Chapter V: Azores


As the trip to the Azores was too far for us to make on our original supply of gasoline, there was a tanker along. Fueling was started about three days out, so that should we meet such weather as to prevent it we would not be caught low on gas. The system of fueling was as follows: two chasers were towed forward of the tanker's beams, riding on lines made fast to their gun mounts and keeping themselves clear of the ship's side by their rudders. Two other boats were taken on her quarters and one towed astern. The tanker kept a speed of about four knots while towing and fed the gasoline out in metal or rubber hose. There was always one unit of chasers standing by to prevent submarine attack while the others were fueling.

One afternoon a brig was seen approaching off our port bow. We had all heard stories of raiders at Bermuda, so one public-spirited commanding officer on the starboard side of the formation, with all three engines full speed ahead, charged across to the brig and boarded her. Perhaps the captain of the brig had a good wine locker, who knows? At least this ensign found everything satisfactory and reported it so to the senior officer. It has always been a question whether the senior officer thought everything was all right though, judging from the sarcastic thanks that ensign received on reaching port for leaving position without order. The supply of oil was insufficient to meet the demands of such a long trip, so it became necessary to go alongside the transport Bridgeport for more. The S. C. 128 was the first boat to go on this unexpected and unpopular errand. Many and various were the questions from the ship's gold stripers as to why it was all gone, how much did we have to start with, how much left, and casually, although most important, how much did we have to have. They were most accommodating though; instead of giving us time to say how much we needed they settled it by telling us how much we would get. The chaplain of the ship gave us some prayer books, probably as we were just entering what was commonly considered the war zone, and the supply officer allowed the men to get rid of the little pay left from liberty in Bermuda at his canteen. That night a heavy wind came up and the small chasers went as far in the vertical plane as they did in the horizontal. Soon the consumed canteen supplies were seen going over the side so that the consideration of the Bridgeport's canteen yeoman was not as appreciated as formerly.

The next day the handle on the adjustable rheostat on the switchboard in the engine room broke and the pin cracked. We telephoned the yacht Wadena for permission to come alongside for a new one, but this ship's reply to our request suggested that we use a boathook or broom handle, but naturally such suggestion was not accepted by us, and we perforce went without this part. We sailed along, however, making such repairs as we could till the twelfth day out we sighted the Azores amid great rejoicing. As we formed column to enter the harbor large crowds were seen on the shore and faint sounds of cheering were heard. We honored Ponta Delgada for an anchorage, but found berthing space very difficult to obtain on account of the immense amount of shipping that was there. Among the boats in port were the chasers which had preceded us, the U. S. S. Maryetta, the Tonopah, a monitor, and some American converted yachts. We had no more than put our lines ashore, before we were assailed by fleets of "bum boats." They had everything to sell; prices were low and the food they had was good. The island scenery here, as at Bermuda, was magnificent. Preparations were immediately made for trips ashore to see the hot springs and other sights of the island, among which not the least of interest was the celebrated gambling club which was open to officers. While at Ponta Delgada a general overhaul was carried on and necessary repairs made. A chaser was sent out each night on patrol duty outside the harbor. One night the S. C. 127 took this occasion to demonstrate the efficiency of her Y-gun. The commanding officer explained to the crew in most technical terms the mechanism of the gun, and becoming enthused with his subject he loaded the gun. He continued his talk and explanation until suddenly attention was diverted, probably they were just coming to the mail buoy (we all like to hear from home). At any rate, when resuming the topic of the gun, demonstration became necessary, and the firing lanyard was given a smart pull. The natural result followed as when the trigger on any loaded gun is pressed. With a tremendous report and clouds of smoke the depth charges soared aloft to sink with a splash into the sea, but the rapidity of their sinking to their set depth could not match the rapidity with which the onlookers sought the furthermost extremities of the boat lest the safety forks in these charges prove defective.