Newsletter Masthead - 34KB

[Aug/Sep 1999]


Hello all,

Get a cup of coffee, this will be a long newsletter! First of all, my thanks go to Kirt Garcia for the great job he did writing the last newsletter. Frankly, I was just too busy to write, and Kirt took it upon himself to keep up the "chatter". I reviewed all of the events that have taken place since I last wrote, and WHEW, what a couple of months we had there at project's end! Here is a synopsis of what happened:

Boat completed at Orleans Levee Board Warehouse - 04 September 1999
Boat loaded on trailer for transit to the USCG - 04 September 1999
Boat moved to USCG BASE ISC New Orleans - 05 September 1999
B.J. Roberts passes away - 06 September 1999
Boat placed in the water for the first time - 1200HRS on 11 September 1999
Ran the engine in the water for the first time - 1300HRS on 11 September 1999
First time underway - Don Summers in charge - 18 September 1999
Took the boat to the Paris Rd. Bridge, SHAKEDOWN - 25 September 1999
Underway, SHAKEDOWN, and Jackie Clarkson visit - 02 October 1999
Underway to Lake Pontchartrain and Orleans Marina - 03 October 1999
Beach recon (Lincoln Beach) with the USCG small boat - 11 October 1999
Hit the beach (Lincoln Beach) first time - 16 October 1999
Hit the beach (LPBS film crew and Richard McDerby, USCG WX !) - 30 October 1999
Underway to Lake Pontchartrain - RADM PLUTA and party onboard - 31 October 1999
Christening prep at Trinity Halter - 01 November 1999
Underway with Steve Ambrose & the D-Day folks, All TV Stations present - 02 Nov1999
Christening prep at Trinity Halter - 03 November 1999
Christening prep at Trinity Halter, USCGC Harriet Lane arrives - 04 November 1999
Christening prep at Trinity Halter, Builders Dinner at SYC - 05 November 1999
Christen and Commission PA33-21 at Trinity Halter Shipyard - 06 November 1999
PA 33-21 is removed from active service, vessel placed ashore at USCG BASE ISC
New Orleans at 1700 HRS on 06 November 1999.
Lloyd Lovitt passes away at Ochsner Hospital - 06 November 1999 at 1900HRS
PA33-21 trailered and transited back to the Levee Board Warehouse - 05 Dec 1999
Now, that was a busy couple of months !
I'll take you through it step by step, and let you know how it all looked through my eyes:

"We're done."

Rush, rush, rush ! The last week of construction was the culmination of lots of hard pushing. We were behind schedule by about a month, and all of us knew it. Getting the bow ramp fit up had taken much more time than any of us had realized. Then there were the hundreds of details yet to be seen to. Of course, Jim Weller, Roy Redler, Brad Booth and the weekday gang were out at the workshop seeing to final fit up and painting right down to the wire. We had ordered a lowboy trailer (a lowboy is a very low 18 wheeler type flat bed trailer with a height above the ground of about 36") and a tractor to pull it from Sheriff Foti for Sunday, September 5th. That meant that we HAD to have the boat DONE by that day.

At about 1200HRS on the 4th, I called everyone together at the boat. Ed Daroca and Al Haydel were putting the finishing touches on the after deck coaming. I wanted to be polite, and wait for them to finish, but they refused to stop working. Higgins Industries seemed to have another labor dispute ! Those two guys had grown attached to the last 5 feet of the boat, and they just wouldn't let it go. We all got a good laugh out of it. Literally, they had just put the finishing touches on the construction of the PA33-21.

We broke for lunch, and then we hooked up the forklift to the boat's cradle (using our neat tow bar). We then GENTLY pulled the boat out of the workshop, clearing the gate by an inch and a half. The big casters on the cradle were working GREAT ! Just as we got the boat out of the workshop...the forklift ran out of gas.

Well, we formed up with about 10 of us on each side of the boat and we rolled her along just fine with PEOPLE power ! We can spot that 30,000 pound boat/cradle anywhere with about 20 people - amazing. That Leary and Dunn designed cradle and caster system is great. You have to remember that the whole concept of being able to move that boat around like that on a multi-purpose cradle was unproven until that moment !

Now for the tricky part...

We spotted the boat/cradle and began the process of jacking up the whole rig. We had to get the underside of the cradle 37 inches off of the ground. The deck of the lowboy was 36 inches high, and we needed that one extra inch to enable the trailer to back in under the cradle/boat. Our crew began hauling and stacking the dozens of 12" X 24" X 3" thick oak boards that we had purchased for the jacking and blocking operation. Using four 30 ton hydraulic jacks, the boat/cradle inched its way upward. Our four teams (one at each corner) jacked and blocked slowly and in concert with each other for safety and to minimize wracking stresses on the steel cradle. We got the boat to the required 37" height very quickly. We hadn't done this before, and we weren't completely sure what to expect (what else is new?), but the whole operation took only about 45 minutes.

The truck arrived with the lo boy, and the driver expertly backed the trailer under the boat. When the trailer was properly spotted, we lowered the boat down onto its deck. Once there, we chained the cradle to the deck of the lowboy - making EVERY effort to fasten it securely to prevent the possibility of losing the load (read B O A T !) the next morning. We were loaded and ready to depart the birthplace of the PA33-21.

Everyone was very mindful of the fact that we had started here with nothing, and after 2 years of hard labor - the last Higgins boat was about to undergo sea trials which would determine whether or not it was worthy of the name, and whether or not WE would live up to the reputation of those great New Orleans Higgins workers who had preceded us.

"Will it fit under that overpass?"

