NOTE: Clicking on most photos will reveal an enlargement in a new window.
During my time in the United States Coast Guard, I was stationed in various places temporarily, or for an extended period. The LORAN station at South Caicos Island was certainly the most unique in my four-year career. It was a place of great solitude and learning. Learning in the academic way, and learning in a social way as the crew of 17 unique individuals had to get along like a family—most of the time it was good. We were each there for one year, with a month off after six months for R&R. We were restricted to the island except for emergencies. This Web page is an attempt to relate some of my experience and that of my shipmates.
Our station served to master stations—one on San Salvador Island in the Bahaman Islands, and the second on at Cape San Juan, Puerto. Each of their transmitters would send out high-powered signal pulses. As soon as we received their pulse, we would send out our pulse signal in sync with theirs. Each station was located over 200 miles away.
Turks and Caicos Islands was a colony of Great Britain and overseen by governor of the Bahamas from 1965 to 1973. A local "commissioner" dealt with governmental interests from Cockburn Harbor, on South Caicos. His daughter was the only single European on the island and of great interest to several men from the Coast Guard base.
An apology is also necessary. Considering I am now 71 years of age as I write these memoirs of almost 50 years ago, no doubt some of the "facts" are incorrect. That is not by intent, but a product of my advancing years. Every reasonable attempt has been made to present an accurate picture of my life in the Coast Guard. Please forgive me for any errors and feel free to correct me if you care. Write me at K3NAU@AOL.com with your thoughts.
Believe it or not, it was my choice to go to South Caicos. Why? I started my training just after boot camp at the Guard's basic electronics school in Groton Connecticut and finished at their center on Governor’s Island, New York. Becoming an electronics technician was a natural choice as ham radio was a passion and as an ET I would likely be playing with radios and other electronic devices that could train me for a career after I got out four years later.
I wanted to make my choice to join the Guard sound like a good one to my parents who were upset that I had quit college and join the military. In fact, I was about to be drafted and I preferred to join a branch of the military that was not serving in Vietnam and that I thought would likely keep me close to home. I was wrong on both of these two points.
In the Guard’s school I worked very hard and successfully graduated first in my class of 19 men. Besides the prestige of being first, I also got first choice of the 18 assignments offered to the class. Believe it or not, a year of isolated duty on South Caicos Island was considered by my peers to be the best pick of the list of offerings. Of the others, there were approximately five isolated duty assignments in the south Pacific and Alaska, and several deep-water lightships. I knew little of South Caicos beyond its geographical location. I did not even know the island was as small as two and a half miles by five! Even so, South Caicos would be pretty sweet duty compared to the Hell others went through in Vietnam.
Photo to right is my class with the instructors and officer in charge. (Charles Bliley, SNET, Rear Row, Sixth from Left.) Click here for a larger view.
During my time in the United States Coast Guard, I was stationed in various places temporarily or for an extended time. The LORAN station at South Caicos Island was certainly the most unique in my four-year career. It was a place of great solitude and learning. Learning, not only in an academic way as I honed my skills as an electronics technician, but also learning in a social way to be part of the crew of 17 unique individuals that had to get along like a family—most of the time it was good. We were each there for one year with staggered periods, with a month off after six months for R&R. We were restricted to the island except for emergencies. This section of Web page is an attempt to relate some of my experience and that of my shipmates.
Day to day our work was like a job with lots of repetition and routines. Our “rooms” were really partitioned "berths" with a curtain for a door, a storage cabinet and a desk. “Walls” were made of sheets of plywood screwed to the storage cabinets with about four-foot clearance above the “walls”. There was visual privacy, but not acoustical privacy. We could hear each other’s conversations if you spoke above normal levels. During most months, our personal cooling fans hummed blowing cooler air from the windows into our “room”. The din of noise helped to mask noise in the barracks and outside. In the winter the fans were sometimes used just to make noise and the windows were frequently closed. We had two local men serving as cooks. Because we saw them almost every day for all three meals, they became more like friends than servants.
At the southern end of the island was a small village of Cockburn Harbor with a population of around 500. We would go "downtown" on a regular basis to see new friends, have a drink at the Admiral's Arms hotel, or go to the post office. Otherwise, there was not much else to do and a scarcity of European women to date.
By the way, LORAN is an acronym for LOng Range Aid to Navigation (LORAN) and operated by several countries in North America, Europe and the Pacific rim. LORAN-A operated in the 2 MHz band, and LORAN-C at 100 kHz. The service was phased out in the 1990s in favor of the new GPS navigation system that offered better accuracy and coverage. The station on South Caicos was in operation from July of 1959 to December of 1980—just 21 years.
Station Personnel 1968–1969
The crew members were rotated almost every month as they finished their one-year tour of duty. This is a list of personnel that I can remember. The photo on the right is one that I took for a station Christmas card as described below.
