The following is a personal account, of sailing aboard the S.S. Steel Flyer. See photos below.
"I joined the Steel Flyer as 2nd Mate in Westport, Oregon on August 25, 1967. My home at the
time was in California and I had flown to Portland and took a bus from there to join the ship,
which was reportedly in Astoria. The bus stopped in Westport (about 30 miles from Astoria),
but it wasn't until we had left the stop and were proceeding along the highway that I spotted the
Isthmian stack amongst the trees. So, I spent the night in Astoria and joined the ship the next
day as she continued loading packaged lumber. Westport is a very narrow slough connected to the
Columbia River, so we were towed out stern-first after completion of loading. Unfortunately, we
went hard aground at the mouth of the slough and stayed there until the salvage tug, Salvage Chief
came from Seattle and pulled us off. This grounding resulted in damage to the skeg which apparently
was the cause of our lost rudder the following December.
From Westport we went intercoastal to East Coast ports where we back-loaded with government
cargo for Viet Nam. Departing Viet Nam in early December 1967 we proceeded via great circle to
US West Coast. We had been on DR only for several days when, on my 0400-0800 watch the helmsman
reported 'something wrong'. I looked immediately to the rudder angle indicator and it appeared
to be spinning. Capt. Jaenicke was called and the Mate went aft to inspect the steering flat,
where he found the rudder stock and hub bolts to have been carried away. Seas were entering the
flat through the hull penetration.
Using our DR position we radioed the Coast Guard and they advised that the Storis would be
sent to our assistance along with a Navy tug, Chowandoc out of Adak. The USCG, smarting from
the recent loss of the Pan Oceanic Faith and most of her crew, was very attentive throughout
our time adrift.
Upon examination our DR position was over 100 miles off our actual position. While awaiting
the tow we began to build a jury rig rudder using mooring lines and canvas just in case we
found ourselves in need of maneuvering before our tow arrived.
When the Chowandoc arrived we were experiencing moderate to heavy sea/swell with
snow showers, and passing a line between us proved difficult. So, the Navy tug came in close
under our bow and our crew threw a heaving line. Unfortunately, the tug was a bit too close and
fell off a swell onto our stem, holing her port quarter. A diving room and diesel tank on the
tug were reportedly damaged. Eventually, however, a tow line was made fast and we began our
slow trip to Seattle. When the commercial tug, Sampson arrived on the scene she took up the tow,
and the Navy boat proceeded to Seattle for repairs of her own. Her crew couldn't have been
happier because their families were mostly in the Puget Sound area and they were going to be
home for Christmas.
The next couple of weeks were the most boring of my life. We stood our normal watches,
but there was nothing to do except write up the log book with weather reports and positions.
It was the only time in my life when I smoked cigarettes.
There was one last bit of excitement on the trip home. We had picked up a pilot at
Port Angeles and were proceeding toward Seattle in a heavy snowstorm. With the wind blowing,
the Steel Flyer was now being towed behind and to the side of the tug, and radar showed us
another vessel coming our way between the tug and the vessel. There were some very frantic
radio transmissions, but the oncoming vessel wasn't on the air. So, the pilot instructed our
tug to stop and let the tow line go slack, and the oncoming vessel did pass between us and over
the slackened line. We never saw the other vessel and she never knew how close she had come to
having her bottom torn out.
While the Steel Flyer was in the Todd drydock in Seattle for repairs I joined the
Steel Designer while she loaded lumber in NW ports, and then returned to the
Steel Flyer on February 5, 1968 for another lumber run to the East Coast where I left the
ship in New York."
-- David Dent, 2nd Mate