Our crew arrived at the Levee Board warehouse around 0900 HRS on the morning of the 5th of September to double check our important load, and to triple check our list of "gotta haves" that we would need for the next few weeks. Our deck box went into someone's truck. All of the boat gear went too. Life jackets, mooring lines, anchor, anchor light, fire extinguishers, lifering, fenders, etc. In short, it was a truckload of GEAR ! All of it necessary for the next phase of the project - getting underway with the boat.

We actually rolled out of the warehouse, into the glorious sunshine at about 1100HRS. We departed through the big overhead door in the Southeast corner of the warehouse - which Bruce, George and I had so carefully measured for this very event over two years ago. The boat inched out of the door at a slow walking pace, and the big tractor spotted the boat at the end of the Levee Board driveway. We had decided that the procession would begin at noon. Well, there was quite a crowd. A Harley Davidson motorcycle escort from Sheriff Foti (I had forbid Japanese motorcycles for this just wouldn’t be right.). Cameras. Video. Press. Some pretty happy tears too. I got the biggest kick out of the vets. People were BEAMING. The vets were so damn proud. Especially B.J. Roberts.

I was worried about the load. It was BIG. It was TALL. It was WIDE. Most importantly, I had never moved an LCVP across town before. We had previously driven the exact route that we would take with a stick of proper height to make certain that the boat would clear under power lines and that worrisome overpass at Franklin Avenue and Press Drive. We actually had to load the boat on the trailer backwards which put the bow (highest point) in the rear of the trailer. Doing this gave us an extra couple of inches of clearance under the overpass as the tractor pulled up the grade. We had taken every possible precaution to make certain that our trip across town would be safe. I rode shotgun in the tractor, and the Higgins procession formed up behind the boat. There were about 50 cars in a procession about a mile long. We were on our way to the water at 1200HRS.

The transit to the USCG Base was totally uneventful. We scraped a branch or two, and of course we got lots of stares but NO problems. Those Harleys were great ! We rolled up to the Base and stopped at the guard shack. The OD (Officer of the day) was...well...what he saw just wasn't in any of the USCG training manuals. One very imposing Higgins landing craft and a tremendous host of people at the front gate !

We proceeded in the gate and met CWO Ken Mitchell, the Coast Guard's Group Engineer. Ken used the travel lift (a large 4 wheeled mobile crane used specifically for lifting and launching boats) to off load the boat. We spotted the PA33-21 in two parking places (special note to whoever owned those parking places: I apologize and I thank you for the loan), and then Joey climbed aboard to drop the ramp. Down it went, and all onlookers present got a great view of the inside of the boat. Some people actually climbed up the ramp and got inside the cargo bay. B.J. Roberts was absolutely determined that he was going to get up that ramp. He did, with Harold Buchler Jr. helping him with his oxygen. That was one very happy Marine standing in the cargo bay of that boat.

B.J. wouldn't get underway with us though, because he died the next morning.

His death made me realize again that we really did embark on this project at the eleventh hour. To me, B.J. Roberts had been an inspiration. Though he was very sick, he rarely missed an opportunity to be with us as we worked on the boat. Semper Fi, B.J. We tarped over the boat, and stored our deck box and equipment in a garage at the base and departed. We all agreed to meet at the base the following Saturday to put her in the water for the first time !

"Hey Bruce, where's all of this water coming from?"

Ken Mitchell cranked up the travel lift and warmed it up while we began attaching the nylon slings which would cradle the boat while it rolled slowly toward the water. It was 11 September 1999. Everyone was gathered around while Ken gently lowered away, until she was floating on her own in the Industrial Canal. Applause broke out, as the onlookers realized we had reached a new milestone. The waterline attitude of the boat looked GREAT ! The boat just looked like it was ready for some action.

Bruce, George and Al hopped aboard to inspect for dreaded leaks. They pulled up all of the deck plates as they searched intently - and you could have heard a pin drop as everyone waited for "The Word". Then I heard George say "Hey, where's all this water coming from?" As it turned out, we had three separate leaks forward from misplaced pilot holes which had been drilled to fasten the oak scuffing planking.

The installation of that layer of oak was tricky. The screws were counter sunk, but not plugged over - as called for in the plans. The oak was supposed to be easily replaced as it WORE out from many beach landings. Our leaks were caused by pilot holes which missed the frames on the inside of the boat. In our rush to completion, we had frankly forgotten about those holes. Water was gently trickling into the cargo bay bilge, and as far as I was concerned NO BIG DEAL. That was it. Three tiny leaks. The rest of the boat was tight.

Now, it was time to get that engine running!

Joey set the throttle and clutch to the start position and started cranking. The engine came to life in short order! We carefully watched for overboard discharge at the exhaust which would indicate to us that the engine's water pump was drawing water through the engine thereby keeping that great Graymarine cool. The engine sounded fantastic. Pardon me, but I am an engine guy. I'd buy a tape of the sound of that engine. You just had to be there. It sounds like business. It sounds like it will get you there. It sounds like you can COUNT on it.

No vibration to be concerned with. The valves sounded just right. The throttle felt smooth, and the engine was instantaneously responsive to a "snap" acceleration. Engine temperature was coming up nice and slow. The generator wasn't working.

Well, that made two discrepancies.

You can imagine the urge to get in and go ! All we had to do was just get in and cast off.