Christmas Card Photo—December 1968
Personnel on LORAN South Caicos 1968–1969 in Photo
- LTJG J. D. Jackson APR 1967 - 1968
- LTJG C. T. Vaughan 1968 - 1969
- BMCDG D.T. Robinson
- HM1-PCT H.J. Curtis
- HM1 ?? Dow
- CS2 G.R. Seifort
- EN1 R.L. Freeman
- EN3 Jonathan Clark
- EN3 William P, Davis
- ET1 M.E. Hall
- ET2 Paul Warnke Arnold
- ET3 T.K. Stevens
- ET3 Charles A. Bliley, VP5CB
- SNEW G.L. Shaw
- DC3 J.H. Jones
- SN Claire M. Dygert
- SAEW WIlliam C. Woods
- Bruce Jennings (Cook/TCI Civilian)
- Noel Seymour (Cook/TCI Civilian)
Periodic Supply Flights
Once a month a Coast Guard C-123 logistics flight, based in Miami, would come in bringing a host of goods including movies and mail from home. The last was the most important. Yes, there was food and spare parts delivered too, but that was to only to complement our work life. The logistics flights frequently used to bring in replacement personnel and provide “graduating” personnel a way back to the Coast Guard Air Base in Miami. Using this service was not a requirement, and occasionally someone would depart through the good will of a private airplane pilot.
Local "Air Traffic Control" and Harbormaster
A young local man with several radios at the local hotel, The Admiral’s Arms Hotel, served as air traffic controller and harbormaster. He sat in a small room on the top floor of the hotel with window views of the harbor and the airport two miles away. There were typically just a few flights as day in and out of the island, and most were private aircraft. It was rare to see more than a handful of planes parked at the airport. He had an equally-young friend that covered for him when he needed to get away. The landing strip was not much more than a wide gravel roadway without any lights. It was strictly Visual Flying Rules (VFR) to get there and you were instructed to check it for feral donkeys and motor vehicles. After all, the runway was also part of the road from the south end of the island to the Coast Guard base. Late in 1868, the runway was resurfaced with crushed coral limestone to allow for larger planes to land. The Coast Guard C-123 was the largest plane able to land. After the improvements, the C-130 was able to serve the base and land safely.
Beachcombing Fun & Surprises
One of our favorite pastimes was beachcombing. You never know what you could find. There were plastics of all kinds, bottles from beer, whiskey and wine--all empty. We had an informal Compton for who could find the largest glass fishing net float. Four to five inch balls covered with netting were common. The real prize was the 12-inch ones. I would estimate in the year on South Caicos, we only found four or five. Of course, the fishermen did not want to loose the important parts to their nets so they had an interest in maintaining them well.
A special find was a 1959 Guinness Beer bottle that was part of 150,000 deposited in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1959. They were sealed with the common metal cap, and inside was a certificate of authenticity and instructions on how to make the bottle into an electric table lamp. A current auction on eBay has solicited an opening bid of $75 just for the bottle. Imagine how much it could bring with the certificate! Not too bad for a "junk collector".
Probably the most unique item I found on the beach was a small rectangular metal container about the size of a beer can with a vacuum tube type octal plug on it. It was gray with plenty of scratches on the paint job, but after wiping off the sand, I saw the marking "BLILEY ELECTRIC"! What? I could not believe my eyes. I just found something on the beach that was made by the family business back home in Erie, PA. I was excited and puzzled. I mailed it home to the factory for analysis. From the serial number they were able to decipher it was a packaged CCO (crystal-controlled oscillator) that had been sold to the U.S. Navy about five years earlier. It was waterlogged, but the crystal within it was still good and with specification!
This was the age of preparing for the world's first manned moonwalk. Our astronauts walked on the moon the summer after I left South Caicos. Of course, we were surprised to find a fragment of a booster rocket on the beach. We were like kids when we found this three-foot fragment of the rocket and hoping it was just normal debris. We recorded the identification information and sent it off to Coast Guard Headquarters. The answer was negative. NASA was not interested. Oh well.
Conch shell hinting was a major pastime. We converted them into night lights out of spare and salvaged parts on the base. The prized ones had all pink lining that proved the animal had died very recently and the sun had not yet bleached the lining white. Some of the men worked diligently trying to cut a hole in the neck of the shell to insert the electrical wire. I discovered the cast-offs from the local conch fishermen were much better. They were fresh and they used a hammer and schnozzle to cut the hole in the next of sufficient size to insert a small knife into the shell and cut the anchoring foot of the muscle within. Why work so hard for something you could get for free?
