Estaca De Vares as I Remember It
by Bob “Nik” Nahikian
Estaca holds a bittersweet spot in my heart………..It cost me a year away from my wife and oldest daughter, and the assignment took a very important year from my youngest daughter. She was born several days after I left, and I missed her entire first year. This is something that can not be replaced.
My tour at Estaca was from Aug ’67 until Aug ’68…. I had just started my third year in the Guard and was a second class ET. I had joined the Guard after almost ten years in the Air Force and came to Estaca from LorSta Jupiter, FL. My Loran A experience was minimal as I had spent the majority of my tour at Jupiter as a Loran C watchstander.
I sort of surprised the crew by my method of arrival. As I had previously spent 3 years in Spain while in the Air Force as an advisor/instructor to the Spanish Air Force, I was relatively familiar with the country. After I arrived via civilian airline in Madrid, I simply purchased a train ticket to El Ferrol, and from there hired a taxi to take me to the station, While not by any means fluent in Spanish, I could speak and understand enough to get by. The crew knew I was enroute, but did not even know I was “in-country”.
When I arrived the CO was LTJG J.C. O’Niell (sp??). He was relieved by LTJG A.D. Picone. The XPO was EN 1 “Red” Jarrett and the senior tech was ET1 Robert Paul. The other crewmembers I recall were:
ET2 Bob Varney
ETN2 Tom Dailey
RM2 Paull Patterson (who also doubled up as the station yeoman)
CS2 Ed Clark
EN2 Jim Dollar
EN3 Mickey Carroll
SNEW Robert Wall
SN Roland Perrault
SN Ralph Fisher.
These are the people on the 1967 station Christmas card photo. At the moment I can not remember the name of the cook who was there before Ed Clark arrived. When I rotated back to the States, the crew was as follows:
EN1 J.V. Crowder XPO
ET2 R.A. Fisher (Dick took over as senior tech when I departed)
EN2 R.M. Allen
HM2 R.K. Kendall (who also doubled up as the station yeoman)
ET3 Bruce Niekamp
ET3 J.W. Page
ET3 D.D. Nordrum
DC3 J.R. Casciato
SN G.N. Collins
SN R.M. Hopps
FN J.M. Thanuslu
SAEW D.E. Grabuloff
I can not recall every one of these as individuals, but most of the crew is still very vivid in my mind.
The station had two duty sections, so what liberty we had commenced only the successful completion of the CO’s Weekly Inspection on Saturday morning and expired midnight on Sunday. However only half of a liberty section (three men) could actually leave the station as the CO wanted three fourths (9 men) of the crew on board at all times in event of an emergency (such as a fire). Therefore, off-station liberty was available to an individual only every fourth week.
With no cars or transportation and very few the crew speaking Spanish liberty generally consisted of walking up to Bares and watching TV in the community “ELECLUB”. We did have a 16 foot boat in Puerto de Bares; and in the summer time, the libo section could go and play around in the Bay and even water-ski……….But, as I recall, that water was frigid!!!!!!!
Once, we forgot about the wide difference between high tide and low tide (there was almost a 15-20 foot difference). We had tied the boat up by the bowline at the mole/docks in the port and a had “repaired” to a local bar for a bit of refreshment. After a few hours had passed we returned to the boat. We discovered it to be hanging vertically by the bow line with the stern approximately 5 foot above the water!!!!!!! Very embarrassing!!
About three times a week the cook or the (acting) yeoman made a drive down the mountain to pick up the mail that came through the Spanish Postal system at the post office at Puerto de Barqueiro. The cook, also, made a weekly trip to Vivero to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Once a month he would take our paychecks to the bank in Vivero and cash them. One bank there kept a supply of U.S. “greenbacks” for our convenience. These bills were circulated over and over again!!
