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Pathfinder: Recollections of Those Who Served 1942 - 1971

Compiled by the Office of NOAA Corps Operations

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The PATHFINDER has been a respected ship name within the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey and today's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for close to a century. This name was meant to convey the spirit of the vessel and its work.

The Coast and Geodetic Survey Ship PATHFINDER in the Philippines in the early 1900's. This was the first PATHFINDER.

The first PATHFINDER was built at Crescent Shipyard in Elizabethport, New Jersey, and launched December 7, 1898. It was a three-deck steel vessel with fifteen water-tight compartments, was 196 feet 3 inches overall, 33 feet 6 inches beam, drew 13 feet when fully loaded, and was powered by 4500 feet of canvas and a triple-expansion steam engine capable of 1,173 horsepower. The vessel cruised between 11 and 13 knots. This vessel had been designed for operating in the Aleutian Islands.

On June 1, 1899, the PATHFINDER sailed from the shipyard with a Coast and Geodetic Survey officer in command and a crew of 65 Navy enlisted personnel. The ship proceeded to the West Coast via the Straits of Magellan and arrived in San Francisco on September 17 after many port calls along the way. Its first work was in the Hawaiian Islands in the winter of 1899-1900. The 1900 and 1901 working seasons were spent in the Aleutians, but because of the urgent need for up-to-date charts in the recently acquired Philippine Islands, the PATHFINDER was ordered to Manila following the 1901 field season. The ship sailed directly to the Philippines from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, which must have been quite a surprise to the crew. The first PATHFINDER spent most of the next 40 years charting the waters of the Philippines until it was finally lost as a result of a Japanese bombing raid in late 1941. At that time, it was sailing under the name RESEARCH, which it had been named after a period of inactivity in the 1930's.

The second PATHFINDER was under construction at Lake Washington Shipyards in Seattle, Washington, at the outbreak of WWII. The keel was laid on February 20, 1941, and the ship launched on January 11, 1942. Shortly after launching the ship was transferred to the Navy for wartime use. The second PATHFINDER was 229 feet in overall length, 39 feet in breadth, had a loaded draft of 15 feet, and displaced 1,900 tons when fully loaded. It was single screw, steam turbine powered, and capable of generating 2000 shaft horsepower with a maximum speed of 15 knots.

The PATHFINDER was commissioned on August 31, 1942, and served in the Pacific war from Guadalcanal to Tokyo Bay. Following the war, the vessel was returned to the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey where it served until 1971 conducting surveys off Alaska, Hawaii, and the West Coast of the United States. The following are personal accounts and historical compilations of the illustrious career of the second PATHFINDER.

My office has been engaged in chronicling the history of NOAA Corps and its ancestor organizations. In doing so, the theme of kinship of NOAA Corps with the Naval community is encountered time and again. In particular, our kinship with the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command is striking. As such, on the occasion of the Change of Command and Relieving Ceremony of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command on board the USNS PATHFINDER (T-AGS 60), it is appropriate to share an outstanding example of that kinship and cooperation. The example that I have in mind is the saga of the USS PATHFINDER (AGS-1), also known as the USC&GSS PATHFINDER (OSS 30.)

I directed my staff to compile personal histories, official accounts, and non-official published accounts of the PATHFINDER (this was the second C&GS ship of that name; and, the vessel on which I served my first sea duty) for compilation into a volume which I could share with our fellow officers, scientists, technicians, and vessel operators of the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command (NMOC). This resulting compendium of PATHFINDER lore is primarily directed towards the WWII exploits of the USS PATHFINDER, but it also traces the career of the vessel through to its final decommissioning.

My wish is that the USNS PATHFINDER have as an illustrious career as its namesake. May the name PATHFINDER always evoke images of cooperation between our organizations, thoughts of perils shared and hard work accomplished together, and a reminder of our similar heritage.

My congratulations are extended to Rear Admiral Paul G. Gaffney on the assumption of command of NMOC. Likewise, I congratulate Rear Admiral John E. Chubb for his conclusion of a successful tour of duty as the outgoing Commanding Officer of NMOC and wish him well in his retirement.

Rear Admiral Sigmund R. Petersen, NOAA
Director, NOAA Corps Operations

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Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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