I was the "bad guy" and I wouldn't allow it. I wanted the engine thoroughly run in. The generator had to work properly. Are we SURE about those minor leaks? The deck box with all of our equipment wasn't in yet. So, in an abundance of caution we just ran the engine for an hour or so and then we hoisted the boat ashore for the day. After two years of careful construction, we could wait a week and do it right. We took care of the minor hull leaks, and then we loaded the deck box in the cargo bay. All of our gear was then stowed in the box. Perfect! Every piece of our gear fit in that box, and it also would later become a great place for passengers to step aboard and then scuttle down to the cargo bay deck. Great work Aubrey Adams. The box was just right !

Stewart and Stevenson wound up removing, checking and repairing our generator and charging system. Again, minor repair. If you recall, Stewart and Stevenson provided AND rebuilt our original 64HN9 Graymarine 6 cylinder diesel engine. Thanks again Mr. Cole !

In summary, our first day in the water was a HUGE success. It was unimaginable to me that we would have just two minor discrepancies! Our crew had done a phenomenal job of building the last Higgins boat.

I had never seen work of this quality come out of a commercial shipyard !

"She works fine. I'm headin' back to the dock to get the rest of ya!"

Don Summers got the honor of taking her out for her first run. It seemed fitting. Don was a WW II LCVP coxswain and had made combat beach landings in Higgins boats. Don was also a licensed mariner and one of our very dedicated builders. In my mind, there was no question whatsoever as to who should get the honor.

It was 18 September 1999 at about 1000HRS when the PA33-21 left the dock with a small crew aboard for her first run up the Industrial Canal. I wasn't able to attend the great occasion. My orders to the crew were to proceed down the Canal and to thoroughly test the boat's marine engineering and steering systems. All deck plates were up, and the crew was looking intently for any additional hull leaks. The rest of our crew waited impatiently on the dock, peering up the Canal to try and get a glimpse of the boat. Everyone was filled with anticipation, waiting for a report from Captain Don. Standing on the dock was David Bowman, his ear glued to his VHF hand held radio. I was at my shop in Metairie also listening to MY VHF radio. Nothing. More nothing.

Then I heard that unmistakable "Mississippi River" drawl of Captain Don Summers:

"She works fine. I'm headin' back to the dock to get the rest of you."

Best news I'd had all day.

The rest of the crew piled in, and then they got underway for a couple more hours in the Industrial Canal and turning basin. Lots of smiles and pride. The boat was working flawlessly.

During this time, my thoughts were centered on leadership and training issues. We had accomplished everything we had set out to do. We had BUILT the boat. Now, I had to decide WHO our key people were to be. While under construction for two years we knew who our "team leaders" were. Now, under a totally different set of circumstances it was time to reassess. Who was a "qualified coxswain?" Who was a "qualified motor mac?" Who was "qualified crewmember?" We needed a well trained boat crew.

Heck, I didn't know who could tie a bowline !

The danger in all of this was very obvious. The Industrial Canal in New Orleans is a very dangerous waterway. In my years of experience as a Marine Investigator, I had responded to many accidents in the Canal. There wouldn't be any room for an error in judgement.

One hard and fast rule would be that only a licensed USCG captain would be serving as our coxswain. In our crew, that meant Captain Don Summers - or me. Now, Captain Don hadn't run an LCVP for over 50 years. I had never run one. Both of us needed a tune up !

Great people always make the difference. As usual, the leaders rose to meet the challenge. Joey Madere became one heck of a motor mac, and boat handler. David Bowman became a heck of a coxswain. Ray Asprion, Dan Gay, Harold Buchler Jr, Larry Berron, Al Haydel, Kirt Garcia, Karen Reisch and Charisse Grant were top notch crewmen. Well, our crew shaped up FAST. Considering our varied backgrounds and experience it was really miraculous. As a skipper, it was important to me that our folks looked SHARP running that boat. Our crew looked SHARP every single time we got underway. Not bad for a group consisting of a UPS guy, a retired banker, a lawyer, a refrigeration guy, a couple of domestic engineers...well, you get the picture. Just great. We had a kick butt crew !

At day's end, we hoisted the boat ashore and washed it down (incidentally, we ALWAYS hoisted the boat ashore at day's end - AND washed it down !). Everyone was very satisfied that the boat was performing beyond all expectations. The looming question was: "Could this boat hit the beach? Could it get off the beach?" It was a fair question. Everyone wanted to know what the answer would be.

"Works just like she's supposed to!"

Graham Haddock

We continued to shake the boat down on the 25th of September. We proceeded through the Florida Avenue Bridge and headed for Paris Road. It was a bluebird day, and most of our crew was aboard for the trip. Graham ran the boat for the first time, and was ecstatic about her performance. Everyone had an opportunity to run the boat. I was insistent that all hands should run her. More proud faces. I was very pleased to watch Roy Redler and Jim Weller at the helm.

The marine engineering worked flawlessly. The engine runs almost TOO cool. The generator charged as it should. The GROCO sea water strainer worked perfectly. The tachometer indicated 1800 RPMs at full ahead, a tad less than we expected - but it was never my goal to win any races. The boat felt like it was doing about 10 knots with a load of 25 people. The continuously running bilge system worked as designed. I never got used to it. Every now and then there would be a strange noise, and I would stop and listen intently. Joey would chime in "Bilge!" Oh yeah. That bilge system kept the boat DRY !

We were consuming about 7 gallons of #2 diesel per hour of running. The bow ramp gasket fit TIGHT. There was essentially no leak around that ramp. All of the trouble we went to on bow ramp fit up seemed well worth it ! Many people think that the waterline of the Higgins boat is such that the ramp is underwater. This is NOT true. When you see a Higgins boat in the water - there is a bunch of hull UNDERWATER ! The bottom edge of that steel ramp is ABOVE the waterline even with a full load ! The ramp gasket’s job is to keep wake and wave surge out of the boat. Any water that leaks in is quickly pumped overboard by the bilge system.

