Saturday, April 21, 2012

U. S. Coast Guard Cutter Will Bear the Name of Great Lakes Sailor

Joseph Napier
Neidecker Collection
On March 2nd, the Bollinger Shipyards held a fleet dedication at Lockport, Louisiana, only the third in its history. Louisiana dignitaries along with more than 500 others were in attendance for the occasion. Under contract to Bollinger are 14 U.S. Coast Guard Fast Response Cutters. Each will be named for a hero who holds a special place in the Coast Guard’s celebrated history. Number Ten will honor the courageous Great Lakes sailor Captain Joseph Napier. He was the son of Captain Benjamin Napier, the Lake Erie sailor who waged battle for ownership of Kelleys Island. Losing out to the Kelleys, Benjamin Napier took his family west, following his brothers to Chicago.

There, son Joseph Napier became the city’s harbormaster. In the tradition of his seafaring family, Napier built, owned, and captained Great Lakes vessels. In 1854, the citizens of Chicago presented Napier with a gold watch for leading the daring rescue of the crew of the “Merchant:” during one of the city’s most violent storms.

Captain Napier eventually settled near St. Joseph, Michigan, where he was as loved and revered as his brother Captain Nelson Napier. When the federal government built its lifesaving station in 1874, Joseph Napier was appointed its keeper. Napier and his crew were responsible for multiple rescues on Lake Michigan.

According to the U. S. Coast Guard, “the most notable occurred Oct. 10, 1877, when the schooner “D.G. Williams” broke apart approaching the port in a storm.” The schooner's crew of six clung to the rigging as Napier and three of his crewmen rowed into the violent lake. The surfboat capsized on the first effort. The crew righted and boarded the surfboat and reached the “Williams,” rescuing two sailors. Heavy waves swamped the rescue boat on their next attempt, but the volunteers bailed the water, battled rough seas, and saved two more men. On their final attempt, the crew was thrown from the boat. Napier suffered a serious leg injury. One of the rescuers threw a line to Napier, who helped right the boat and rowed it alongside the “Williams.” The last two sailors were rescued.

The U. S. Life-Saving Service, the forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard, awarded Captain Joseph Napier its first life-saving gold medal. Today the Coast Guard station at St. Joseph is located on the exact site as the station Napier oversaw. Adam Kane, the current chief of the station, said, “Joseph Napier continues to serve as an inspiration not only to the crew but also the community.”

Bollinger Shipyards announced that the “Joseph Napier” would be completed in 2014 and assigned to Miami, where the fast cutter will perform search and rescue, drug interdiction, and coastal security.

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