Once while beachcombing on the northwestern side of the island near the base with a friend, I stepped on the back of a conch shell. It rolled over and the lip of the shell rolled up and cut into my shin on my left leg. It immediately started to bleed into the water and the salt water made it hurt like #$%^! But that was not the only discomfort. We had to walk back over a quarter of a mile through the water to the shore and back to the base. While walking through the water, a shark came swimming by. Yikes! I quickly moved forward from a tidal depression onto shallower water as quick as I could with the belief the water was too shallow for it to follow.
My calculation was correct and we arrived safely back to shore and the base. It was bleeding profusely and the hospital corpsman on the base was called into service. He quickly stitched it up without any local anesthesia. It hurt a lot, but much less than a shark bite! From that point on, I always looked down where I was walking, whether on land or in the sea.
"Mutiny" on South Caicos
The ham radio service was a vital link for my shipmates and me as there was no telephone service on the island. The only other option was a commercial radiotelephone service to the States provided on Grand Turk Island twenty miles away by plane. The Cable & Wireless Company of England provided this service.
Phone patches (hams connecting their telephone lines to their transmitter and receiver) were technically illegal under my ham radio license in Turks and Caicos, but I did them anyway as the alternative was very expensive in time and money. I made over a hundred phone patches back home over the year. Phone patches were legal in the U.S.A. and often done for overseas military personnel without hesitation. I felt that even if I was using a foreign call sign, I was still U.S. military and not diminishing any revenues of Cable and Wireless.
Most of the patches were just calls to home to hear the voices of family members and that of a girlfriend. Some were a bit different. Several were to determine the health of a loved one, the birth of a child, or to review arrangements for a wedding when the crewman returned home.
A couple months after I arrived, we got a new commanding officer. He was a young Academy graduate and this was his first assignment. It took him a few months to observe I was providing phone patches and asked me if they were legal. I replied according to the local law, but claimed a hardship exemption on behalf of the crew at large. He told me explicitly, that I was not to do any more. The crew and I then shunned him in many social settings. He was well-intentioned nice fellow, and probably was concerned about being cited as too liberal with the crew.
Several months later on Christmas Day 1968, I secretly arranged for those crew members who wanted to make calls home to come to the radio shack one at a time. After four or five, the captain caught on and ordered me on me to stop it. I told him I would comply after I finished the patch that was already in progress. He stated that would be Court Martialed for refusing an order should I provide any further patches and left the room mad.
Within an hour, he returned and meekly asked me to make a call home to his wife. I told him I would agree, only if he would agree not to prohibit me from making phone patches for the crew. He agreed and the patches continued until the end of my tour of duty two months later and he would no longer shunned. :-)
"I Want to Hold Your Hand"...What did I just hear?
I served as an electronics technician while in the Guard. This meant we performed preventative maintenance and repairs on various kinds of electronic equipment used by the Guard. At South Caicos, it was the LORAN transmitting and receiving equipment operating on a frequency between 1.85 and 1.95 MHz. This is in the lower portion of the shortwave band of frequencies. Adjacent to this band was a little used international entertainment broadcast band of 2.3–2.495 MHz that was mostly used in the tropics. Our LORAN signal was an annoying buzzing sound of pulses that sounded like a saw cutting through wood. We used a set of oscilloscopes to monitor the incoming and outgoing signals to make sure they were in synchronization. If they went "out of sync", an alarm would sound and we would have to diagnose the problem and take corrective action. From hearing the alarm to successful correction was a matter of a minute or two.
On a clear summer night, the alarm sounded off almost constantly. When I looked at the monitor oscilloscope, familiar pattern of random noise and the desired signals, was suspiciously different. The "noise" seemed to have a rhythm to it that puzzled me. It could be compensated for, but within minutes, the system was "out of sync".
There was a receiver on the top of the equipment rack that was used to pick up the signal form our "master station" and process it. The receiver was set to a single frequency, as it never required tuning. I remembered there was a test jack on the chassis labeled "PHONES" with a jack the size of a common headphone plug. I had seen it once before, but our technical documentation did not include it in any test or alignment procedure. In short, it was never used.
Believing it was a headphone jack, I got my headphones form my ham radio station and plugged them in. Much to my surprise, I heard "I want to hold your hand!" being sung by the Beatles. What? The band we were broadcasting on was to be used exclusively for radio navigation and not entertainment broadcasts. How could this signal be there? I listened for a while and discovered it was "Radio Havana" from Cuba broadcasting entertainment programming and it was interfering with our LORAN services.
I quickly went into the adjacent electronics office where we had several high-quality shortwave receivers. I adjusted one to the nearby frequency and found the same Radio Havana broadcast. We were in trouble! Remember, these were the days of the Cuban embargo and a few years after the Cuban Missile Crisis. We did not have the option of casually calling the Cuban embassy and telling them their signal was interfering with our operation.
