TOLEDO – Viewers of Saturday’s Containerboard Boat Race at the Port of Toledo Wooden Boat Show shouldn’t be concerned about the octogenarian guiding the vessel appropriately flagged the “USA.”
Retired Coast Guard Master Chief Thomas McAdams, 86, certainly knows when a boat is seaworthy after spending much of his 27 years of service operating lifeboats attached to the Yaquina Bay station.
As part of being honored during the 13th annual event, McAdams had just finished giving his boat’s hull a fresh layer of paint.
“I’ll be the executive officer of the two-man crew,” McAdams said Monday, “and we certainly want to remain afloat during the whole race – 100 yards up and 100 yards back.”
McAdams added that he and mate Jason McCommons are taking the event — scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. — quite seriously. And considering his competitiveness, he’ll be racing to win.
“Being honored by the port is a huge thing,” he said. “Just being involved and going back over my career, showing a lot of pictures and all. It has been very humbling.”
The acknowledgment is appropriate for a man who has become a life-saving legend in the Coast Guard’s small-boat and fishing communities. He’s been involved in rescuing more than 100 people, often risking his own life.
Piloting a 52-foot motor lifeboat on June 23, 1957, he saved the lives of four people aboard a 15-foot boat that had gone to sea from the Yaquina Bay Bar in heavy weather.
When McAdams and his crew reached the scene about a mile west of the north jetty, the vessel had flipped and its occupants were hanging on to stay afloat.
McAdams and his two seamen dove into the water and assisted during a lengthy struggle to get the four people out of the water and into the lifeboat.
But returning to shore was problematic, because the boat was rolling with the heavy weather and became stuck in big sand holes as it got closer to the shore. McAdams said that caused its cable steering to malfunction and damaged the bulkhead.
The wildest rescue, however, came two years later when a 48-foot sailboat on its maiden voyage “got in a bad storm between Northern California and British Columbia and we saved five people over 24 hours” after the boat’s mast broke and sails were shattered, McAdams said.
“I was blessed with a good crew that was trained well,” he said. “They might be puking all over the place, but when I was handling the boat and I needed them they’d come through.
“Most people don’t understand the power of the sea and boat handling, but I trained my crews well,” he added. “You had to. Over the years I had boats roll over nine times, the first coming on New Year’s evening in 1953-54.”
It’s not surprising, then, that as a “legendary figure in the Coast Guard” he was awarded its Gold Lifesaving Medal for the 1957 rescue off Newport. Other honors include the Coast Guard Medal and three commendation medals for life-saving actions.
The Seattle native said that he never gets tired of being honored because “each one is important at the time and it’s like continuing to love your spouse as years go by. It’s just really nice to be honored.”
Tom and JoAn McAdams have been married for 64 years, and blissfully, according to the last six lines of a lengthy poem McAdams composed for his 1997 U.S. Coast Guard retirement ceremony:
“There has always been someone important, no matter the place,
That has always been there with a smiling face.
She’s weathered the storms, and the calms of my life,
Her name is JoAn, and she is my wife.
So together this chapter, with a closing we bring,
And thank you Lord, for everything.”