It was very interesting to SEE the boat work. It was even better to drive that boat. It handled very well for a boat of its size. It is frankly the biggest 36 foot boat I've ever run. Big and wide and tall. That's a Higgins boat! The shifter/throttle is one great piece of gear. Its design is a stroke of genius.

I found the boat to be very powerful. It leapt very quickly from dead in the water to sea speed. You could easily feel the power. In addition to having a tough reputation, this boat had JUICE!!! I know some veteran coxswains reading this are smiling as they remember running the boat, but most Americans haven't had the opportunity. In short, when you're holding the helm and throttle of a Higgins boat, you feel like you've GOT something !

The boat "sails" badly in the wind when it is empty or light. I don't care how good a boat handler you are...if you aren't careful you are going to drift wherever the wind is blowing. A good boat handler is always mindful of the wind. It's especially important on an LCVP.

We headed out to Lake Pontchartrain on 03 OCTOBER 1999. It had been many years since a Higgins boat had been on the Lake. Richard McDerby and his wartime crew had trained and tested thousands here. I'm very sure that no one ever expected to see another LCVP underway on the Lake. As we proceeded down Lakeshore Drive, we caused quite a stir. People waved and pointed, and police cars flashed their lights. Everyone seemed to approve !

We entered the yacht basin amidst cheers and clapping. One man called out that he hadn't seen a Higgins boat since he landed at Anzio. People were running to tell others. We tied the boat up, and all took a short hike to have lunch at Sidmar's restaurant. We had a great time eating together, and then it was time to get underway for home. The USCG Base is an hour or so run from the yacht harbor on the Lake. As we left the harbor, Bruce Harris was standing on the point. As we got up on step, I was aware that there was one very proud master carpenter on that point watching his boat head for home.

"Which beach should we hit?"

We had to hit the beach with this boat. It hardly seemed worthy of the name "Higgins" if it didn't work exactly as it should, and if it didn't put in on the beach.

The question was "Which beach should we hit?"

The New Orleans lakefront area essentially has no beach. During the 1930's, a stepped "seawall" was built around the edge of the Lake. Where there is no seawall, piles of concrete have been dumped to protect against erosion. I wasn't interested in putting the boat up on a pile of concrete OR on the seawall.

There are two real beaches in the Greater New Orleans area. One is at "Pontchartrain Beach" and the other is in Eastern New Orleans at "Lincoln Beach". I had to decide where we were going to "invade" !

I asked U.S. Coast Guard Station New Orleans (my old Station) to help us with our Recon and their CO, CWO Jim Krezinski readily agreed. The Station provided a small boat and crew for us on 11 October 1999. Ray Asprion and Charisse Grant came along and we headed off for Pontchartrain Beach first. The beach looked ideal, and it was definitely a very convenient beach. The site is right in the middle of Lakeshore Drive (the Lake Road in town) and is very near the University of New Orleans.

Bad news. The beach was silted out for at least two blocks. I'm very sure that we could have landed there, but I was looking for a more suitable beach with a faster rate of drop off.

Off we went to Lincoln Beach. It was deserted. It was the site of a long closed public beach. It was overgrown with trees and vegetation. It was crescent shaped. It was perfect.

I got out of the small boat and splashed around in water up to my chest looking for "beach obstacles". My biggest worry was running over those feared urban beach obstacles known as "der Refrigerator" or "der Engine block" or even worse "der Maytag". I pulled a few old concrete blocks out of the sand, and made a mental note of the height of tide and that old freezer door over there on the beach. Bottom line: This was the beach on which we should test the boat. Depending on favorable weather and tidal conditions, we were ready to do it the following weekend.

I had been spending a good bit of time talking with Richard McDerby about beaching a Higgins boat. Mac (who has DEFINITELY put more Higgins boats on beaches than anyone else ever has...) tended to lose patience with me. He kept saying that we "Weren't going to damage the boat." Mac used to run Higgins boats up the SEAWALL I told you about. I have seen film and pictures of Mac sliding boats up that forbidding stepped wall.

I knew the boats were tough, but my thought was "Mac, if you busted up a boat - they just sent you over another one. If WE bust up THIS boat, it's back to the drawing board!"

Looking back on it, my fears were completely unfounded. Mac's advice was sound.

Read on...

"That's what we built it for"

We got underway from the Coast Guard base early on the morning of 16 October 1999. Most of our crew was onboard. We also had C.J. Roberts and his wife along for the trip. C.J. is from the D-Day Museum, so he was getting a great opportunity to see the museum's star attraction ...IN ACTION !

We rounded the Lakefront Airport and set the Magnesyn compass "lubbers line" up for our heading to the beach. The Magnesyn was working perfectly, and was within a couple degrees from being dead on. As usual, everyone took turns at the helm. As we neared the beach, I took the helm. If we ran over something and damaged the boat, it was my responsibility - so I wanted to KNOW what it felt like to bang up a boat that we had sweated over for so long.

Again, none of us had the opportunity to attend the "Higgins Boat School" so we were a tad behind the learning curve. I did have the opportunity to view a Higgins training film which starred Richard McDerby. I remember that Mac had told me that most coxswains first reaction to "feeling the beach" under them was to back off the throttle and bring the engine to neutral. In the Coast Guard I came up in, grounding a boat usually meant a sit down with the Chief and loss of your quals. Running aground was a very bad thing.

The beach was looming, and I didn't particularly like it.