The next morning, I informed the basic commander of the issue and my efforts to identify the interfering signal. He immediately wrote down my story and put it into an encrypted message for us to pass on to headquarters in Washington, D.C. Within hours, we received an encrypted message from headquarters asking us to maintain a watch of the Cuban signal and evaluate more closely its long-term effect on our operation. And, the activity was to be classified as SECRET! For two weeks encrypted reports were sent off daily to headquarters without acknowledgement. Then, two Americans showed up at the base and identified themselves as government employees looking for the base commander. They were directed to the captain's office and shortly afterwards, I was invited to join them to tell my version of the story.
The two men stayed a few days and then disappeared without notice as mysteriously as they had arrived. Needless to say, this generated a lot of gossip among the troops who understood the basic interference issue, but not the presence of these tow men. Some thought they had arrived in a rubber raft dispatched from a submarine in the night. Almost certainly, they were CIA agents or such.
We continued with the reports to headquarters for a few weeks, and then the Cuban broadcast signal disappeared as mysteriously as it arrived. Why? That is anybody's guess, but the Cubans were using our system and perhaps, their diplomats sensed this was a time when common sense cooperation was more important than political agendas! One thing we did learn was the Cubans did like Rock and Roll. :-)
Several months later, the stations commanding officer called me into his private office. The visit was to tell me that headquarters and he were very impressed by my ingenuity in detecting and identifying the interfering signal. I was informed that under normal circumstances, I would receive a medal of honor, but since it was under the umbrella of secrecy, no metal or public acknowledgement could be presented to me. I thanked him for the consideration and told him my actions were nothing outside of what I considered normal duties.
I believe a silent reward was receiving my next duty station assignment at the USCG Electronics Engineering Center in Wildwood, New Jersey where I remained for the next two-and-a-half years. There I worked as part of a research and development team with a focus on LORAN A equipment. It was a plumb assignment with the privilege of living off base and just a few hundred miles from home!
Notes for the Radio-Electronic Nerds
The Cuban broadcasting frequency was technically outside the LORAN band of 1.85 to 1.95 MHz. The adjacent international broadcast band was located at 2.3 to 2.495 MHz. The LORAN receivers were very broadband TRF (tuned radio frequency) ones chosen to minimize any distortion of the incoming LORAN pulse signals. The bandwidth was about 200 kHz at 3 dB points and 2000 kHz at 60 dB points. (Verify?) With Havana being just 90 miles away, a powerful AM broadcast signal in relatively close radio frequency could sneak into the receiver and blend in with the desired LORAN signal.
That Stinking Christmas Tree!
One of the great surprises delivered on the logistics flight in late-December was a real live pine tree with a burlap-covered root ball and Christmas ornaments! Wow! That was something I never expected to receive! The package had a return address of my brother Dick, back home in Erie, Pennsylvania. It was about a foot high and needed to be "planted" in something. I wanted to preserve it as long as possible. I found an old roofing tar can that was disposed of after we re-roofed two of the three buildings in the summer of 1968. It was a perfect size and waterproof. I painted it red to complement its new purpose.
Being a keen observer of nature and farming practices in my youth, I "knew" that Indians and farmers always fertilized their plantings. Indians used fish and farmers used horse and cow manure. I chose the more modern source of manure and collected some dry manure from the feral donkeys that populated the entire island. Into the bottom when the manure and next the tree with the burlap removed. Add a bit of sand to fill in the gaps, and a cup or two of water. I was happy and hopefully the tree was happy. The crew was delighted see the tree in the cool air-conditioned electronics shop. We were set for Christmas with lights turned on our Charlie Brown Christmas tree!
All went well for about two weeks then we started to smell a foul odor in the shop. We had mice from time-to-time and thought one had crawled in and died. A thorough search of the room and the rest of the building revealed nothing. Into week three the order became stronger and stronger. What was it? Then, I was doing some work on the bench next to the tree by the window. The order became stronger the closer I got to the tree. Then, it dawned on me. The donkey manure may have been dry when I put it in the can, but with the tree needing water, the manure started to rot! The tree had to go! I took the tree outside and planted it a few feet from the building and washed out the stinking can. It died a few weeks later in spite of my efforts to give it what I thought it needed---water.
Late in October of 2016, I visited my brother Dick in Erie and his wife. We chatted about many things and among them was the Christmas tree. I told him that I always thought of him and the sweet Christmas present he sent to me back in 1968. He smiled and said, "Chuck. The credit goes to Judy, not me. It was her idea and I merely packed it up and sent it off." 48 years of thanking him did not make it true, but he deserved credit for other acts of kindness. Now, Judy was to get her due. So, thank you Judy for making my Christmas of 1968 so much better!
To the right is the thank you card I sent them written inside the Christmas card I created of the crew at the front gate. Judy Bliley returned the card to me in February 2017 for this project.
The card was a B/W photo that I created and printed in the base darkroom; then multiple copies were distributed to the entire crew for use as a Christmas card. The photo is shown above with a list of the crew.
