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banner - marvin and muriel paulson a travelogue and memories

Marvin T. Paulson

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A new assignment was in the offing as I returned from the Arctic. I guess they figured a good thawing out would be necessary so St. Petersburg, Florida was our next itinerary for ship duty in the Gulf of Mexico on the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey Ship HYDROGRAPHER. Again we used our leave period to make a leisure trip and take plenty of time to get settled. I must say the white sand beaches of St. Pete are quite a contrast to the white snow and ice covered beaches of the Arctic. The temperature required quite an adjustment too.

The next three years turned out to be the most monotonous assignment of my career and for Muriel too. The ship was on hydrographic surveys in the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Straits with two weeks at sea and five days in port. One year the ports-of-call were Key West and Miami, which made it a long time away from home. On one of our “calls” to Key west, six of the officer wives came for the five days in port. Key West is a lot more interesting and fun when your wife is with you to enjoy the sights. For you golf buffs, as we were, the greens at the Key West course were of fine grain sand in deference to green grass. After your ball lands on the green, so-called, you would pull a drag to smooth the way to the hole. Even that assist didn’t help the score on my card. On the next year, the ladies made a trip to Miami for a repeat visit with their lonesome men and to see the sights along Miami Beach. Even one year, a Jacksonville, Florida, repair company got the contract for a major overhaul of the ship and to renew all the wooden decks. Quarters ashore were authorized for this two-month project so Muriel and a couple of the other ladies spent most of that time with us in temporary housing - a cabin camp to be exact.

The most memorable event of the assignment was hurricane Alice that caught our ship HYDROGRAPHER in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. Short wave radio was our only means of communication so tracking a storm is problematical at best and the direction it will travel is a wild guess. Anyway we took a heading for our home port, St. Petersburg, at full speed (8 knots). The storm was traveling at 18 knots with winds up to 85 miles per hour. By midnight we had the full brunt of the storm and a lot of prayers being said as we bounced around. Several hours passed and then there was a sudden calm as the eye of the storm passed over. It is really quite an eerie feeling with no wind and long deep sea swells. Then just as suddenly the ship gets the full brunt of the storm again and the prayers repeated. To maintain a relatively stable ship in a storm, you head directly into the seas so you are constantly changing direction as the hurricane passes. When we were finally able to turn the ship in moderating seas, we were 120 degrees off course in our heading. We continued into port to survey the damages, quiet our nerves and reassure our worried families that we had weathered the storm. It is a tense time for the families too, to not only weather the storm at home but to weather the anxiety for their men at sea.

Socially, we had a very compatible group of officer families in St. Pete that entertained constantly when in port. About eight of the husband and wife teams were avid 9-hole golfers and provided each other with friendly competition when in port.


We had completed 3 ½ years in the hot and humid weather in St. Pete without air conditioning when we got the news of reassignment to the East Coast Field Party. What a welcome relief it was to get off that ship. The field party is a transient unit so we put our furniture in storage and departed for Elinore Village to use up six weeks of accumulated leave. Elinore Village is just outside of Daytona Beach. En route we passed through De Land, Florida, and were so immediately impressed with the town that we scouted a few homes for sale in anticipation of Muriel’s folks retiring in Florida. As it turned out, they did retire in De Land and settled in the house across the street from an identical one that we had recommended earlier.

Elinore Village was the first “get-away” vacation that we had partaken of since Baguio in the Philippines. We took advantage of our liberty with numerous golf games, walks on the beach and reconnoitering the many good eateries in the Daytona area.

We arrived in Fernandina Beach, Florida, to take over the East Coast Field Party just as they were packing up to move to Brunswick, Georgia. We found a nice beach front duplex apartment on St. Simons Island. ....

Hurricanes raise havoc no matter where they touch land, but Hurricane Carol in 1954 was especially treacherous because it followed the coastline from Jacksonville, Florida, to Maine. Providence, Rhode Island was devastated along the beach area and the Narragansett Bay became treacherous boating because of half sunken debris and shoreline changes to the chart used in navigation. Because of Hurricane Carol, the East Coast Field Party was given the assignment of surveying the inlets and outer banks for chart corrections from Florida to Maine. To take advantage of the seasonal weather, the party concentrated on the northern climes in the summer and the southern in the winter. Several projects of lesser extent would be accomplished en route to the major areas of destruction.

Cape Lookout was our next troubled area after St. Simons. We selected Harkers Island for our base of operation. What a headache that proved to be. Our landlord had a fishing expedition business and also rented out his house to summer tourists and lived elsewhere - mostly on his boat - during the summer. On telephone, his wife offered to move out of their home earlier than usual and rent it to Muriel and me for a month: she gave us permission to dock our boats alongside their private pier. We took it sight unseen and then discovered that it was filthy. We moved in -- but before we unpacked anything we scrubbed the house from kitchen and cupboards to the bathrooms. It seems that our landlady was not a well person and almost legally blind with cataracts so in all honesty she didn’t see the mess. It was clean when we got through so we unpacked.