We went hard aground with the throttle at 1/3 ahead. The boat stopped dead in the water. We were about 25 yards away from the beach. I left the engine ahead, and looked at the guys. I'm not sure what the screw was chewing up, but it didn't sound good. It kinda sounded like I had dropped a brick in my wife's blender. The crew looked worried. Two months ago, I was worrying over brush marks or dirt in the paint. Two months ago the crew was patiently sanding away imperfections in the hull.

Now, I was tearing up the boat on a beach in East New Orleans.

I looked at all of those dead pan faces (sort of a cross between "He's tearing up the boat." and "Maybe we don't have to do this..."). I asked out loud "Do you people really want to do this?" Al Haydel snorted "That's what we built it for !"

Well, a cheer went up from the crew, hell yes we were gonna put the boat on the beach !

With the engine half astern, the boat just sat there - stuck. I throttled up a bit and let off a few times...and man, you could feel the boat pull free of the sand bar. As soon as I had sternway on, I came ahead and hit the bar in the same spot. SCCCCCRUUUNCH !

But, this time we were a half boat length CLOSER to the beach.

When that engine is astern, the water level ahead of the boat (toward the beach) RISES and I swear it looks like a giant blender is whipping the heck out of that water. Essentially what is going on, is that the shape of the hull is directing the full force of the reverse screw wash ON the bar we were aground on. The wash was water jetting the bar away ! After about 3 times, the boat slid all the way to the beach. We called all clear the ramp, and Joey stood by the winch. Then DOWN the ramp went like a ton of bricks. But, something was WRONG !

Roy Redler went down with the ramp! All I knew was Roy was down and guys were trying to get him up. Roy's life jacket got snagged on the ramp, and he was along for the ride. Jim Weller said that Redler wanted to be the first man on the beach.

Chalk up one wet Marine, and one memorable landing !

"The comeback kid does it again."

I wonder how many 89 year olds have gone to the doctor to get cortisone shots in their knees so they could drive a Higgins boat up on a beach?

I'm talking about one of my heroes - Richard McDerby.

Mac's day to return to the beach was the 30th of October 1999.

Diana Baker and her LPBS film crew were aboard to record this event.

So was our usual crew, but this day belonged to the vets.

A hell of a day it was too. Cold. Windy. Rain. Big time rain.

We were running out of time.

We knew the Christening was a week away, and with the onset of winter the fair weather days were behind us. If we were going to do one more beach landing - it would be on this day regardless of weather conditions. The film crew REALLY wanted those shots.

It looked like it was just gonna be one of those days. I KNEW it was going to be a lousy day when the L & N Railroad Bridge got stuck, and we floated around in the Industrial Canal for an hour getting soaked.

Being soaked is much more bearable when you are going somewhere. We weren't.

Then the bridge opened, and we were on our way to Lincoln Beach.

Mac had his shot at the beach, and Diana Baker got some great footage of him at the helm while our vets poured (great word choice for this wet day...) out of the boat.

Great stuff !

Everyone was looking a little hypothermic, and the weather was deteriorating even more. Graham headed us back out in the Lake, and we took a course for home. That reliable Magnesyn was showing us the way.

The PA33-21 had been on the beach several times, and now Mac had been there too. For as nasty as it all felt and sounded, the only "damage" we did to the boat was to completely remove all of the paint from the center of the oak scuffing planking forward and also from the underside of the entire skeg. The underside of the rudder shoe was as shiny as a Marine's belt buckle. Oh yeah, we also managed to tear the copper scour plate off of the hull over the screw. But that was our fault. The plans called for brass, and we couldn't get it in we used copper. Bad choice. Copper is softer, and definitely NOT up to Higgins standards. The boat rejected the copper guard !

The proper brass guard has been ordered. It will be installed per the plans...very soon.

We will not repaint the hull. Our scrapes will always testify to the fact that we thoroughly tested this LCVP.

The next day we got underway for Lake Pontchartrain and the USCG Station New Orleans at the New Basin Canal. We were to meet RADM Paul Pluta and his party for a boat ride. I was very interested in having RADM get underway with us, as he had worked on the boat with our crew (ever see an Admiral PAINT???) and he had never missed an opportunity to assist our project. We exchanged our "crew" for the Admiral's party. The weather was poor, and the Lake was shrouded in mist. It was drizzling too.

Great Coast Guard weather ! Everyone drove the boat and had an opportunity to put the her through her paces. We had more rank in that boat than you'll find on an aircraft carrier. It was a blast !

After an hour or so, we tied up at the Station and had some lunch. We headed back to the Base at 1500HRS and had the boat back ashore by 1630HRS.

It was a wet and cold but very interesting and enjoyable weekend.

"The last week"

In preparation for the work that I knew we had to do at the Christening site, I had made arrangements to have the use of a mobile home office trailer. Trinity Halter Shipyard was the former home of one of Mr. Higgins' shipyards. Here, many wartime vessels were built and commissioned for the U.S. Navy and Army. This was THE place to have our ceremony. I had written the yard owner, John Dane III, 18 months earlier and asked for permission to use the yard. John rolled out the red carpet for us.

So, just how do you turn a working shipyard into a site for a grand ceremony? The answer to that is "HARD WORK"!!! Our great crew kicked in and began whipping that place into shape fast. We moved steel. We brought in truckloads of crushed gravel. We cleaned a deck barge and prepped it for use as a mooring for the USCGC HARRIET LANE (a 270' Cutter arriving from Portsmouth, VA for this ceremony...), we hammered angle iron in the ground and strung up lines to mark our boundary, we built a wall upon which to hang photos, we spotted lots of port-a-potties, we erected tenting, put out signs, established parking areas, put up barricades, put out folding chairs (1700 of them), just to name a few chores.

