in slow motion. The ship drifted away from the pipe and I could see that the fender prevented the ship's bow from cutting open the fuel line. I brought up my fender, which resembled a torn and shredded pancake, and I felt a sense of relief that the threat against our ship was over.



The old ship's engines started up and the ship backed out into the channel.



    I turned to the wheelhouse and saw the Captain walk out onto the bridge wing. I held the fender up high to display my trophy and the Captain smiled and waved. The Captain regained control of his ship and he issued orders that steered our bow to the waves. The smelly smoke poured out of the funnel and faded into the clear cerulean sky. I never thought I would feel so good to see the soot coming out of the stack, but the soot was our ticket to the open sea. The ship's horn made a loud blast and the quartermaster lowered the identification flags. The deck force returned to their duties of stowing the mooring lines, securing the hatches, and positioning the starboard small boat into its launching position. We passed the brown remains of a water barge, which marked Midway's channel entrance, and our ship began to pitch to the ocean's blue swells. I placed the flattened fender and coiled line next to the various tools in our storage locker and secured the steel door. I paused  from my duties to reflect on what had happened to me at the pier. Was I a coward or a hero? Maybe both of those human responses were part of the person I became during my moment of truth. I felt a sense of accomplishment and self worth, but most importantly, I understood that I was capable of taking one step beyond the shackles of fear.



The old ship steamed out to sea.