coast guard

Overdue is never a good thing, but there are some times when being overdue is a very bad thing. One of those times is when a plane, train, or ship are overdue. Andrea Gail began her final voyage departing from Gloucester Harbor, Massachusetts, on September 20, 1991, bound for the Grand Banks of Newfoundland off the coast of eastern Canada. After poor fishing, Captain Frank W “Billy” Tyne Jr headed east to the Flemish Cap where he believed they would have better luck. The fishing was much better there, and before long, the crew had filled the storage bins with fish. It was at that point that the ship’s ice machine began malfunctioning. Because they could not maintain the catch without the ice, Tyne set course for home on October 26–27.

The weather reports warned of dangerous weather conditions, and he knew it would be risky, but he thought they could make a run for home, and possibly beat the storm. The problem was that this was no ordinary storm. Two systems were colliding, and creating the perfect storm. It was the perfect situation for an impossible passage for the Andrea Gail. His friend, Linda Greenlaw, tried to warn Tyne not to try it. She was looking at the weather report and she could see that this storm was not one to be taken lightly. Nevertheless, Tyne headed for Massachusetts. His last reported transmission was at about 6:00pm on October 28, 1991, when he radioed Greenlaw, who was the Captain of the Hannah Boden, and gave his coordinates as 44°00 N 56°40 W, or about 162 miles east of Sable Island. He also gave a weather report indicating 30 foot seas and wind gusts up to 80 knots. Tyne’s final recorded words were “She’s comin’ on, boys, and she’s comin’ on strong.” It was reported that the storm created waves in excess of 100 feet in height, but ocean buoy monitors recorded a peak wave height of 39 feet, and so waves of 100 feet were deemed “unlikely” by Science Daily. However, data from a series of weather buoys in the general vicinity of the vessel’s last known location recorded peak wave action exceeding 60 feet in height from October 28 through 30, 1991.

The Andrea Gail was officially reported overdue on October 30, 1991. An extensive air and land search was launched by the 106th Rescue Wing from the New York Air National Guard, United States Coast Guard and Canadian Coast Guard forces. The search would eventually cover over 186,000 square nautical miles. Finally, on November 6, 1991, Andrea Gail’s emergency position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) was discovered washed up on the shore of Sable Island in Nova Scotia…not the news they were hoping for. The EPIRB was designed to automatically send out a distress signal upon contact with sea water, but the Canadian Coast Guard personnel who found the beacon “did not conclusively verify whether the control switch was in the on or off position”. By November 9th, authorities officially called off the search for the missing Andrea Gail, due to the low probability of crew survival. Fuel drums, a fuel tank, the EPIRB, an empty life raft, and some other flotsam were the only wreckage ever found. The ship was presumed lost at sea somewhere along the continental shelf near Sable Island. Sometimes, overdue is the worst possible situation.

img_5613A number of my ancestors came to America during and prior to the years that Ellis Island was the processing center in New York. I have no doubt that some of them came through Ellis Island, but I have not confirmed that. I find many of the names in my tree, but while many of the ancestors I have found came over by way of New York, it would appear that my direct line arrived in America before the immigration center at Ellis Island opened on January 2, 1892. Before that time, immigrants were handled by the individual states where the immigrant first arrived. It is estimated that about 40% of Americans can trace their roots through Ellis Island, so while I see many familiar names, they may or may not be my direct line, and in fact, they might not be related at all.

Ellis Island is located in New York Harbor off the New Jersey coast and was named for merchant Samuel Ellis, who owned the land in the 1770s. The island was given the nickname, The Gateway to America because more than 12 million immigrants passed through the center since it opened in 1892. On January 2, 1892, 15 year old Annie Moore, from Ireland, became the first person to pass through the newly opened Ellis Island, which President Benjamin Harrison designated as America’s first federal immigration center in 1890. Oddly, not all img_5614immigrants who sailed into New York had to go through Ellis Island. First and second class passengers were just given a brief shipboard inspection and then disembarked at the piers in New York or New Jersey, where they passed through customs. People in third class, though, were transported to Ellis Island, where they underwent medical and legal inspections to ensure they didn’t have a contagious disease or some condition that would make them a burden to the government. Nevertheless, only two percent of all immigrants were denied entrance into the United States. The peak years of immigration through Ellis Island were from 1892 to 1924. The 3.3 acre island was enlarged by landfill, and by the 1930s, it had reached its current size of 27.5 acres. After the extra size was completed, new buildings were constructed to handle the massive influx of people coming to America for a better life. During it’s busiest year, which was 1907, over 1 million people were processed through Ellis Island.

