Man the Life Boats

Man the Life Boats

by Dick Mauer

I'm going to tell of an event that could have been potentially very embarrassing but one that turned out OK. It happened on the Buffalo Sector Border Patrol boat "Newton Azrak" sometime in the early 1990s. The sector call sign for the boat was B-104 and she came new to the Sector around 1980 or maybe, a little earlier. B-104 was a 26 foot Penn Yan cruiser with tunnel drive (thought to be a curse), a flying bridge, and twin inboard Chryslers 
accessible through deck doors in a large area behind the cabin. She was 
fitted with radar and the tunnel drive allowed her to go in shallow 
water, but made steering less than crisp.

Jim Carroll was a Supervisory Agent and small boat operator in the 
Buffalo Station and I was the PAIC. Late one summer weekday we were 
advised that the Sector would have some high profile guests the next day 
in the person of Hugh Brien, then the Chief of the Border Patrol and his 
friend and guest, the head Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. 
The head Constable was touring the United States at the invitation of 
and accompanied by Chief Brien. Buffalo Sector Chief Bill Dickman asked 
Jim and I to have B-104 spic and span the next morning and ready to give 
the three of them a water tour of the Sector's Niagara River boundary. 
We had the boat standing tall the next morning and received a radio 
message to pick up the group at 11am at the Big 6 Marina on Grand 
Island's West Niagara River.

The channel from the Big 6 Marina came out on the West Branch of the 
Niagara River about 1 mile above the falls and the column of mist rising 
from the falls was directly in front of you as you entered the river. It 
was close, UNOIMSAYIN! The tour went off without a hitch giving the 
group a cruise of the east and west branch of the river on a bright, 
sunny late summer day. We put back into the Marina and deposited our 
guests on the dock in time for their lunch or equivalent.

Now the good part. As they were pulling away Jim and I headed back out 
on the river to return  B-104 to our marina, about 6 miles upriver. 
About 5 minutes into this trip we noticed that the boat seemed to be 
lugging and not making much headway against the river's strong current. 
Jim climbed down from the bridge to open the deck doors to check the 
engines. When he opened them up the engine fans were putting up a 20 
foot fountain of water. Jim shouted that the engine compartment was 
FLOODED! I turned on the bilge pump and Jim said he could see a hole in 
the bottom of the boat. He yelled for a towel and then layed down on the 
deck and stuffed the towel in the hole, just like the dutch kid, and 
held it there. I steered for the U.S. shore line, trying to get to the 
shallows where I knew we (or at least me) could make it ashore in case 
she went down. (Love that tunnel drive)

We couldn't tell if the bilge pump was working because the bilge outlet 
was submerged. Jim suggested that I radio sector and have them advise 
our Marina to have the slings ready to pull the boat out of the water if 
we made it that far. We hugged the shoreline and made it to the slings. 
We ultimately found that a through hull device had somehow loosened and 
fell out, thus the hole. Jim always said that my radio call voice on 
that transmission was about 2 octaves above normal. (Hey., we were 
sinking in the middle of the Niagara River, 1 short mile from the falls! 
Say what you want)

Reflecting on it later we realized that if these events had happened 5 
minutes earlier or if we had extended our earlier tour we would have had 
the Chief of the Border Patrol and the Head of the Royal Ulster 
Constabulary on board and would have probably answered the prayers of 
the IRA and La Raza at the same time. Jim and I thought about this for a 
while and decided to go for coffee.