One of my collateral duties was keeping the “Impress” fund (petty cash fund). Once a month I would have to submit to MedSec an accounting of expenditures for reimbursement. This was quite a headache. The price (in pesetas) of the fresh produce the cook bought from the local venders in the open would vary from day to day. Also, the dollar to peseta rate varied daily. These vendors did not write up a formal receipt, they merely scribbled on whatever piece of scrap paper was available a list and total cost of what was bought. I then had to take this pitiful pile of paper, translate the produce into English names, and convert kilos to pounds. Then I had to add up the totals and arrive at an average price. What was even more fun was the bread purchases. I found out that bread was NOT sold by the loaf, it was sold by the length, so an estimate had to be made of how many loaves had been bought and an average price per loaf had to be figured.
Question: How many loaves of bread are in 2 meters?
Incidentally, when line (rope) was bought, the unit of measure was NOT by length but by weight!!
Through the passage of time and the currency exchange fluctuations and the necessity of rounding off the amounts to the next highest cent the fund had gained three cents. With these three pennies I could never balance the books, and each month had to write up a lengthy letter of explanation to account for the discrepancy. Frankly, I wanted to just take the accursed coins and toss them off the cliff. Their loss would greatly simplify my life. I reasoned that if we had gained them by currency exchange fluctuations we could just as easy lose them the same way. However, the CO let it be known there would be NO EMBEZZLEMENT of government funds on his watch, and that the embezzlement would most likely result in charges and a court martial for the embezzler.
The station had three vehicles. There was an inoperative International Scout, a 5 ton Dodge cargo truck with canvas top, and a 1½ ton Ford flatbed stake sided truck. The Dodge was mainly used for the monthly trip to La Coruna to meet the C-123 that came up from Torrejon AB with our monthly supplies of food (staples, canned gods and frozen meats), parts, personal exchange purchases and the station “shopper” who had flown to Madrid three or four days previously via commercial aircraft to buy and collect the cargo, etc. The Ford was used by the cook on his trips to Puerto de Barqueiro & Vivero. There was also a weekly trip in the Ford to the NATO fueling station located on the Spanish Navy Base at El Ferrol. This trip was to pick up official mail and personal (APO/FPO) mail and the movies that was delivered by the U.S. Navy to the station manager. This was to insure that U.S. Mail never left U.S. custody until we could pick it up. I drove about 80% of these trips as I was the most fluent in Spanish. The CO was not allowed (so we were told) to ever make any of these trips as he was the only commissioned officer and if a government vehicle were to be involved in an accident he would have to be the investigating officer.
The U.S. Army in Italy gave us a vehicle to replace the fore-mentioned inoperative International Scout. It was a WW2 –era M-37 ¾ ton Dodge weapons carrier, sort of like a big jeep. It was delivered by the aircrew in the C-123. They off-loaded it for us, as aircrews tend to get very nervous when non-airdale-types operate a vehicle in close proximity to their airplanes. As I had an endorsement for this type of vehicle on my government drivers license (a residue of my Air Force days), I drove it back to Estaca. This truck was a old style design…..with the starter mounted on the floor above the gas pedal. I didn’t realize it, but none of the younger people at the station had ever seen a “toe-starter.” On the dashboard there were big bolt heads that were covered with rubber. Whenever I started it, I would blatantly push one of these bolt heads, while carefully operating the toe starter. I could always get it started, but no other driver was ever able to get the engine to fire. As a result, by default, the “weapo” became Nik’s personal vehicle. When I left, I did show the engineman the “secret” starter. I don’t think I ever heard such a combination of words, it would have even made a bos’n mate blush!!