Early next morning there was a bang on the locked door. The livid landlord had returned to find 2 boats tied up in his spot at the pier and now he find strangers in his house. He had two words for us, “Get out.” There was no reasoning with him and only angry threats from him including even the destruction of the bridge to the island.

We were very distraught with this turn of events, but didn’t want any altercations and packed up and moved to Marshallburg. We were fortunate that nearly all of our personnel were from Marshallburg and they persuaded a bachelor fish merchant to give up his apartment and let us move in. This was a very attractive large one room kitchen, dining room, living room area with a small bedroom and bathroom attached. The people of Marshallburg were very sympathetic to our plight and treated us as royalty.

The outer banks off Cape Lookout are a very treacherous area of large sand dunes that shift with every storm, both surface islands and subsurface mounds. A possible route through these mounds had never been surveyed before because of the inherent danger and it was so marked on the chart. We were instructed to make a detailed hydrographic survey of the outer banks to prove or disprove the existence of a channel suitable for small boats. We did locate a route through, but again, it would be very treacherous to navigate.

It was now May and the weather of the northern United States was stabilized enough for the relative safety of small boat safety along the coast of Maine. En route to our Maine assignment, we had a couple of detour inspections of reported uncharted obstructions in the vicinity of Plymouth and Cape Cod, Massachusetts. That was an interesting week’s stay in Plymouth.

On then to Kennebunkport, Maine, where we found a very delightful apartment that in olden days had been a covered breezeway connecting the house and stable. Our office and launches were located in Kennebunkport to start with and moved to Biddeford Pool as the season progressed and finally to Rockland to locate a reported uncharted rock that a vessel had struck. We proved that the chart off Rockland was correct and found scraping on a rock that the boat had actually grounded on. Some boat owners try anything to collect on insurance.

Our stay in Kennebunkport was more like a working vacation and I can really understand why President George H. Bush selected that area for his summer home. Our most memorable spot was a little country stable that was converted into a lobster diner. Nothing fancy but very practical. The tables were old park bench style with seats attached. As you entered the diner you passed an old water trough filled with crawling lobsters, you select the one you want cooked, and go sit down on the bench. The waitress tied on an over-sized bib and placed a large bowl of potato chips on the table along with tongs, a paper plate, a meat pick, and melted butter. Nowhere has lobster tasted so good. On special days they would serve the meal for $1.00 each lobster. Nowhere can you beat that price either.

In Biddeford Pool our office trailer and boat mooring was at the lobster pier. When the lobster boats came in with their catch, they would sort the lobsters by size and toss the small one-pounders and less into a 50-gallon drum of boiling water. They, the boatmen, were very generous to our crew and would even wrap some cooked hot lobsters to take home.

Our landlord in Kennebunk, an old retired widower, took a liking to Muriel and his other young tenant with two little boys and declared that he would teach them both the art of cooking lobster. I never thought I’d see Muriel drop a crawling lobster head-first into a pot of boiling water but she did and to my taste; I’d say she became an expert.

Our very close friends from the Philippines, Brick and Leila Maynard, retired to a country home in Claremont, New Hampshire so they took a weekend off and paid us a visit. What fun that was and later on we were able to reciprocate with a visit to their quaint country retirement home. I say quaint because it was built of stone and brick with walls almost two feet thick and a fireplace in each spacious room. Legend has it that the house was built by a seafarer that wanted to be isolated from society and that was exactly what Brick and Leila wanted for retirement. Brick, so he could walk the woods and chop the firewood and Leila wanted the peace and serenity for her book writing hobby. A great reunion it was.

Golf in Kennebunkport where President Bush is a member, was an accommodation given on Wednesday afternoon by an appreciative local businessman and boat owner. A re-survey for a new chart of the boat harbor and entrance was a part of our project underway. For you golfers, you no doubt have played with someone who keeps looking and fishing for lost golf balls along the way. Well, one of the foursome I played with carried a little brown bag with him and picked wild mushrooms along the way -fairway that is.

Just before Thanksgiving was the time to high-tail it out of Maine country; however, we got caught in a massive snow storm as we were leaving on the 19th of November. Thank goodness commercial haulers were moving the boats for us. On the move, the whole party was on its own; but you always hope and pray that all will go well and thank God when they all arrive without mishap. I feel blessed that in all the party moves during my career of 32 years, not one bad mishap occurred.

Our destination on this trip was Beaufort, South Carolina. A truly “old South” town with large aristocratic style houses .... We were able to find a small empty house to rent and then furnished it from a U-rent furniture operator. Three to four months was our expected stay.

December and January has the most inclement weather for our work, so the party all took their annual leave over the Xmas period. Muriel’s folks were retired during the past year - 1955 - and settled in De Land, Florida, so that was our destination for vacation. De Land, as it turned out, had a large population of railroad workers so Mama and Dad Cole were well integrated in their new surroundings when we arrived....

After Xmas it was back to Beaufort, South Carolina, to begin our new season’s surveying activities. The Marine Corps Base on Parris Island provided our basic shopping needs with an excellent commissary and post exchange. The winter passed quite uneventful and come spring, it was back to the north country - Providence, Rhode Island and Narragansett Bay for the summer.