By the way, the closing of "73" and "88" is ham radio jargon—73 for "good luck and best wishes", and 88 for "love and kisses". Click on the card to view the message inside.
Late Night Walks Under the Stars
There was little ground clutter to wash out the nighttime skies. It seemed like you could see every star in the heavens. Walking with a girl by moon or starlight sounds so romantic, but wait! There was only one eligible young European woman and she was the governor's daughter. It was beautiful, but usually heartbreaking be alone and away from your girlfriend back home.
We used to take the base's Land Rover or the truck into town for a night out. The rule was that we had to congregate at the Admiral's Arms Hotel's front door at an agreed-upon time. Be late, and you walked home. I did that only once; it was eight miles from "downtown" to the base! You could navigate the road to the base by starlight as the roads were built of crushed limestone and it reflected the starlight. You could also see the effervescence in the shallow water of the tidal bay to the west. The hike was beautiful, but real work!
Stubb's "Topless" Bar
When you arrived on the base to begin your tour of duty, lots of people told you the key entertainment place was Stubb's Topless Bar. There may be a shortage of women to date, but a striptease would help out a bit. Stubb's was one of the first ports of call on your first trip into town for the evening. The drop off point was always the Admiral's Arms Hotel, which had a small but nice bar and a swimming pool. You then given instructions on how to get to Stubb's Topless Bar. As soon as you found the place and walked in, you quickly found out why it was called "topless". There was no roof! And, you were taken for a fool by your new buddies at the base.
As a young and seasoned ham radio operator, I wanted to operate a ham station during my four years in the Guard. I knew there were some opportunities for us hams to “get on the air” at many military facilities, and I hoped the Coast Guard would be the same.
I suffered withdrawal from ham radio and spent a small fortune on a small/state-of-the-art ham radio receiver the size of a shoebox—a Davco DR-30. I thought I could keep it in my locker and listen in wherever I would go. That purchase turned out a bit of mistake and there were constant problems with radio interference and the lack of a decent antenna. When I packed up for my transfer to South Caicos, I left the Davco receiver behind. I had no idea if I would be able to use it and would ask for it to be shipped to me when it was necessary.
When I arrived at the LORAN station on South Caicos, I soon discovered there was not ham radio equipment and at best there was a shortwave receiver. I did learn there was a local ham, VP5AB, Jim Bassett, to whom I quickly introduced myself. He had a nice set up, but it was miles down the road and we had but one vehicle routinely available to the crew to share.
My work at the base went well and within a couple of weeks, I had permission to set up a ham radio station. I made arrangements for my mother, W3KPE, to buy and ship me a brand new Swan 350 from local ham radio store in Erie, PA and have it shipped directly to me at the base. (Click here for purchase information. PDF/500k)
While waiting, I applied for a ham radio license through the local governor’s office. All that was required was a few bucks and the license from the U.S.A. In two weeks, I was licensed. They even sent me a four shillings refund. Wow! Almost 50 more cents back in the beer money pot!
I gained a few privileges. First, I could operate in sub-bands dedicated to non-American hams to minimize interference and competition for air space. Second, believe it or not, I was permitted to broadcast "Special gramophone records for reproducing modulations of definite tones may be used, but not more than one ordinary gramophone record during the course or a day, with the exception that the same record may be repeated.", and finally, no propaganda was permitted! Awe shucks! I did break one rule; I was supposed to turn in my license at the end of the license period. Obviously, I did not do that. If I did, how would I be able to claim I operated from there and have such a unique souvenir? ;-)
In the course of eleven months on the air, I made 5,000 contacts and sent out 2,000 QSL cards with the help of two managers in the US and Canada. This was the product of being but one of five licensed hams in the whole country with the "VP5" country prefix, and one of two that were active on shortwave.
Last day on the air, among the people I spoke to were some special people: W3KPE (Mother), W3PIX (Dick, Friend in Hometown), W3QN (Ken, Friend in Hometown), K9LUX (Larry, Friend). W3PIX was chosen as my last contact as a thank you for being a supportive friend for years and making phone patches home when I was in college and while on South Caicos before my mother got on the air.
About the Ham Radio Station Photo
This was my first operating set-up in the base's electronics shop where I worked. (I am in my civilian clothes.) After a couple of months I built a desk in front of a window to the right and operated there for the duration of my tour of duty. My radio set ("rig") was a Swan 350C Transceiver connected to either a one-element fixed tri-band Quad, or Mosley TA-33 Junior rotatable/directional antenna. The two HRO-50s in the photo were used to monitor the 2182 KHz distress calling frequency. To the left is a 100W RCA SSB four channel transceiver operating on 4050 KHz, which provided a link to our sister stations in San Juan, Puerto Rico and San Salvador in the Bahaman Islands.