On one of the mail runs to El Ferrol trips, I drove the Dodge as the Ford had to be used for a trip to Vicedo. When I arrived at the entrance to the tunnel that went through the mountain to the Spanish Base, the Spanish Marine guard told me the tunnel was closed due to an accident and the only way to get to the base was across and over the mountain... I wasn’t too happy about this, but had no choice. The road was steep, narrow and had no guard rails. As I chugged up the road, when I looked out the drivers window I could look straight down the cliff several hundred feet to the ocean below. My truck was within inches of being as wide as the roadway. About 3/4 of the way up to the summit, I met a passenger bus going down. I knew that there was no way I was going to back that truck all the way back down the mountain. Before I would do that I would stick a mailbox out beside the truck and call it my home!!!! After a bit of discussion with the bus driver we reached the conclusion that if I would back down about 100 yards where there was a bar with a small turnout in front of it. The bus driver thought he could get past me (on the outside) if I could “snuggle” my truck up as close as possible to the bar. I did so, and he did manage to get around me, but his outside right rear wheel was actually off the road with only air and daylight under it.
The situation would have ended happily without incident, except the bar had a small balcony overhanging the front door, and I forgot about that big canvas top over the cargo bed. As I eased forward to get back on the road, I tore the balcony off the building. As luck would have it Mr. Picone had just come aboard the station, and we had had change of command ceremony the previous day. This was his first full day of command, and while he was giving the crew a mandatory SAFE DRIVING lecture, I was ripping balconies off bars with the truck!!!. This would have ended my driving career, but there was no other crew member except the XPO with an International, Spanish, and government license for the Dodge, and “Red” was very reluctant to make these trips.
When we made a “log” trip, we had to depart the station very close to midnight in order to be at the La Coruna Airport by noon when the C-123 was scheduled to arrive. We had to be there prior to their arrival, as they could not wait on us. The aircraft was seldom on time, but when they left La Coruna they still had a long flight ahead of them. This trip required a second man on the truck as a “loader”, and, coming back, we would have a third passenger (the “log shopper” returning from Madrid). I recall one such trip when my loader was a seaman whose hygienic habits left much to be desired. It was cold and foggy with a steady drizzly, misty rain. Driving conditions were purely miserable. I started out with the heater going full blast, but within a few miles I realized that to lessen the body odors from my companion, I would have to forgo the use of the truck heater. A few more miles and I had to open my window, in spite of the cold rain and low temperatures A few more miles and I realized that most of this trip would be spent with my head hanging out the window!!! Upon a successful return late that evening to the station I vowed that I would never again be in close proximity in an enclosed space to this individual.
On another La Coruna trip, when I arrived at the airport, the tower told me the aircraft would be delayed by about 5 hours. There was insufficient time to make a roundtrip to Estaca so I decided to remain in the area to wait for the aircraft. I took my handy (never-leave-the station-without-it) large scale road map. I realized I was relatively close to Santiago and decided to play tourist. I knew that the Apostle St. James was buried in the cathedral there, so I thought that would be a good destination. I could look the cathedral over, and find a nice restaurant to eat. Liberty opportunities were rare, so you took what chance offered. I drove into the city, and like most small cities in Spain, all roads lead to the central Plaza where the cathedral was. Again, as is common, the old city streets are one way. I thought nothing about it, until I tried to leave the parking area. I discovered, to my horror, that all the one way streets from the plaza were too small to accommodate that oversized Dodge truck. I went to the police station and explained my predicament. They had to close off one of the in-bound streets so I could exit. They were very polite about it, but did request that if I had any future visits planned it would be appreciated if I would please park my truck outside of town and make my visit a walking tour!!!!!!!!
Once, on a mail run to El Ferrol, I was running ahead of schedule and observed on my map (again, the large scale road map I swore by) that there was a small village just south of the highway with a symbol indicating a castle in ruins. I decided to divert and look over this tourist attraction. When I pulled up at the village, there were indeed a large set of castle ruins, dating back to the early medieval ages. As I started to walk around, I was surrounded by the villagers. I explained my interest, and they were so thrilled that someone actually came to visit they broke out the wine, pastries, and bocadillos (sandwiches), and all the kids took turns playing guide to lead me through the ruins. By far, it was one of my most pleasurable and unforgettable adventures in Galicia.
