ORLEANS – Dick Ryder had stayed home from school that fateful day in February 1952 that the tanker Pendleton wrecked off Chatham.
Since he was home sick, his mother would not let him leave the house, so he listened to what has been called “the greatest small boat rescue in the history of the Coast Guard” play out over a shortwave radio.
“My mother said ‘if you can’t go to school, then you’re darn sure not going to the Fish Pier,’ so I had to stay home,” Ryder said.
Many other Chatham residents went down to the beach that night during a ferocious storm to watch what some called a miracle: four Coast Guardsmen in a 36-foot lifeboat rescued 32 crew members trapped aboard on the sinking stern of the Pendleton—in one trip.
They had to deal with the howling winds and crashing waves of a torrential storm. And they had to deal with the treacherous Chatham Bar, the shifting shoals that the boat had to pass through to get out to the Pendleton. And after rescuing all but one man, they then had to bring them back to the harbor.
“They were disappointed that they didn’t take all the survivors off the ship. They missed one,” Ryder said. “I think still to this day the remaining crewman, Andy Fitzgerald, still has nightmares about that. He’s in his 80s but he said he’ll never forget it.”
The incident was the same night as the Town Meeting and so when the townspeople heard what was going on, “the Town Meeting was pretty much abandoned,” Ryder said.
The Coast Guard boat that performed that rescue, the CG36500, was decommissioned more than 40 years ago. But it is now owned by the Orleans Historical Society and volunteers care for it, show visitors around and tell the story of how it played a role in one of the most famous Coast Guard rescues of all time.
Jay Stradal, a board member with the Orleans Historical Society, said the 36500 was originally built in 1946. “The historical society of Orleans assumed responsibility for the boat and has spent considerable amount of money and time restoring her and getting her to working condition.”
The boat is kept at Rock Harbor, serving as a floating museum during the summer months and can be toured with docents from the Orleans Historical Society. More information about the historical society and the boat can be found here.
A movie of the Coast Guard rescue will be released this winter. It is based on the best-selling 2009 book, “The Finest Hours,” co-written by Michael Tougias and local author Casey Sherman.
To hear more from Dick Ryder and Jay Stradal about the Coast Guard lifeboat CG36500, click below.