The photo was submitted to QST magazine, an amateur radio publication, and was printed along with a brief description of my activities in the spring of 1968.
Ham Radio QSL (Contact Acknowledgement) Card Design
Ham radio operators love to exchange QSL cards like some collect stamps. In fact one of the reasons to ask for a confirmation card for an our-of-country contact is to see the exotic stamps and perhaps share them with family and stamp collectors. These cards are often of a basic design with vitals on them, while others are unique designs with photos or personal artworks. My first card for South Caicos was a simple design that was a variation on an old one that I used back home in Erie, Pennsylvania as K3NAU. I ordered a thousand of these basic cards to send out to confirm the dozens of contacts I was making almost every day.
In total, I sent out QSL cards to over 75% of the people with whom I made contacts. That is over 4,000 cards in one year! No. I did not do this alone; I had help from several other hams. One was a fellow Coast Guardsman, Roger Burt, N4NC, who was a radioman back at Coast Guard Electronics Engineering Laboratory in Alexandria, Virginia. Dallas was in charge of the ham radio operations (K4CG) and volunteered to serve as my "QSL Manager". He also arranged for the purchase and delivery of a nice commercial directional antenna (Mosley TA-33, Jr.) for my shortwave ham work on South Caicos. Thank you Dallas!
After Dallas got overwhelmed quickly and the QSL manager duties were then served by Roger Burt, W4SYL, and finally by Andy McLellan, VE1ASJ, in Newfoundland. Thank you guys for handling thousands of pieces of mail for me. :-)
The design of the second card was suggested by a ham operator from Skaneateles, New York after an on-air discussion about my needing more cards. The last letters of the radio call sign were "CB" by my request to reflect my initials. Since my nickname was Chuck, I quickly started to identify myself on the air as "V. P. 5 Caicos Beachcomber" on the air. The Skaneateles ham said his daughter was a high-school artist and offered to have her design a graphic for the front of my QSL card. To help them out a bit, I took some photos of myself posing on the beach as is I was doing my beachcombing thing. The character of Charles Schultz's Charlie Brown and me carrying a stick beachcombing were combined into the design for the card.
The card was a hit and unique. Now, to finish my research and find out the name of the fellow ham and his daughter to properly thank them.
Other Hams on the Island
Jim Bassett, VP5AB—There was a local man, James Bassett, that worked for the Bahamian Airlines manning a radio navigation beacon (NDB/260 kHz/SC) near the village and capital, Cockburn Harbor at the south end of the island. He held the call sign, VP5AB, and was active on the air almost every day. He had nice Drake line setup with a tri-band beam antenna in addition to a wire antenna. Jim died in 2013. The South Caicos airport, for which he was the manager, was renamed in his honor in 2016.
R. Hamilton “Ham” Robinson, W1WQC, VP5AA—“Ham” as he preferred to be called was a businessman from Connecticut who was also held a private pilot’s license. He loved ham radio and flying to South Caicos. It seem like he was there every three months for a few days to a week. Most of his time on the island was operating some portable ham radio equipment from the radio room at the Admiral’s Arms Hotel in the village. He was a larger than life figure to me who loved the notoriety on the air attributed to the rare ham radio operations from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He too was a “catch” for many hams that wanted an acknowledgement card (“QSL”) from him.
Mom Helps Me Out With My Love Life
For the first six months I had a weekly schedule with my mother, W3KPE, and once every other week for the rest of the year. It was a great experience and it seems as though we talked about everything that was legal over the air. My girlfriend sometimes stopped by the house to get on the air with my mother or be connected by phone patch.
On one such occasion I asked my girl friend to go up to the house and get on the air with my mother. When she was there, I asked my girlfriend to marry me! Needless to say, both my mother and my girlfriend were surprised. The answer was "Yes". To be sure, I pretended the connection was poor and asked her to repeat it several times, much to my delight. The engagement lasted about a year after I returned home. Then, her old boyfriend returned home after being discharged from the Air Force and she decided he was a better pick than I was! O.K. So I got it wrong this time, but I was perfectly happy with the choice I made six years later of Debbie. It was a relationship that lasted for the next 30 years, until her death from cancer in 2004. I guess I got it right the second time. And by the way, the third time with Marilyn. :-)
The license for VP5CB was quite different than my American license for my home cal of K3NAU. This one included all of the rules and regulations relating to ham radio operation in the islands.
Ham Radio License for VP5CB (PDF/2M)
- Issued: March 5, 1968
- Activity Concluded: February 16, 1969
- PDF file includes: My four-page license and related correspondence.
This recording was sent to my by a fellow ham radio operator then living in Batavia, New York. His name is Dick Colongelo, K2IAT. It was prepared a few months after I left South Caicos and was postmarked July 13, 1969.