In late June, I noticed along side the highway a small factory with a sign that said “FUEGOS”. A loose translation of fuegos is……………….FIREWORKS !!!!!!! This was a perfect discovery, just in time for the 4th of July. I stopped to see what they had to offer and was disappointed, as all they had in stock was some rockets. Granted, they were rather large rockets, and were on cane poles, sort of like oversized bottle rockets. They were about 18 inches long and about 3 inches in diameter, big, hefty, husky boogers. I purchased a number of them and took them back to the station. On the morning of the 4th, we looked forward to our holiday routine. After breakfast, we took our munitions over near the dump with the intentions of shooting our rockets off the cliffs, northward….rather fittingly, towards England.
We soon discovered several things about our rockets:
A. They were loud, very loud.
B. They did not behave like bottle rockets. When we stuck the cane “handles” in the ground, the weight of the rockets bent the cane “handles” over so they did not go zooming upward into the sky, they flopped over and went tearing along just above the ground until they exploded. In addition, their direction was erratic. We soon sort of divided into two teams and were gleefully shooting rockets at each other………..until a detachment of Guardia Civiles showed up. After receiving from reports that nearby villagers had made, they were under the impression that some sort of insurrection, riot or invasion was under way. I did my best to explain just what it was all about (American Independence Day, Revolutionary War, yada, yada, yada)………..but they were not impressed with my impromptu history lecture and CONFISCATED what was left of our munitions. As I recall, the CO was not a happy camper with the way the events had turned out.
On the subject of the dumps and the cliffs, it seems that some of the seamen, when making a dump run, often entertained themselves by pushing boulders off the cliff into the sea below. The rule seemed to be the larger the boulder, the bigger the splash, and therefore more entertainment value. There was one very large boulder about the size of a Volkswagen that resisted their best efforts. It became a contest and a challenge to make this boulder go SPLASH!! Every garbage trip included more efforts and attempts, even to the extent of taking shovels to dig out in front of it and 2 X 4 timbers to use as pry bars. If they had been assigned this task as a duty there would have been no end of the griping and complaints! I put a halt to the practice when I observed two guys behind pushing and working the pry bars while a third man was in front………PULLING on it. All I could envision was a Board of Inquiry investigating just how a seaman was killed by being run over by a huge boulder.
Soon after my arrival I undertook a personal project. I wanted to buy a pistol from the sporting goods shop in Vivero. I knew it would be complicated, and I could get the same pistol through the AF Rod and Gun Club at Torrejon with no complications. However, I just wanted to see what was involved going through the civilian authorities. It took almost a year to accomplish. First I had to get the forms from the gun shop, then a petition to the office of the military governor of the province, for him to state that the particular pistol was not required for national defense. Another form had to be obtained from the civil governor’s office stating I had no criminal or anti-government charges on my records. Finally, the pistol arrived from the factory, but it could not be delivered directly to me. It was sent to the local Guardia Civil Cuartel. I had to pick it up there after signing more forms. It was a Llama .32 that looked like a half-sized Colt .45. When I looked over the literature that came with it I saw that the .22 cal version was very similar, so wrote the factory to explore the idea of a .22 - .32 convertible gun. They explained that the receivers were different and it could not be done. Then, a week or so later I got a package in the mail. The factory had taken a blank .32 barrel and bore and rifled it out to .22 cal. They also included a pair of .22 magazines and the weaker springs so I had a one of a kind custom built .22 - .32 caliber pistol. To my shame, I later sold this gun, and I have regretted it since then.
Speaking of guns, I missed out on a golden opportunity due to ill timing. An Englishman was sailing his boat from England, enroute to Malta. A storm in the Bay of Biscay had cost him his main mast, and he had put into Puerto De Bares for repairs. He was rather short on cash, and offered to sell me several of the pistols he had on board. I looked over his “armory” and discovered that one was a pre-WW1 “broomstick handle” Mauser pistol, relatively rare and worth a pretty penny. Another was a highly desirable WWI German Lugar pistol, the so-called artillery model with a 12”‘barrel and a wooden holster that converted into a stock. This version is very valuable to collectors. I was offered the pair for $150.00 (US), but had to turn it down, I had already shipped my “log box” home and there was no way I could bring these guns in through Customs in my luggage.