The mobile home came in handy. Karen's crew (the gals) took one end of the trailer and my crew (the guys) took the other end. We had the coffee and doughnuts in our end though. While Ray Asprion, Jim Weller, Roy Redler, Larry Berron, Jerry Fortier, George Benedetto, Spencer McIlvaine, Bill Cassady, Don Summers and Ferdie Voss and James Woodward saw to the site preparation, Karen Reisch, Trudy Heier and Charisse Grant were working on all manner of important ceremonial details. We were very busy.

Sheriff Foti's crew was right there pitching with us. John Daniel had this magic cellphone with him. Every single time I needed something, John made a phone call and great things happened. Everyone who has been reading these newsletters since 1997 KNOWS where Sheriff Foti's heart is. We can never say "THANKS" enough !

On 02 November 1999 the National D-Day Museum board of directors came to the USCG Base to have their ride on the boat. I was happy to give those folks a ride, because they had been very supportive of the entire project. The museum would also be the eventual home of the boat. I was ecstatic to be able to get underway with Ambrose. As far as I am concerned, ALL of this...the Museum, the boat project...all of it...had its genesis with Doc Ambrose. He had the guts to get it all going, and it started because Eisenhower had asked him about Mr.Higgins. Now, we had one of those boats that Ike thought so much of, and Steve Ambrose was gonna drive it. We had given the teacher quite an apple. Well, so much for a nice private boat ride. Geez. The press showed up. I mean a CRUSH of press showed up. I did what any great leader should do...I let David Bowman run the boat. Everything turned out just fine. The crew handled the boat well, and all of the D-Day people got to run the boat. Lots of photo ops. More good stuff. All of our vets got interviewed. Ambrose had a blast (he really liked running the boat in circles - very know, all of those Coast Guard Captains liked doing the same thing....).

The next day brought more work at the shipyard and drew us closer to "C" Day. We were making progress big time. The folks at Halter were incredibly helpful. All of our folks were wearing red hard hats stenciled with the "Higgins" logo. One yard old timer walked up to one of our gang with a serious look on his face and said "Higgins, ....ya'll are back?"

Yeah, we were back !!!

On Friday November 5th, we still had a long way to go. Everything just wasn't going to get done. I left the yard at 5:00 PM with Joey Madere on my heels. We had 90 minutes to get to the builders dinner, and we were honorees! Coveralls off...Service Dress Blues on!

"If he pulls out a cigar...RUN"

We had planned the "Builder's Dinner" in late 1998. Karen Reisch had decided that the Southern Yacht Club was THE place to have the dinner. For the benefit of those of you who don't know, the club is the oldest yacht club in the South - and it was a favorite haunt of Mr. Higgins. The room we were to have our dinner in overlooks the Lake (and my favorite Coast Guard Station) - it was the proper place to wrap it all up.

I envisioned a very private dinner, with just the builders of the Higgins boat present. I wanted our builders to feel comfortable at the dinner. I wanted it to be just like lunch at the workshop - except with tablecloths. I wanted all of us to feel like we were with family, not "on stage" as we would be the next day at the christening - and as we had been so many times before when VIPs and "the press" were prowling about.

Early in the planning process, Karen called to ask me what I wanted to eat. At the time I think I was somewhere between strut problems and a missing box car full of Higgins parts AND an office full of people. I was probably a bit short, and I told her "I'll eat anything. Spam will be fine." Don't get short with Karen. It'll come back to haunt you.

EVERYBODY was there. Wow, you ought to see how well we all clean up. Thank God for name tags. Mac, Graham, Bill Phelps, Jerry Strahan, just everyone.

The room looked great. I had brought a poster sized picture of Mr.Higgins and Graham Haddock at a dinner in the 1940's. The "Old Man" just had to be there!

Charisse Grant had name tags for the crew, complete with a small Higgins boat attached thereon. Neat. Charisse also had flower arrangements which were exact duplicates of the arrangement which was in the big picture we had of Mr. Higgins and Graham. Nice touch too. Doc Ambrose stopped by to offer a toast to our crew. That was very nice. The tables were set up like a big "E" with RADM and Mrs Pluta, Karen and Erston Reisch, Graham, and Bruce Harris and I with our spouses. Karen did the invocation.

I was the first served - you guessed it...a healthy portion of SPAM with all of the fixins!

You got me Karen.

RADM Pluta said a few words, and we handed out everyone's Plank Owners Certificates and a GREAT gift to each of the builders from Gayle and Merrick Jones (a beautiful sterling silver picture frame with a cast silver Higgins Boat at the bottom center).

Harold Buchler Jr. then handed out some hilarious "mementos" of the project to each builder. All of the gifts were really memorable. Harold's comment to Janine about the cigar was......well, you just had to be there !

Larry Beron gave me a nice WW II G.I. helmet with CG markings (to go with my "General Patton Award"), and Graham, Bruce and Jim Weller ("Thanks sir, I never hugged an Admiral before...") all put in their two cents worth. I wrapped it up, letting everyone know how I felt about things. We were all just worn out. I really felt badly about it because here we were at the end of the project, and it was our CREW who was to be honored, but it was our CREW who had to do all of the work. Again, that was the hallmark of the project. Unselfish giving of time and dedication to the task. We were all so busy working, that we almost didn't have enough time to relax and enjoy the moment. At least we didn't have to wash the dishes. The SYC was great. Richard McDerby told me he hates dinners that last only one hour, but he loved ours !

It was hard to believe that the Christening / Commissioning in the morning could possibly top that dinner.