En route to Rhode Island we had a detour investigation to make at Ocracoke Inlet, the entrance to Pamlico Sound. The winter storms had changed the configuration of the islands and channel creating a danger to navigation. We, Muriel and I, located a new home for rent with the bare necessities of furniture in Atlantic, North Carolina. It was a single house isolated on a large tract of ground overgrown with palmetto, that some promoter was trying to sell as home plots. As I have previously mentioned, most if not all of the crew members, were from Marshallburg, so they commuted each day and stayed at their homes. Socially, for us, it was a lonely existence but comfortable and warm and lasted only one month.

Come late April, it was “migrate” back to the north country. This time to begin the Narragansett Bay Project - a good two season undertaking. We moored the boats and office trailer at a pier in East Greenwich to start the survey and moved to Warwick as the survey progressed. Muriel and I found a pleasant apartment in a converted home in Warwick only a short commute to the office in East Greenwich.

For me, this was a very interesting project. Hurricane Carol had raised havoc over the entire Bay area requiring a complete basic resurvey to modernize the navigation chart. In comparison with the old chart, all changes or discrepancies we found had to be double-checked and verified for reliability so the new chart would be accurate without a doubt.

The country-side around Narragansett Bay was dotted with theater summer stock promotions and good country cooking to add to the excellent entertainment. We seldom stayed home in the evenings. November came around all too quickly for our desires, and true to prediction, a snow storm engulfed us all the way to Washington, D. C. A couple of days briefings in C&GS headquarters, and it was off to Edisto Beach, South Carolina, to check and survey some reported chart corrections in St. Helena Sound. About a week here, and it was off to our winter project in Beaufort, South Carolina, again. If you would look at a map or chart of the area, you would see the numerous waterways and inlets that abound, each of which must be surveyed for charts. We were fortunate this time and rented a new 3 bedroom furnished home.

De Land, Florida, was again our destination for Xmas..... We had only two weeks at De Land and returned to Beaufort after the New Year’s celebration....

In April, 1957, we were back in Narragansett Bay to continue the resurvey and extend it out into the Atlantic shoreline area. This time we settled on the east side in Newport for the base of operations. The very attractive place we found to was in Middletown, a suburb of Newport. The apartment was another converted stable into two units with a large flowered yard and large period style house.

We became close friends with the landlord and his wife and were included in their many family gatherings. One such gathering, they honored us as special guests at an old-fashioned New England clam bake. They had a houseful of friends and relatives from Nova Scotia, the wife’s home, to entertain. Our landlord was the master of the clam bake which is a two-day affair to prepare and I’ll try to relate the ritual.

The first day you cook up the clams in an old-fashioned clothes-washing boiler filled 3/4 full of the clams and covered with water. Then stoke the wood fire and let it boil away. The spices added, I'm not sure other than the favorite grog beer as an accompaniment to the procedure. When done, you fill your plate with the whole clam in the shell, use a pick to crack them open and devour the meat. I believe they served a salad and chips on the side - outside on picnic tables. The left-over clams, of which there were plenty, were cracked open and the meat diced up for the preparation of the chowder next day....

Our landlord owned a Drug Store and persuaded Muriel to work part time in sales. It was a first time experience for her in selling drug store products but she picked it up fast and did a commendable job according to our landlord’s wife.

Touring the legendary millionaire homes of Newport was probably the most fascinating tourist attraction in Newport. It was astounding to see the lavish pleasures the “400" exhibited in their monstrous homes. The most publicized event of the year is probably the sailboat regatta that originates in Newport and is quite a sight to see as the boats depart the bay in full sail. Let us not forget the annual Jazz festival either as our landlady was an avid fan of jazz - we attended every concert under clear star-studded nights.

Admiral Karo, the C&GS Director, paid us an unscheduled visit on his way to Boston and was so impressed with our operations that he recommended to the Swedish Hydrographic Office Director, on visit to the U. S., that he, Dr. Pere Fagerholm, spend a few days with us to observe and learn procedures that would be useful in Sweden.

Talk about being “Johnny on the spot,” one morning the citizens of Newport woke up to see a large ocean steamer beached just off the entrance to Narragansett Bay. The first reports were it had grounded on an uncharted rock. We wasted no time to get one of our boats out there and got an accurate fix on the ship’s location and ran a small detailed survey around the ship and adjacent area. We proved the chart correct. A subsequent trial revealed that the ship’s captain had put the steering into automatic pilot and left the bridge with no one as lookout. The ship was well off the plotted course when it grounded. Being there to prove the chart correct was a good “feather in our cap” so to speak.

On our move south again at the end of the season and project, we had some chart corrections to investigate in the Charleston, South Carolina, harbor. This was a nice 2 week delay on our way down to St. Petersburg, Florida, our next winter project area.

Things happen fast for an officer in the C&GS. Waiting at the Post Office when we arrived in St. Pete were orders to turn over the party to Commander Darling and report for duty on the Ship PATHFINDER based in Seattle. Leave would be granted en route.

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