Shortly after I became senior tech, I came up with a labor-saving idea. There was an engineering watch all night long to watch the generators, as well as to patrol the station for security and fire prevention. The Loran really did not require a watch stander full time, but operations had to have a radio watch to make a 6 am comms schedule. I thought that if we combined and cross-trained the ETs to stand generator/security watch and let the engineer/deck watchstanders make the 6 a.m. radio watch there would be more people to stand the watch. In theory it looked good and we put it into practice. It went well, until one morning an engineman was trying to transcribe a message from Naples and was having trouble copying the traffic, constantly asking for a resend.
Finally, the exasperated Naples RM asked, “What’s your rate?”
The Estaca watchstander replied, “EN2”.
Naples came back, “What is an engineman doing standing radio watch?’”
Our stalwart would-be communicator replied, “F***ed if I know!!!”.. …
Within a very few hours I got an Operational Immediate message to the effect that non-electronics rates would NOT, repeat NOT, be standing comm watches.
One thing that used to amuse me was the radio call signs of Estaca De Vares and Estartit. We were Alpha Oscar Bravo Five Zero and Six Zero while all other Coast Guard Med Sec units were November Charlie India stations. The AOB callsign was assigned by the Spanish government and came from their internationally assigned block of amateur license call signs. This meant that when ham stations heard us on air they would try to make contact to so they could get a QRX card as having made two-way contact with a Spanish ham operator. Under the Franco government, evidently, Spanish ham operators were not too common, so it was a rare thing to get a AOB QRX card. We confused the world of ham operators, by being a very obviously Americans operating with a Spanish amateur callsign. I have told since then, through other sources, that there was a lot of speculation as to just who B50 and B60 really were, probably some sort of secret CIA spy station. Come to think of it, the notion does fit in with the secret submarine base story.
For a while, we used to get a mysterious intermittent signal on our loran scopes, almost is if there was another loran transmitter putting out a false signal to make our signal erroneous. Bob Paul and I rigged up a loop antenna and a receiver and went driving all around the countryside to attempt to get a triangulation fix on the source. When we had a number of readings and their bearings we plotted them out on a map (once again, my large scale road map was utilized). We found all our bearings crossed on a point up a small river, but there was nothing indicated on the map, no roads, no town, or village. We asked a local, “What is up here?” The reply was to the effect there was a small old power plant there….BINGO… we walked up the river and did find a small plant there, It looked like an old stone gristmill. There was a small stream coming down the mountain. At one point they had dammed it up and diverted it into a horizontal concrete channel that brought the water around the mountain. Above the plant there was a chute bringing the water flow down into the power plant. The “drop” or “head” was about 150 feet so that a small amount of water furnished sufficient force to turn a waterwheel that drove series of leather belts that eventually turned a small generator. The plant dated back from the 1920’s and was used only in the morning and early evening to augment the regular power plants and to provide additional electricity during peak hours. The generator had a shorted capacitor and this put a loran-type blip with a signal that radiated for 10 -15 miles. It really did not affect our operation, but made it hard to tell if our slave was in or out of tolerance. The replacement of the bad capacitor cleared up the problem.
Another vivid memory is of cidra ……This is a story of the village fiesta, the one time that the majority of the crew was off station. This even included the duty section not actually on watch! Bares was celebrating its patron saint day, and the mayor had invited the crew to join with the villagers for a formal dinner on Sunday. The meal was elaborate, but was not the usual fare for most Americans. It was served in many courses, paella, fish, and so on. At one point we were eating “mystery meat”. Linguistically-challanged Tom Daily was sitting beside me and kept asking me to ask what we were eating. I really did not want to know…it seemed that the more I chewed, the more the piece of meat seemed to expand in my mouth. When I continued to ignore Tom’s request, he finally was able to make our host understand the question, and Tom was informed it was ”Cabron”.