Hold on to your socks....

"No more planning. We roll with what we've got."

Most of us arrived at the shipyard for dawn. More work in coveralls, the fancy clothes were in a bag. Everything just wasn't going to get done. I wrote those words on the big dry board. Signs weren't out yet. More plants, ribbons, flags and such. Heck, nobody will know the difference. All of a sudden we realized that PEOPLE were arriving, and we were still working ! The reception on the Cutter was well underway when I finally changed into my Service Dress Blues. LT Glynn Smith (the emcee), Gayle Jones (our sponsor), RADM Pluta, Karen Reisch and myself met in the wardroom of the USCGC HARRIET LANE to go over the script for the ceremony. This was our first opportunity to go over it.

We were at zero hour.

The ceremony was to begin in 15 minutes. Piece of cake.

Everyone trooped through the CROWD and we all lined up behind the PA33-21 which was blocked up ashore to the immediate right of the stage. The boat looked great. There were thousands of people. Flags. Bunting. Red White and Blue everywhere. The HARRIET LANE and her big orange racing stripe was in the background. And Coast Guard uniforms. From the beginning, when the boat was a swept clean slab of concrete...the Coast Guard supported us. Vets in their VFW covers and vests with their ribbons and medals. The USMC Band was there. It was fantastic. If you weren't proud, then you just weren't an American. RIGHT before the ceremony, there was an impromptu gathering of all the boat builders for photographs. Ronald Montelepre took the best shot. It's on my mantle piece, I guarantee you !

There were also two Venezuelan Navy Officers present in their service dress blues. I had met them that week in the shipyard, as they were there overseeing the construction of some patrol boats for their Navy and I had asked them to come. I took note that they were watching all of us very intently. I was happy that they were there, and I hope they learned something about our brand of patriotism, and the way we honor our heroes - even 50 plus years later.

The USMC posted the colors, followed by the Veterans who posted their colors.

Then the Marine Band played the National Anthem.

Archbishop Philip M. Hannan gave the invocation. The Archbishop was going to bless the boat with water from the beaches of Normandy (Glynn Smith got the water from the French Consulate), but he forgot his special fancy holy water slinger (I hope Sister Mary Marcella doesn't read that). No big deal - he used a COKE CUP ! I loved it. Archbishop Hannan is really something, and his ability to adapt and overcome is still very much intact !

Next, Mr. Richard McCreary from Friede Goldman Halter (the owners of the shipyard) welcomed us aboard. He was sure to let us know that the current owners of the yard were very cognizant of the fact that their yard was hallowed ground.

Gayle Higgins Jones (Mr. Higgins' granddaughter) gave us a wonderful speech about her family. Her speech added a very personal touch to the ceremony, reminding all of us that Mr. Higgins was a family man - and that he had a great family.

Steve Ambrose took the podium, and in that great Ambrose style let us all know exactly where Higgins Industries - and our boat, fit into American history.

Can you imagine following Steven Ambrose to the podium? Well, RADM Pluta did, and he gave the most moving speech I have ever heard. RADM spoke about the men who ran the Higgins boats in harm's way. "Heroes in wooden boats." It was an absolutely wonderful speech. I don't think there was a dry eye out there in that sea of people. Next, RADM Pluta presented Dawn Higgins Murphy and her sister Andree Higgins Stefferud (Andrew Higgins' only surviving children) the U.S. Coast Guard Distinguished Public Service Award. This award is the highest honor the Coast Guard can confer upon a civilian. It was a very emotional moment, with Mrs. Murphy saying "I can honestly say that I don't feel as though my father is a forgotten man any longer."

Gayle Higgins Jones then walked off the stage like a lady with a mission. It was her job to Christen the PA33-21. Suspended from a red white and blue ribbon was a bottle of Old Grand Dad bourbon. My research indicated that Mr. Higgins liked "red Irish drinkin' whisky", so Old Grand Dad it was. Gayle took the mike, and the bottle and said "I christen thee U.S.Coast Guard PA33-21, in honor of all the men who saw combat in one of your 20,000 predecessors" then she SWUNG that bottle hard against the bow ramp. SMASH !!!!

Then the most wonderful thing happened.

There was a stir of reaction from everyone as this incredible aroma of bourbon splashed across the crowd like a wave. The bottle of whisky was planned. That incredible aroma of bourbon that no one will ever forget was not. We were definitely toasting the memory of those gone on before us.

MajGen Livingston leaned over and told me that the Marines would be on that puddle of booze with straws in a minute.

Well, that bourbon thing really started the ball rolling because the ceremony started to just go its own way from then on. The biggest crane you ever saw started hoisting away. The Marine band was playing. Since there was a cover over the stage, and since the boat was WAY up in the air...none of the "stage folks" could see the boat. We all walked off the stage. The crowd left their seats and just followed the boat - mesmerized at the sight (literally) of the "flying" Higgins boat. I was out there in the mud just praying that the lifting sling would hold up a while longer. It was an amazing sight. A guy in the audience who was familiar with how the ceremony was SUPPOSED to go walked up to me and said "Jimmy, you're losing the ceremony...they're all leaving their seats!" All I could think to reply was "So, what?"

We were having too much fun to worry about following a script ! As the boat settled in the water, all heck broke loose. An Air Force jet flew over. Every police car around had their siren going. The band was playing as LOUDLY as they could. The ship's horn on the HARRIET LANE was blaring. Everyone was clapping. We were bringing the boat to life. RADM Pluta walked up to me and said "I guess we should announce that the ceremony has concluded." I said "Yes Sir" and I walked over to the emcee to let him know. But he was GONE too! LT Smith was somewhere in the crowd too. This was hilarious. When I returned to the RADM to ask him if he wanted ME to conclude the event, he said "Yes". But, Maj Gen Livingston intervened and asked me not to conclude until I had spoken. Problem was, there was no one seated to listen ! Maj Gen said "Just start, they'll come."

