Boat #343 - Made it better! - 1952
By: Mel Wofford
Two Photos accompany this story at the bottom of page.

Being 17, one week out of high school, in the Navy and the first time away from home, made a guy know he had a lot to learn in hurry. Being attached to the AFDM-5 (drydock) at Subic Bay wasn't all that bad, at least you didn't have to eat and sleep aboard. It really didn't go any place, just up and down. Like any other place, being new, you got all the crap details and watches. The first detail I got was to clean the Hull Shop (that's where all the engineers work, eat, have coffee and gripe). For the condition it was in, I did a great job, until it was discovered I cleaned and polished the coffeepot. The great job I did on the shop was quickly forgotten. Who's the DUMMY that cleaned and ruined the coffeepot? This coffeepot? This coffee taste like crap, is all I heard for awhile.

Next came the routine of standing watch in the shack at the head of the stairs on the fry-dock. There was 300 feet of metal ramp from shore to the dry-dock. 45 feet of metal stair way up the wall of the dry-dock. At night, even being half-asleep, nobody was going to sneak up on you. It was the regular 4 on, 8 off, plus working during the day if you weren't on watch. One night, I was standing the 2400 - 0400. Mother Nature started playing tricks. It was summer time in the P.I. and way above the mountains behind where the Sea Bees were building Cubi airstrip, there was lighting. Lots of it was going from the ground up, no clouds, and no thunder. Summer lighting???? Mother Nature can change things if she wants. With that thought in mind, I went off the deep end. If I want the next two years at Subic to be better, I was going to have to change things. BOAT #343 came to life. A buddy designed the boat, about 8 feet long, 3-1/2 feet wide, flat bottom with a 7-1/2 outboard motor. It just so happened, a job came open running the paint locker. That's not a very glamorous job, but with the right goal in mind, it could be very good. Because no flammable material could be stored aboard the dry-dock, the paint locker was in a big warehouse at the head of the 300 foot ramp I mentioned earlier. The man in charge of the paint locker was the man in charge of the warehouse, which also had a pretty good wood shop in it. So after I issued the paint out in the morning the Navy and I started building a boat. The Navy supplied all the material (except for the keel and motor), nice of them. At night we all worked on it and soon it was finished. We painted it green and white with big 343 nimbers on each side.

A few rules to keep the Harbor Master happy:

The numbers 343 on each side had to be big so each time you went past his tower he could read them.

I had to call each time I wanted to go out in the bay, and each time I returned.

I could only be out during day light hours.

Except for Magna Beach, I had to stay 150 feet off shore at all times while out in the bay.

Now if Harbor Patrol caught you in the wrong place, you were in deep sh_t. After awhile you knew where he was most of the time. At first we fished and did a little sight seeing. There were still some Japanese ships on shore around the bay, left from WW II. Then we started waiting for the Capt. of the base to return from Manila on his AVR (that's a boat about the size of a PT boat) out this side of Grande Island and get in his wake and ride it like a surf board. His boat could go a lot faster than mine, but by being in his wake, I would keep up with him. Then there was the time the USS Boxer anchored in the bay. I decided to run a tight circle around it at full speed. (About 35 miles an hour) About the time I was half way down the port side, looking up at some guys waving at me, there was the biggest boom I had ever heard. I thought the ship was blowing up, and me down here in this little boat was a goner. First time I heard a sonic boom, didn't know what it was until I got back to base.

Their was a little island called Snake Island just out from Subic City that the locals would have picnics-, drink and swim. Now BOAT #343, being different (no out riggers and would skim across the top of the water) and got a lot of attention, we would give the people (and gals) a ride and they would invite us to join them. We didn't think the 150-foot rule applied and we didn't ask. They really took care of us. They would spread banana leaves out on the table and load it with fresh fruit, fish, pork and all the drinks you wanted. Pretty nice gals too. Things started to go down hill after that. Got caught with lip stick on my face at Magna Beach and I didn't have a gal with me. First offence. The second came when I decided to run the Olongapo River up to the bridge in the middle of town (that was the only bridge at that time) at full speed. The river was 50 to 60 wide, so I went up the middle. On the way back down river I decided to zig zag and use the binjos over hanging the river as the target of the zig zag patterns. I think that may be the beginning of the name ( SHIT RIVER) because I sure stirred it up that day. Locals were hollering and running all directions. When I checked in with the Harbormaster to let him know I was back to the base, he let me know he wanted to talk right then. He didn't talk much, I think a good part of the base heard him. He didn't know about the first offence, so I got another second chance, (sort of). It wouldn't take much of a bad move to really set him off again. I did do some good things too. Our commander of the AFDM-5 (dry-dock) asked me to take some picture from my boat as a ship was brought in for repairs. That is when a picture was taken of my boat inside of the dry- dock. Too bad one wasn't taken when I did my full speed run from one end to the other inside the dry-dock.

Wasn't to much later that I went home on emergency leave. Since my time was almost up at Subic I went on to my next duty station. About four months later my buddy sent me 100 dollars, #343 taught me was, In This World You Have To Make Your Own Conditions.