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Koyo Maru

November 11, 2019

At 3:30 am, the line-throwing gun from the Jarvis was brought out with the Koyo Maru maneuvering for the exchange of the towing line.  With the rough seas, members of the Jarvis, and probably the Koyo Maru as well, understood that this would be an extremely difficult shot at connecting the towing line.  Retired Coast Guard Captain Terry Grant, an experienced mariner, explained the towing procedures:


“To get that heavy hawser passed from one ship to another involved passing a succession of lines (ropes) back and forth, starting with a light line that can be thrown by hand (not possible in Jarvis’ situation) or pulled across by a projectile fired from a line-throwing gun—a specialized rifle. The crew on the receiving end connects that line to a little larger line—a small rope, and was called the messenger. The messenger can’t be too heavy because it has to be pulled back to the first ship using the light line that now connects the two ships. This back and forth, increasing the size and strength of the rope continues. Eventually the vessel providing the hawser (Jarvis) will fasten the end of it to a rope that is used by the other ship to pull the hawser to it. (As the ropes get heavier, capstans or winches are typically involved.)” 


He concluded his comments: “The process of taking a vessel of any size is fraught with hazards and requires many hands and applied skill. Those men on both ships were tested that night. I get emotional just picturing in my mind what they accomplished and how critical the timing was. That was deliverance!”


     The passing of a tow line between both vessels proved to be quite difficult.  Both ships were severely rolling from the rough seas, with very little visibility to help guide the efforts.  Compounding the problem were communication challenges outside as the Americans didn’t speak Japanese and the Japanese crewmen didn’t speak English.  The Koyo Maru attempted to fire the line over to the bow of the Jarvis, but missed three times because the lines ended up in the mast or the radar.  The Jarvis then attempted to pass the line.  Chief Gunners Mate Jack Hunter, with GM2 Nylen standing by, took the line gun.  Because of the rough seas and the cold temperatures, he had to fire from his knees.  His attempt was successful and the messenger[1] line was passed to the Koyo Maru.  The Koyo Maru quickly returned the messenger and the towing commenced.  However, the line broke at 4:25 am and another attempt was made to exchange the messenger.  As they approached the Jarvis, the Master of the Koyo Maru skillfully did a “crossing T’ starboard-to-port maneuver near the bow, close enough that one crewmember thought for sure they were going to collide.   As both ships passed each other, the Koyo Maru threw over their messenger line to the Jarvis, which was immediately attached to their towing bitt at 4:37 am.


     BM3 Brunke, on the scene for the entire time, explained the episode:


“I believe the first shot from our line throwing gun went into their rigging and therefore had to be detached (parted). Our second shot from the line throwing gun was successful and our messenger was passed. We had the tow line attached to our tow bitt at about 500 feet so if we lost control on our end, the entire line would not go overboard. We had no power to the capstans so all we could do was feed the tow hawser over the side. If it needed to be adjusted, we did that while underway on our end, but the main concern was to get connected to the Koyo Maru and away from the danger.”


     The Koyo Maru immediately came to a “hard right” to take the slack out of the line[2], which now put them in the trough.[3]  The Japanese trawler now found itself in a precarious position, having to fight the wind, seas and the dead weight of the Jarvis, trying to tighten the tow lines and maneuver the bows of both ships into the wind and sea.  Captain Minami, in charge of the Koyo Maru No. 3, and his crew, valiantly fought the extreme elements and succeeded in the safe towing of the Jarvis. 




[1] Messenger is a tow line.


[2] The tow lines were made of double braided nylon; strong and will stretch under tension.


[3] The depression between two waves.

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