The tape was a collection of shortwave transmissions ranging from ham radio to NASA communications with astronauts. Among this collection were a few minutes of my final ham radio operation from South Caicos. This was a nice gift that I thanked him for then by letter and then salted it away in my personal archives---really a box of miscellaneous personal letters and photos. A few years ago, I found the tape and decided to transfer it to the digital world and present it here.
On that final day of operation, February 16, 1969, I spoke to more than 75 hams in about four hours. Most were strangers, and several were old friends. Among the people I spoke to were some special people: W3KPE (Mother), W3PIX (Dick, Friend in Hometown), W3QN (Ken, Friend in Hometown), K9LUX (Larry, Friend). W3PIX was chosen as my last contact as a thank you for being a supportive friend for years and making phone patches home when I was in college and while on South Caicos before my mother got on the air.
The honor of the last QSO went to a very good friend of mine and the family, Richard "Dick" Shreve, W3PIX, of Erie, PA. Regretfully, W3PIX is not on this recording.
Two events were as shocking and alarming to those of us on South Caicos and around the world. We knew there were tensions back home, but not at this level. We also were reliant on news from the BBC and Voice of America shortwave broadcasts. While good sources, it was just not the same as hearing it directly through trusted a local radio or TV broadcasts back home. Mail arrived an average of every two weeks, so newspapers and magazines were horribly out of sync with current events from our point of view.
How ironic that the country in which I was a guest, would be so sympathetic to American social issues of human rights to plan the creation of a series of postage stamps with a human rights theme. Even more ironic is issuing them on the day Martin Luther King was killed in America! The country may have moved it up a few days in reaction to his death, but essentially, there were intending to endorse his campaign in America long before his death.
Martin Luther King Killed: April 4, 1968
- Turks and Caicos Island First Day Stamp Issue—Theme "Human Rights"
- Issued: April 4, 1968 — The same day Martin Luther King was fascinated!
First-Day Issue Envelope
Detail of Stamps
Robert "Bobby" Kennedy Killed: June 5, 1968
In the period immediately preceding my arrival, an Englishman named Lima Maguire formed a development company called "Caicos Company Limited". Liam had personal interests in South Caicos as he owned the Admiral's Arm's Hotel and upgraded it substantially, but adding a swimming pool and several motel like buildings added to accommodate more guests. The description of the hotel can "cater comfortably 40 persons. With 18 bathrooms (14 with hot water)..." Hat may sound primitive today, but back then and on this island, it was relatively luscious.
Liam was also chosen to be the Minister of Tourism and later served as Minister of Natural Resources. He was into everything in the islands. As such, he developed some marketing tools that included maps and informational brochures. Below are two of these items.
Turks & Caicos Island Brochure & Map 1963
I acquired several of these brochures and sent them home to family and friends. This one was sent to my mother back home shortly after I arrived. Take note of the description of the Coast Guard LORAN personnel: "For those who do not want to earn a living: Watching those who are trying to make a living (apply to U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy for special 'package deal')." I think the author wrote this as a joke. At least I hope that is so. Click here to view the brochure. ( PDF/6 Mb)
Turks & Caicos Island Map & "Progress Report" of January 1969
Apparently, Liam Maguire was responsible for several community improvement projects on South Caicos Island. Here is a colorful map of the islands with a "progress report" on the reverse. The same map as was available on an oversized post card of a smaller size. Click here to view the map. ( PDF/6 Mb)
The South Caicos Island LORAN station was removed from active service on December 31, 1980 and decommissioned. It was in January 1981 after 20 years of public service to commercial and military ocean-going vessels and aircraft.
About My Photography Activities
I had some experience with 35mm photography when I joined the Coast Guard. It was pretty much limited to color slides. I took along my Petri 7S range-finder camera. Shortly after arriving, I met a fellow Coast Guardsman assigned to the Puerto Rican end of our LORAN radio link. I chatted with him on our shortwave radio link about station operation topics and then moved on to personal chatting. One of the men told me he could buy items in the San Juan base exchange for really low prices. These items were stereo phonographs, booze of all kinds, and cameras. He too was a photo buff and recommended the latest single lens reflex (SLR) camera from Minolta, the SRT-101. It was available for one-half of regular retail price. I made arrangements for him to ship it to me on the next logistics flight and I was off shooting B/W negative film and 35mm color slides on a regular basis.
On South Caicos I found that we had a simple, but well-equipped darkroom between the crew's lounge/dining hall and bar. It was about six by eight-foot area at best. It had an enlarger, sink with running water and plenty of chemicals and B/W photographic paper. It had been used before when I arrived, but not in a while. I found some books on darkroom techniques and read them thoroughly so that I could take advantage of this unexpected resource. I had several crewmates who shared my passion and that was very satisfying. Mostly, we worked together, but I was the lead person. With some B/W film sent from home, I was off and running on an exciting new activity in my life.