Now Tom was asking “Que es cabron?”
Our host put his fingers to his forehead and said, “Baaahhh!”
“Oh”, says Tom, “I never knew sheep was so tough!” (For the linguistically challenged readers ”cabron” is the Spanish word for “goat”.)
After the meal, the duty section had to return to the station, but the entire liberty section was allowed to stay on. As we wandered around, we spotted a shooting gallery stand. Tom and I walked over to the plaza where the festivities were underway. We saw among the booths, tents, and stands what appeared to be a shooting gallery. When we got closer we saw the weapons were BB rifles. The targets were strips of crepe paper tacked to the back wall and stretched tightly down to a bottle of cidra, where they were thumb tacked to the cork. When a shooter broke the tape, he won the bottle the tape was attached to. The tape was so tight that just a nick with a BB would pop it. Tom & I paid our fee, and each of us took a rifle and “Commenced Fire”!! He started from the left side, while I started on the right. With five shots each; we now owned 10 liters of cidra. The gallery operator was unhappy, but he took our money and set up another 10 bottles……..ten more shots and now we owned 20 bottles of cidra. With great reluctance, the operator again set up the range, but this time he put some slack in the tapes. It made no difference, now we had 30 bottles!!!!!!!!!! We were having a difficult time just trying to stack our winnings. A Guardia wandered over to watch and we gave him a couple of bottles. The unhappy operator kept having to “set-em- up again” for us. By the time we got bored, we had over 40 -50 bottles of cidra and didn’t have the faintest idea what to do with them…We most definitely could not take them back to the station. Mr. Picone was aware of our streak of luck (skill) and had already hinted that he had best not find any of those bottles on the station. In a stroke of genius, I decided to enhance and expand Spanish/American relations. Tom & I donated the entire afternoon’s winnings to the mayor and the village. I am told we extended the fiesta several more days. I have never been able to find cidra here in the States, but I do remember just how delicious that apple champagne was. As a footnote, several weeks later I was driving to El Ferrol and one of the small villages I passed through was celebrating its patron saint day. I stopped, and immediately spotted the same shooting gallery. As I was walking over, the operator recognized me, dropped his awning and walked off from the stand. I guess I was “shooter non grata!”!!
As you-all may recall, the transmitting tower was in the middle of a cow pasture, enclosed by a large fence to keep the livestock away from the antenna itself. The path to the tower crossed through a marshy area that fed into the small creek that powered the series of small grist mills. The Saturday morning CO’s inspection tour included tramping out to look at the tower. Crossing the marsh was ruinous to shined shoes, so it was “suggested” that some sort of foot-bridge would be a good project for the ET’s to undertake to construct. I took the gang out during the week; and we did, indeed, construct a fine bridge over the marsh. However, shortly after, it was discovered that the cows also utilized our bridge. As our bridge had not been engineered to support the weight of a hefty bovine heifer, the decking planks were soon broken, making transit rather unsafe. I was ordered to place a sign stating “NO COWS ALLOWED”. Evidently, someone thought this would solve the problem, but the cows ignored the sign. When the CO chastised me about the bridge constantly being damaged , he pointed out that the sign was in English, and we were dealing with Spanish cows…..I took the rebuke to heart, and to remedy the problem, on my next driving trip, I “borrowed” an International Road Sign from a pole along side the highway. You know the ones I am referring to: an orange triangle with a cow silhouette painted on it as a warning to motorists of the possibility that cattle maybe encountered on the road. I brought this purloined treasure back and we painted a black diagonal slash on to it make it read “NO COWS ALLOWED”. When the bridge continued to be damaged by four-legged traffic, the CO stated that he could not understand why the signs were being ignored. He was NOT amused when I made the observation that most likely the cows were unable to read either English or Spanish… evidently, he was under the impression that the cows were under some type of human control/supervision and did not seem to realize that they wandered freely about the pasture entirely on their own.
