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AFSC Historical Corner:  Widgeon,  World War I Boat

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Edithena/Widgeon
Over a 10-year period the ship underwent considerable transformations: (top-left) as the Edithena in 1914 before the war;  (top-right) the USS Edithena (SP-624) at Boston, Massachusetts, ca. 1918;  and (bottom) the Widgeon with the Bureau of Fisheries, 1924.
Top photos from Naval History & Heritage website.  Bottom: Bureau of Fisheries photo.
 

Vessel  Details
Year built: 1914
Location built: Morris Heights, New York
Builder: Charles L. Seabury & Co.
Names/id:
(other) 
Edithena  (1914-17)
USS Edithena, SP-624  (WWI)
Ila Mae  (1986)
#212122  (USCG ID)
Length: 68'? (sources vary)
Breadth: 15'
Draft: 3.75'
Tonnage: 15 tons gross
Original power: twin 60 hp, 570 rpm
Speedway gas engines
Average speed: 9-12 knots
Known skippers: Earle L. Hunter  (1922-25)
Greg W. Mangan  (1928, 1931)
Carl Christensen  (1926-27, 29)
Albert N. Van Slyke  (1937-40)
Frank See  (FWS, ?)
Known service: 1921-41, 1944  (fisheries)
Disposition: unknown

Before serving with the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (BOF), the Widgeon was originally named the Edithena, built in 1914 by Charles L. Seabury & Co. (Morris Heights, N.Y.) for Loring Q. White and homeported in New Bedford, Massachusetts. As with the other BOF Alaska patrol boats Merganser, Petrel, and Kittiwake, the Edithena was a privately owned pleasure vessel that became victim to World War I when she was purchased for $17,000 by the U.S. Navy in (June) 1917 and then drastically modified for war use. Commissioned in August as the USS Edithena (SP-624), the vessel was stationed at Boston, Massachusetts during the war, operated by the First Naval District to patrol the waters off the U.S. East Coast.

After her removal from naval service on 21 October 1919, the USS Edithena was transferred to the BOF and renamed the Widgeon. The BOF vessel Halcyon towed the Widgeon from Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to Hampton Roads/Norfolk, Virginia, where she arrived on 25 November 1921. The Widgeon then left for the Pacific Northwest on 22 April 1922 carried aboard the Navy transport U.S.S. Gold Star.

Upon her arrival in Seattle, Washington, the Widgeon was modified for fisheries enforcement service. In August 1922, she sailed north to begin her annual duties of patrolling the waters around Southeast Alaska. In 1928, the Widgeon expanded her patrol by participating with other Bureau vessels in the protection of the migrating northern fur seal herds in southeastern Alaska and at the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea.

From time to time, repairs and regular maintenance work was done to the Widgeon throughout her service. For instance, prior to the installation of a water-lubricated rubber Goodrich "Cutless" bearing, her bearings required rebabbitting every two months (see box below). In 1924 her twin engines were rebuilt. That same year, Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover took a trip aboard the Widgeon as part of President Harding's party visiting Alaska.

Widgeon
The Widgeon pictured with men brailing salmon from a floating trap in Southeast Alaska, ca. 1938.  Archival photograph (F&WL C-1195) by Mr. Sean Linehan, NOS, NGS.  NOAA Photo Library image.
 
 

In the summer of 1929, the Widgeon required engine work and was out of commission during the month of July while awaiting replacement parts. During this time, her patrol work was done by the Highway, a vessel on loan from the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads.

A few months later, additional repairs were made, this time to the Widgeon's propeller and rudder. The damage occured on 12 October 1929 when she ran aground on Russian Reef off Whitewater Bay in Alaska. Fortunately, after waiting for the tide to rise, the vessel was able to slide free of the reef into deeper water. She managed to return to town for repairs under her own power. A 1930 BOF report states; "A troller and the Indians on the boat Merrimac reported her wrecked completely which later proved untrue...". "Two power boats came to the vessel's assistance, and subsequently their owners entered salvage claims against the Government."

The Widgeon then suffered significant damage to her engine room in May 1930 when an explosion and fire occurred on board while she was docked in Juneau. Fortunately, the vessel was saved by the Juneau Fire Department.

After an extensive 1931-32 winter overhaul in Seattle, the vessel continued her federal fisheries duties into the 1940s when the BOF was reorganized as the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).  In 1942, the Widgeon was with the U.S. Navy again, this time during World War II serving as a radar-equipped "picket boat", used to increase the radar detection range around a given area.

The last known record of the Widgeon as a FWS boat is in 1944*. As of 1947, she was once again in private ownership, registered with her original name Edithena out of Seattle. Her last known registration was for 1970-86, under the name Ila Mae, a fishing boat homeported at Anacortes, Washington.

*  Merchant Vessels of the United States (MVUS) 1944, p.745. U.S. G.P.O., Wash.: 1914.  Widgeon is not listed on the FWS list in the 1945 MVUS.

 
B. F. Goodrich "Cutless" Bearings
Used in both the Teal and Widgeon, these water-lubricated bearings greatly reduced maintenance costs. As the following text taken from a 1930 advertisement states:  the Widgeon's old bearings required rebabbitting every two months, while the new Cutless bearing gave "five whole years of completely satisfactory and uninterrupted service"

The bearing "Outwears Old Bearings 30 Times...
Boat owners, operators, engineers, have been repeatedly astonished by this B. F. Goodrich development – a bearing made of soft rubber and lubricated with water."

"Goodrich engineers had developed a rubber with amazing resistance to abrasive wear. So they designed the Goodrich 'Cutless' Bearing, now used on craft of every type where oil lubrication is difficult, or where sand and grit cut the ordinary bearing."

From Pacific Fisherman, 1930. 28[11]:57
 
Cutless bearing  
"The pencil points to rubber lining of a Goodrich Cutless bearing.  Note the grooves through which sand and grit are ejected by lubricating water stream."  From Pacific Fisherman, 1931. 29[13]:8
 

Additional reading:

Edithena --- A Twin Screw 75-Footer. In New Boats of the 1914 Season. Power Boating, Vol. 11-12, p.37-38.
(GoogleBooks,  last accessed 10-16-14).
 

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