Well, I took the podium and began. Everyone took their seats, and I spoke about the people who had built the boat. As I concluded, I asked Maj Gen Livingston and Dr. Nick Mueller of the D-Day Museum to approach the podium. I asked those two men, as representatives of the museum, to accept the boat as part of their collection. Done deal.

We concluded the ceremony, and everyone crowded around the Canal bank to watch our proud crew get aboard the boat and take a victory lap or two.

I got a kick out of watching our crew standing in the boat signing AUTOGRAPHS !

Sheriff Foti provided jambalaya and Coca Cola provided the refreshments for the crowd. It was very nice to chat with everyone, and just enjoy the moment.

Gradually, the crowd thinned and it was time to bring the boat back up the Industrial Canal to the Coast Guard Base. Several of us got aboard for the last trip on the PA33-21. We arrived at the Base at about 1645HRS, and we hoisted the boat ashore at 1700HRS. At that time, the last Higgins boat was taken out of service.

"In Closing"

A few days after the ceremony, someone from the D-Day Museum called to ask if I knew that Lloyd Lovitt had died. No ! I hadn't heard. I immediately called Mrs. Lovitt to express my sorrow for his passing. For those readers who don't know, Mr. Lovitt was a U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Inspector assigned to Higgins Industries during the war. Mr. Lovitt's job was to make certain that the boats he inspected were in all respects ready for service in the U.S. Navy. Mr. Lovitt was from Tennessee, and he had traveled here just for the ceremony. A year or so ago, he came to New Orleans to inspect our boat. I had watched him study every aspect of construction with Graham, and I was very interested in his comments. Mr. Lovitt walked up to me and said "That boat is in every way representative of the quality of construction that I saw at Higgins Industries during WW II."

Mr. Lovitt actually fell ill during the ceremony, and he was moved to the shade of the Marine Band tent. Later at his hotel, he felt worse and was taken to the hospital.

He died of heart failure at 1900HRS the evening of the christening.

His death was the 3rd of our number since the project began. God rest the souls of Pat Lambert, B.J. Roberts and Lloyd Lovitt. A soldier, a Marine, and a sailor.

We had a complete and total project stand down between 06 November and 04 December. On the morning of 05 December 1999, we all met and moved the boat back to our workshop at the Orleans Levee Board Warehouse. The boat was safely stowed in the shop, with all deck plates up to facilitate drying, by 1300HRS.

We'll soon be preparing the boat for storage in the National D-Day Museum. Bruce Harris has a list of things to do. Joey Madere will be heading up our machinery issues. I've been asked to have the boat ready for white glove inspection by the end of May, 2000. The National D-Day Museum is slated to open on June 6th, 2000. The boat will be there. I know our crew has enjoyed the lay off, but I suspect that they're all ready to go to work again. Eventually, I hope most of our crew will join the ranks of the Museum's volunteer staff. I KNOW they can answer lots of questions about that BIG GRAY BOAT !

As for the Higgins Boat Project, it is over. Done. Finished. The cover page of this newsletter is the last you'll ever see of that letterhead.

There IS a Higgins Boat Committee, which will be tasked with the long term care and maintenance of the boat. The members of the committee haven't been announced, but they will all be names very familiar to each of you. I'll probably sit on that committee (under orders from Gordon Grant).

We will keep a close eye on the boat through the years. It is a wooden boat, and as you may know they do require some upkeep. I toured the Museum with Graham the other day, and we got to march around in the mud as construction workers were prepping for the slab. Somewhere on our web page, Dan Gay has an artist's rendering of what the "Boat House" will look like. The building's official name is the "Louisiana Memorial Pavillion," but to me it's the boat house. There will be an immense glass and steel wall fronting the street, and the boat will be just inside. It'll be lit at night, and you'll even be able to see it from the expressway. It is going to be one darn, fine sight. Quite a bit different from that storefront at the old Higgins Place on St.Charles Avenue with that flashing neon sign shaped like the helm of an old cruiser.

I've been told that the powers that be still want to display the boat with the bow ramp open, so people can board. Like the display designer said to me "People have just got to get in this boat." I hope they do.

"Karen's Prayer"

I wondered for a long time how I'd wrap this up, and (as usual) Karen Reisch was able to help. This is her prayer which she delivered at the end of the Builder's Dinner. It is perfect.

Eternal Father, Lord of Hosts

Watch o'er all those who guard our coasts,

We thank you for your guidance here

and completion of this task, so dear

With "Semper Paratus" as our guide

Our project team has worked with pride

Eternal Father, we also ask

With honor, respect and devotion to duty

With Jimmy's vision, and Higgins plans

Graham's history and Bruce's hands,

Bless all who've helped to get her done

Our PA33-21

Lord, look kindly on those gathered here

And all of those we hold so dear -

Our family, friends and Coast Guard mates -

Watch over all and keep us safe

Protect them from the raging seas

And give them life, and light and peace

Grant them from thy great throne above

The shield and shelter of Thy love.

Fair winds and following seas...

[August/September 1999]

[News / Newsletters]

[This is the final edition]

[Higgins Industries]

[The LCVP Design]

[The Project]

[Photo Album]


[Museum Display]

[Become a Sponsor]


[Return to Higgins Boat Project Home Page]

[Sign Guestbook]


[View Guestbook]