Another memory that just surfaced was about of one of the seaman who was rotating back to the States. It was customary to pack all our possessions into what we called our “Log Box” for shipment back home. These boxes were locally built in the DC shop out of plywood, well reinforced by 2 X 4 timbers. However, this young man spotted a local carpenter’s shop in a nearby town that (among his other products) built and sold plain wooden caskets. These caskets were similar to those we see in the old western movies: six sided, with the top wider than the bottom side, and long tapering sides from the “shoulder” area to the “feet”. They were of pine planks and painted with multiple coats of black enamel. The unnamed seaman thought that this would be a unique souvenir as well as serving to transport his entire possessions home. He also figured that this type of shipping box might receive more careful handling enroute. The only problem is that, while he told his parents to expect a box, he did not elaborate on just exactly what he meant by a “box”. I understand that when the express delivery truck arrived at his home his family got quite a shock!!!!!!!!
How many of the crewmembers are aware of the origin of the name “Estaca de Vares (or Bares)? Translated, Estaca means STAKE; therefore, Estaca de Vares would mean Vares’ Stake. I have been told that in medieval times there was a Viking captain named Vares or Bares. He liked to come a’ raiding to sunny Spain; and, to assist in his navigation when he made landfall, he had a tall wooden tower built on the point so he would know exactly where in Spain he was. This habit of the Norsemen visiting Spain on raiding/looting trips could explain why I saw red-haired Spaniards in this Northern coastal area and not in other parts of the country. Another tidbit I picked up is the local use of bagpipes. I had always associated bagpipes with Scotland, but was surprised to learn they originated in Spain. When Julius Caesar conquered the British Isles, many of his legionnaires were from Spain; and they carried their ‘pipes with them. The Celts in the British Isles adopted the bagpipes as their own. Another cultural item was the use by the locals of wooden shoes. Again, I associated wooden shoes with Holland, but I was informed that in the 14th or 15th century Spain ruled Holland for a short period and introduced the wooden shoes to the Dutch. I can not verify the authenticity of this, but find it a fascinating story…as well as the similar one that Spaniards also took windmills to Holland with them.
When I rotated back to the States, I reported to the Coast Liaison office at Torrejon AB and was told I could go home “Space Available” that very afternoon or wait about 3 to 5 days for a commercial flight. I opted to accept the immediate flight and within a few hours was onboard an Air Force C-130 enroute to Charleston. The rest of the passengers were “Swabbies” from Rota. There were no seats, we sort of sacked out wherever we could on bags of mail and other cargo. The flight crew was very intrigued to have a “Coastie” passenger……what was I doing in Spain, what was the Coast Guard doing in Europe, etc.??? When I explained our mission was the Loran Chain operation, I was an instant hero. The navigator thoroughly loved Loran and invited me up to ride on the flight deck in lieu of the cargo compartment. There was a Navy Commander riding as a passenger on the flight deck, but the navigator informed him that he would have to vacate the spare seat as I would be occupying it. If looks could kill, I would have been incinerated!!!! Also, there was no food aboard for space available passengers, but as an honorary member of the flight crew I was able to share their in-flight meals.
In closing, two things remain with me:
1. Whenever I drove away from the station, it seemed that the weather was always bad, chilly, wet, foggy, and so on, but once away from the station the skies would be clear, bright, and sunny. When you looked back the only cloud would be on top of that mountain!
2. The other thing I recall was that whenever we were watching the weather report on Spanish television, the forecast & report seemed to always end with something to the effect that “At Estaca de Vares today, it is foggy and raining or drizzling”. Come to think about it, this is to be expected. It is almost precisely at “Punto de Vares” (the northern-most point in Spain) that the warm water of the Gulf Stream meets the cold water currents coming down the English Channel from the Artic regions.
Bob “Nik” Nahikian
ETC USCG (ret)
Melrose, Florida Feb, 2007
Footnote: if you go to this website you can ”fly” over the station and see what the area looks like now.