My South Caicos Photo Gallery
In November 2016, I decided to go through my collection of artifacts from my Coast Guard years of service. Among the materials were sets of slides and negatives totaling nearly 500 images. I decided to scan them and write up my memoirs of my time on South Caicos. This Web site is the product of those endeavors.
It took me almost several weeks of work to look at, sort through and scan almost two hundred 35mm negatives and slides from 1968 and 1971 while I was in the Guard. Well over half of these were from South Caicos and deteriorated a bit in the last 48 years. I am lucky to have them in any condition to present to you. So here they are about 120 images for you to view.
All photos are relatively high resolution and measure 1024 pixels wide. Click Here to begin your journey.
Photo Galleries of Others
Merrill Devlin's Galleries—Served on South Caicos
Since this Web page was posted, I have received several e-mail letters from other Coast Guardsmen that were stationed on South Caicos over the years. One of them, Merrill Devlin, sent me 17 photos for me to view attached to his first e-mail. They were just great! I asked him if I could have permission to post them on this site. The answer was "Yes.", but then I thought why not post them on his own Web pages on Flickr.com and tell his own story. Well, he followed my recommendation and not has a gallery of his own on Flickr.com to complement his gallery of images of heavenly bodies. No, not bathing beauties, but stars and planets residing in space. At the time of this writing, he as 43 photos and notes about his assignment on South Caicos in 1971, just a few years after my tour of duty. Check out both galleries. I am sure you will not be disappointed. Thanks Merrill!
- USCG South Caicos LORAN in 1971 (43 Photos)
- Telescope Used for Space Photography (4 Photos)
- Images of Space by Merrill (±200 Photos)
South Caicos LORAN Station as Seen Today by Others
At the end of my gallery is a set of photos taken nearly 50 years after my tour of duty of the now-abandoned Coast Guard LORAN station. These photos are used with the permission and support of the photographer and proprietor of the Visit Turks and Caicos Islands Web site, Agile LeVin of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Check out there site for more information on this interesting archipelago. The place may now be rusty and decaying, but our memories of it are strong.
South Caicos Sunsets
One of the most beautiful things about the island were the gorgeous sunsets at least five days a week over the tidal flats to the West that were the core of the archipelago. To the right is a photo of a typical and beautiful sunset above the water storage tanks. I think this photo was taken by a fellow shipmate, Kent Peterson. There were no marks on it and so far my attempts at contacting him have failed. For the time being, I will claim copyright on this photo.
From what I have found, South Caicos is pretty much the same. The Admiral's Arms Hotel is now a field study facility for marine studies managed by the American School for Field Studies. They have operations in five other countries. Down the street a relatively largely resorts been built with a total of 92 rooms, but there seems to be little real development beyond that. The much later Island of Providenciales, has seen major growth since 1968 and is now a major tourist destination and residential area for foreigners. The population of South Caicos is only slightly larger today, however the center for marine science center and the island has two small modern resorts with about 92 rooms.
Of course, the 60-year-old Coast Guard station is no longer in use and has fallen to ruin. If you would like to see photos from the Visit Turks and Caicos Islands Web site or selected ones just of the station courtesy of the site. (All photos used with permission and are copyright 2016, Visit Turks and Caicos Islands.)
In September of 2017, the islands were battered by two hurricanes, Irma and Maria. The first did major damage especially on South Caicos and Turks islands. The TCI were only part of wide-spread destruction from these to hurricanes. They strongly influenced the tourist trade, but they will no doubt rebound and thrive as they did in the last few years.
Click here to view what the island looks like today from above without the hurricane damage. The island now has many roadways that reflect the intention of developers to create private residences and resorts that are stalled with other islands flourish due to their larger size. The base was located at the far north end of the island.
This project has also made it clear how important this assignment, and the Coast Guard experience in general was in my life. It has enriched and influenced it in many ways. It helped me to get along with and learn from individuals of diverse interest and talents, and to willingly look at the world from a slightly different point of view. They were good people and good to me.
This site has also brought me into contact with eight Coasties that served on South Caicos, and we have shared common and unique memories. I also learned of the passing of one of my shipmates, Bill Davis, in 2016. One the balance, this project has brought me mostly joy for which I am very grateful, and others have expressed the same emotion.
As I write this note, I have been viewing the destruction of the country of Turks and Caicos Islands by hurricane Iris in September 2017. The extensive damage and loss off life will be borne by the indefatigable TCI natives. That does not mean the journey back will be easy, but it will be completed. They are good and industrious people who did not deserve this challenge.
That's all. Thanks for stopping by. :-)
Should you have any comments, questions or additions,
feel free to e-mail me at K3NAU@AOL.com.
This site and associated pages are Copyright 2010, by Charles A. Bliley, Webster, NY, U.S.A. unless otherwise cited.
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Revised: September 10, 2017