A True Blazing! Adventure
-In Pursuit of The Red Baron-
by Townsend Twainhart
It was one of those days that the wind pushed the palm trees around and the sun gleamed brightly over the warm sand when I pulled down the ten mile long road that led to Channel Islands Harbor. The green Plymouth hadn’t been put through its paces all week and handling the typical coastal and harbor fishermen was beginning to be a real drag. The Fish and Game radio broke squelch and banged the repeater at the same time. The radio barked out my call number 648... 694. I instantly recognized the salty voice as that of Lieutenant Hank Hoover aboard the patrol boat YELLOWTAIL. I immediately responded, flashing through my brain was the thought of an invitation to go 10 - 7 tonight (off duty) with Hank and drink some tall cold brewskis. But that wasn’t to be this day.
I responded, “694 go ahead to 648!”
Hank replied, “648, 11 -98 (meet me) Code 2 (ASAP) at the YELLOWTAIL.” As the smile lost its wrinkle on my face, I kicked in what was left of my carburetor. When the Plymouth took its initial lunge forward, I tightened my control of the dark green patrol unit. I was only minutes away from the patrol boat berth. As I backed off 115 I rounded the last corner that led to the parking lot above the big gray patrol boat and screeched to a halt. Quickly I ran around the buildings and down onto the dock. Aboard the boat were several people in civilian attire with Hank. I paused at the stern of the Yellowtail with my hand poised over my sidearm.
Hank came to the back of the forty four foot patrol boat and said, “Town, these narcotic officers need our help. Do you remember seeing the RED BARON trawler in the harbor at Port Hueneme? It’s hauling a lode of dope up the coast. These narcotic officers, one from Newport Beach PD and Sergeant Carpenter from the Ventura County Sheriff’s office need our help to catch and board that craft.” Hank went on explaining that the boat had left Port Hueneme harbor just south of us about twenty-five minutes before and we needed to leave right now. As Hank talked, the rest of our supporting cast, Lieutenant Ken Nilson and Warden Gayland Taylor arrived. Hank fired up the big 671 twin Cummins diesels and the YELLOWTAIL surged to life.
I asked Sergeant Carpenter, “Don’t you guys have helicopters?”
The husky Sergeant smiled at first and then drew his mouth into a frown saying, “Yes” and then asking why.
“Well, we’ll have one hell of a problem if they dump the load before we catch them!”
He said, “I gotcha!” As the radio went to his lips I already knew what he was going to do. Besides, I thought to myself, the helicopter crew could do with a little extra flight pay. While all this was going on the bumpers were pulled up and the California State Colors went up with old Glory. All of the radios, scanners and radar were cranked on as we cruised out of the harbor (a little hotter than normal). Once we hit the breakwater Hank threw the big dual topside levers forward and the humming engines roared to an even pitch at twenty five knots. The smell of the cold salt air and sea spray were invigorating. As we headed out the big yellow orb of the sun above the rolling sea was descending fast.
I leaned toward Hank and yelled in his ear over the roar of the engines, “Hank, why didn’t these guys use the Coast Guard Cutter? It’s moored just a hundred feet away.” The chortle was low and restrained but I knew it was going to lead to something funny from the old sea dog. Hank explained that Sergeant Carpenter had first gone to the Coast Guard with the same story. They told him they would be glad to help.
Carpenter had told them, “Great, let us go get our other guns.”
The Coast Guard freaked and said, “Guns, you can’t bring guns aboard a United States boat, why that would be an act of war!” (This was prior to the United States Coast Guards big drug interdiction program.) The two officers couldn’t get by this Ill-fanned logic and proceeded towards the Fish and Game patrol boat YELLOWTAIL .
As the big gray patrol boat charged steadily northward a sharp watch was kept on the horizon. Lt. Nilson kept his face glued to the radar scope in hopes of locating the little orange dot on the screen. This was one of those days when you could see almost everything except what you wanted to in the damn thing. Out in the distance, through the sea spray, towards Ventura we spotted a little black object zipping out across the water flying at one hundred plus feet altitude heading busily northward. I knew instinctively that this was the dispatched helicopter. As we hurried northward in pursuit of the RED BARON the support group below was getting keyed up and ready to go. All weapons were checked and rechecked. The old M-2 was pulled out and rounds loaded into the clips.
Hank sang out, “There she is!” We all scrambled above decks looking towards the northern horizon. I spotted her off in the distance, above her buzzed the little Ventura County Sheriff’s helicopter ever circling the cornered prey. The clips full of 30 caliber rounds were snapped into the old M-2 carbine. I gave the boarding order, me first, then Warden Taylor then the other officers. Lt. Nilson was to cover us both from the YELLOWTAIL with the carbine. I had little fear of boarding in the rough sea. Hank was an expert skipper and could set me down on a dime anywhere, and I had boarded more than my fair share of vessels from the YELLOWTAIL. Like Hank’s, my only concern was (A) - not getting shot and (B) - not loosing anyone overboard in the rolling seas.
As the helicopter hovered overhead Hank hit the blue strobe on top of the cabin and cranked the siren up. Over the PA Hank ordered the RED BARON to ‘heave-to’ (stop). The RED BARON slowed and cut her engines. At the same time, Hank swung the stern of the YELLOWTAIL around and deposited me on her port side rear deck. My 357 Colt fairly leapt into my hand from my breakfront holster as I gained my sea legs aboard the vessel. I ordered all of the crew out on deck placing them under arrest and told them to raise there hands (stick - em’- up). Behind me a forward hatch door swung open. Lt. Nilson swung the carbine past me ready to plug whoever came out of it.
The shouts of, “Behind you!”, were lost in the wail of the siren and the roar of the YELLOWTAIL’s engines.
The skipper of the RED BARON sensing the possible deadly results said, “For God’s sake don’t shoot! All we have aboard is some grass.” The gap between the boats widened as the swells pushed the YELLOWTAIL some thirty feet away. Finally swinging back it deposited Warden Taylor aboard. As I put all hands face down at gunpoint on the deck, Gayland, gun drawn cautiously checked the open forward hatch door. Fortunately no one was inside, the hatch had only been sprung in the rough ocean chop. With Warden Taylor covering the suspects I began handcuffing the subjects till I ran out of handcuffs. After the crew was mainly secured the two narcotic officers were deposited aboard. Warden Taylor covered the crew while I worked with the two Narcotic officers to open the front hatch.
The hatch squealed and splintered as we broke it open. Then laying the hatch cover back a low, “Holy shit” escaped from somebody’s lips. The hatch was completely full of Acapulco Gold (marijuana) wrapped in bundles with ten kilos to the bundle. The two narcotic officers were looking at one another with huge Cheshire cat grins. I could tell from the look between them that this was the culmination of a long and hard search up the coast for the elusive boat.
As the sun knelt low on the rolling ocean waves Lt. Nilson clambered on board, to begin piloting the seized boat and crew back to the open arms of the Ventura County jail. The amount of Marijuana seized was one of the biggest ever made off of the Ventura, California coastline. Over ten tons were man-handled bundle by bundle and stacked on the floating dock until it almost sank under the weight (some had to be removed before more could be stacked). The dock was not only covered with dope but scads of reporters as well (sometimes they're interchangeable).
Finally we were through with a very long day. I kept wondering if that salty old sea dog with the now grizzled unremoveable smile on his face would ever buy me that tall cold beer I had in mind in the first place before this whole thing got started.
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