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Orleans Historical Society
P. O. Box 353
Orleans, MA 02653
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The recently released Disney film The Finest Hours, directed by Craig Gillespie and written by Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy, based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Casey Sherman and Michael J. Tougias was featured on CBS on January 30, 2016. The actual CG36500 motor lifeboat involved in the rescue, fully restored and operational, is owned by the Orleans Historical Society and still plies its home waters of Cape Cod.
On the night of February 18, 1952, during a raging 70-knot nor’easter snowstorm, four Coast Guardsmen (coxswain Bernard C. “Bernie” Webber, Andrew Fitzgerald, Ervin Maske and Richard Livesey) set out on the 36500 to rescue crewmen on the tanker Pendleton that had broken apart in a storm. Incredibly, they returned to the Chatham Live-Saving Station with 32 survivors—on a bot designed to carry half that number safely. All for “”Coasties” received the Gold Life-Saving Medal for their bravery under these almost impossible conditions.
The fate of the CG36500 is a rescue story in itself. After more than two decades of Coast Guard service, the 36-foot wooden lifeboat was retired in 1968 and sat neglected and nearly forgotten for years. The Orleans Historical Society acquired the boat in 1981, and it has been carefully rebuilt and maintained by many dedicated volunteers with support of generous grants and individual donations.
Today the CG36500 is the only operating survivor if its class on the East Coast, and one of only a handful that still exists anywhere in the country. This Gold Medal boat is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and can be viewed by the public nearly year-round at its berths in Orleans (directions below). Special onboard Talks and Tours are scheduled on summer weekends at Rock Harbor. Visit the Orleans Historical Society Museum to view memorabilia and read the story of an incredible night on the high seas off Chatham back in 1952.
Motor Lifeboat CG36500 was built in 1946 at Curtis Bay, Maryland Coast Guard Yard, as all 36 footer's were, and stationed at the Chatham, Massachusetts Coast Guard Lifeboat Station. Like most 36's, it had an active and glorious career with many rescues. It was taken out of service in 1968 after being re-engined from a Sterling gas engine to diesel. It was replaced by the new and improved 44 foot twin diesel, all steel Motor Life Boat. It, like the other 36's, had outlived its usefulness. There isn't much fanfare when this occurs, even though to many Coasties, it is a sad day. Most were destroyed, but some got saved for display at museums and historical societies.
Decommissioned in 1968, the boat was donated to the Cape Cod National Seashore for a display at their Coast Guard exhibit in Eastham. This move was never completed because of a shortage of funds for restoration. CG36500 was left to deteriorate until Bill Quinn and the Orleans Historical Society intervened, acquired ownership, and executed a comprehensive restoration.The vessel was eventually restored by OHS volunteers to her present mission; a floating museum dedicated to the memory of the Life Savers of Cape Cod. The Lifeboat now once again travels the waters on Cape Cod and beyond. To view the CG36500 at a current location click here > >