When the United States entered into World War I, immigration to the United States decline, most likely because travel anywhere was risky. Ellis Island was used as a detention center for suspected enemies during that time. Following the war, Congress passed quota laws and the Immigration Act of 1924, which sharply reduced the number of newcomers allowed into the country and also enabled immigrants to be processed at United States img_5612consulates abroad. The act also enabled immigrants to be processed at United States consulates abroad, making detention at Ellis Island obsolete. After 1924, Ellis Island switched from a processing center to other purposes, such as a detention and deportation center for illegal immigrants, a hospital for wounded soldiers during World War II and a Coast Guard training center. In November 1954, the last detainee, a Norwegian merchant seaman, was released and Ellis Island officially closed on November 12, 1954. In 1984, Ellis Island underwent a $160 million renovation, the largest historic restoration project in United States history. In September 1990, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum opened to the public and is visited by almost 2 million people each year.

The USCGC Spencer (WMEC-905) is a U S Coast Guard medium endurance cutter. It was named after my 5th cousin 5 times removed, John Canfield Spencer. He was born January 8, 1788 in Hudson, New York, and died May 18, 1855 in Albany, New York. During the War of 1812, he served in the U S Army where he was appointed the brigade judge advocate general for the northern frontier. John was the 17th Secretary of War from October 12, 1841 to March 4, 1843 and the 16th Secretary of the Treasurer from March 8, 1843 to May 2, 1844, under President John Tyler. As one of few northerners in an administration dominated by southern interests, John found it was becoming increasingly difficult to serve in his cabinet post, so he resigned as Treasury Secretary in May of 1844.

WMEC-905 is the third cutter to serve the United States bearing the name “Spencer”. The history of Spencer started in 1843 when the original Spencer was commissioned to serve in the Revenue Cutter Service. An Iron hulled steamer, she served as a lightship off Hampton Roads, Virginia until 1848. The second cutter to carry the name Spencer was hull number W-36, commissioned in 1937. At a length of 327 feet, she first started service as a search and rescue unit patrolling Alaska’s fishing grounds. After the United States entered WWII, the Coast Guard temporarily became part of the US Navy. Spencer saw significant combat action in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. In the “Battle of the Atlantic”,  Spencer acted as a convoy escort and hunted German submarines, sinking the U-225 and the U-175 in 1944. In late 1944, Spencer reported to the Navy’s Seventh (Pacific) Fleet as a Communications Command Ship. There she was credited with taking part in numerous amphibious invasions including Luzon and Palawan in the Philippines.

After the war, Spencer returned to her Coast Guard duties serving at an Atlantic Ocean Station. Here she provided navigational assistance for the fledgling trans-Atlantic air industry and more importantly, acted as a search and rescue platform for both airplanes and ships. In January 1969, Spencer returned to combat duty off the Coast of Vietnam. For ten months, she provided surveillance to prevent troops and supplies from getting into South Vietnam. In November 1969, Spencer returned to the United States to continue her peace time mission of ocean station keeping. The second Spencer served the nation for more then 37 years and when decommissioned in 1974, she was the most decorated cutter in the Coast Guard’s fleet.

The Spencer of today was commissioned into service on 28th of June 1986. She is credited for confiscating over 46,000 pounds of marijuana and 8800 pounds of cocaine. In 1991 she towed a disabled U.S. Navy frigate, twice her size, to safety, and participated in the search for a missing Air National Guard paratrooper during the “Perfect Storm”. In early 1996, she responded to the Alas Nacionales plane crash off the coastal waters of the Dominican Republic in which 189 people were killed. When the fishing vessel Lady of Grace became disabled during a severe storm in November 1997, Spencer was there to save the crew and tow the vessel to safety. In 1999, Spencer was the on-scene commander for the crash of Egypt Air Flight 990 off Nantucket, controlling both U S Navy and Coast Guard assets in search and recovery efforts. In 2005, Spencer was an initial responder during Hurricane Katrina.


I would like to thank TxHwy105 and Len Eagleburger on Ancestry.com for providing the Spencer historical information and the US Coast Guard site for photos of the Spencer.

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