The saga of the YP-438 as related by Ellis Sard (June/July issue) must have tugged at the heart of every small-ship sailor in the U.S. Navy. Most of us did not have the series of increasingly frustrating and finally catastrophic events that befell his YP, but we had our moments.
I was an officer aboard the USS APc-42. The designation, in Navy parlance, stood for coastal transport. At 105 feet, the wooden-hulled APc class was said to have the smallest commissioned vessels in the Navy in World War II. Like the YP, we were powered by a single diesel engine that not only was idiosyncratic but also could be downright malevolent.
In April 1946 we were ordered to depart Leyte Gulf in the Philippines and return to the United States for decommissioning. Because of our small size, about a half dozen similar craft were formed into a convoy for the six-thousand-mile voyage. No sooner were we at sea, however, than we discovered that top speed of the slowest vessel was about eight knots. But like Ellis Sard’s engine, the one aboard the APc-42 stubbornly refused to operate at anything but top speed, a breathtaking ten knots. Moreover, the engine had to be stopped before going into reverse, a highly risky decision since it seldom would start again.
As we could not throttle down to eight knots, our only recourse was to make long, sweeping runs ahead of the convoy, turn, retrace our path well astern, and then repeat the maneuver. In this manner I think we crossed the Pacific at least twice to the convoy’s once. The engine gave out at Guam, and we were towed into Apra Harbor for repairs. After a landfall and more repairs at Eniwetok, we managed to make Hawaii and Pearl Harbor.
Entering Pearl, we were told by the control tower to proceed to East Loch for mooring. The harbor was fantastically crowded with warships of every description, and we had no idea where East Loch was. As we headed up the channel at our ungovernable speed of ten knots, a glance astern threw us into near panic. Steaming up behind us, looking as the whale must have looked to Jonah, was the huge aircraft carrier, the USS Saratoga . Not used to acknowledging small craft, the Sara plowed arrogantly on, her 888-foot towering bulk capable of swallowing a fleet of APc’s and spitting us out for matchwood. Efforts to acquaint the tower with our unmaneuverability drew only silence, and even our desperate move of hoisting the ultimate flag signal, “running out of control,” was totally ignored. Fortunately, the East Loch turnoff appeared, and we shot out of the main channel like a scared rabbit.
Three weeks at Pearl and even a cleaned and painted bottom failed to restore the APc-42 to good humor, as we found shortly after departing for San Diego, a two-thousand-mile voyage uninterrupted by any landfalls. First we sprang a leak, forcing us to remove our provisions from the stern lazaret so that we could pump it out. Unforgivably, we left the cases on deck, and a storm promptly washed them overboard, leaving us only with meat from the freezer and several cans of boned turkey and rock candy to tide us over.
Because of the food shortage, the leak, and a fear that we would run out of fuel due to the extra distance we covered to accommodate the slow speed of the convoy, we asked for and secured permission to head for San Diego on our own.
We sailed into San Diego Harbor at dusk one day in late May. Misjudging the distance to our berth, we stopped the engine too soon and suffered the final ignominy of being towed the last twentyfive feet or so by a harbor boat. I doubt that the engine would have started again.