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History of Sea Scout Ship 40
The SS Captain Wrucke
A History - 1949-1980

Located in Palo Alto, California with personnel from throughout the South San Francisco Bay area and Moored at the Palo Alto Yacht Harbor

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Stories from the Crew

Unit History Overview

Ship 40 was chartered in 1949. Its sponsors were the Palo Alto Elks Lodge and its primary membership was drawn from the city of Palo Alto. However, the units alumni encompass personnel drawn from San Jose to Portola Valley. Indeed during the mid 1960s up to half of Ship 40's membership was drawn from other peninsula cities.

The Captain Wrucke represents, to date, the most extensive offshore coastal cruising unit in the history of South San Francisco Bay Sea Scouts. For example, in addition to the Wrucke's active inland underway schedule, the cruising pattern for almost fifteen straight years, left in her wake the relatively safe confines of the San Francisco Bay and cruised offshore as far South as San Diego and Mexico. Coastal Summer Cruises lasted from fourteen and up to twenty-eight days.

The first cruise of the Captain Wrucke in 1950 is still arguably the most impressive blue water "super activity" in the history of the Western Region Sea Scouting: namely, a seventeen day passage from San Francisco to Hawaii and return aboard the U.S. Naval Destroyers Colahan and Shields. Captain Chester T. Wrucke Sr., would have appreciated the accomplishments of the unit and crews who served in this Sea Scout unit which was named after him. The sprit of the Captain Wrucke is likely best captured by the remarks of its first Skipper, who in 1950 was quoted in the Palo Alto Times as saying:

"to the young men of Palo Alto we send our invitation to come out and share with us this great opportunity that the Sea Scout program offers today and to go on with us to make a ship that will stand for honor, championship, and public service."

Ship 40 represents a merger of two pre-1949 units, namely Ship 58 and Ship 69. Ship 58, the Mathew Maury (a.k.a. the Alcor) and Ship 69, the Intrepid were chartered in 1928 and 1941 respectively. The 7th of December 1941 produced an abrupt transformation in both programs as crew and officers responded to America's entry into World War II by joining the Armed Forces or moving to civilian war effort employment.

Following World War II local demographic migration changes impacted the depleted ranks of Ship 58 and Ship 69. Sadly, some South Bay Sea Scouts did not survive the war, others began new careers outside the Bay Area and the advent of the GI Bill would send ex-crew members to college and finance their first homes. Despite this, from 1945 to 1949, both units carried on with their programs yet continued to experience a downward trend in personnel and activities. By 1949 it became apparent that both Ships would benefit by a consolidation into a new unit, Ship 40.

In a sense, Palo Alto Sea Scouts had not lost two programs as much as they had reverted back to their pre-1941 status when Ship 58 was the sole Palo Alto based unit. In fact, Ship 69 was launched from within the ranks of Ship 58. Ship 69's first Skipper Fern Longenacker was a former mate with Ship 58. The consolidation of Ship 58 and Ship 69 made Ship 40 the singular representative of the city of Palo Alto and host Sea Scout Ship out of the Palo Alto harbor.

Ship 40 was named after one of the former Skipper's of Ship 58, Captain Chester T. Wrucke Sr. Captain Wrucke served as Skipper of Ship 58 from 1941 until 1946. Captain Wrucke tragically died of cancer in 1946. He was a great lost to the Sea Scout program. Honoring his dedication and commitment to Sea Scouting, members of the newly organized Ship 40 adopted his namesake.

Like its Ship 58 predecessor, Ship 40 would demonstrate a lead role in South Bay Sea Scouts.

The Ship's Name - The Captain Chester T. Wrucke Sr.

Chester T. Wrucke, Sr. was a Merchant Mariner sailing cargo ships and also served as a U.S. Naval Officer during World War I in the Pacific Theater. Following the war he served as an Assistant Steamship Inspector until 1946. As part of his Sea Scout career he served as a Mate for Ship 58, the Mathew Maury (Alcor) in1940 and became the Skipper of that unit from 1941 to 1946.

The Skippers:

Skipper Harry S. Kane:

Harry S. Kane, a car salesman, was noteworthy in his ability to organize activities and ensure positive public relations on the adventure opportunities in Sea Scouts. Whatever he may have lacked in formal seamanship training he made up for in sheer enthusiasm. His orchestrating of a blue water cruise to Hawaii and return aboard a Navy destroyer for his crew and officers is especially noteworthy.

Skipper George Downing, 1951-65:

Dr. George Downing played a significant role in South Bay Sea Scouts. First, he commissioned Ship 40s first vessel, a forty-foot ex-Navy liberty launch. After two and a half years of hard work and leadership, Dr. Downing produced an impressive training vessel out of a former abandoned hulk. His work was so through the "forty-footer" would cruise under the Sea Scout ensign from 1953 until 1979 by a total of five units. They were: Ship 40, the Captain Wrucke of Palo Alto (1953-1957); Ship 52 the Intrepid of Palo Alto; the Devilfish of Santa Clara (1959-1965), Ship 51 the Intrepid of Palo Alto (1965-1972) and Ship 43, the Resolute of Palo Alto (1972-1979).

Skipper Downing would also commission Ship 40s second primary training vessel: a sixty-three foot ex-Navy patrol boat known as an AVR. After a two year commissioning process, the new Captain Wrucke would cruise the Bay, Delta, and West coast from 1959 until 1979.

Finally, Skipper Downing would become Commodore Downing of the Stanford Area Squadron from 1965 to 1979. Today, although retired from his medical practice, Dr. Downing lives in the state of Washington* and is a volunteer with a local Washington Sea Scout unit. He represents over forty years of Sea Scout service. [*George Downing passed away in 2000 of cancer. We who knew him, miss him.]

Skipper George Moore, 1965-1974:

Skipper George Moore would preside over the high water mark of the Captain Wrucke program. First, Skipper Moore was a rare individual. An Eagle and Quartermaster recipient, his long term leadership experience in the Scouting movement made for an ideal replacement for Dr. Downing. Skipper Moore came from the Sea Scout unit in the Midwest. After graduating fromcollege he was hired by the Hewlett - Packard corporation where he worked until his retirement. His stable employment and bachelor status allowed for an unusually dedicated Skipper who's local family was, by extension, the members of the crew and officers of Ship 40.

Skipper Moore's leadership lead to the Wrucke's impressive Bay, Delta, and coastal cruising reputation including annual passages to Southern California and Mexico. He was also responsible for maintaining Ship 40s noteworthy Sea Scout regatta accomplishments. Skipper Moore was also an accomplished amateur photographer. Overall, the stability, knowledge, and dedication of these two leading Skippers, George Downing and George Moore, made Ship 40 arguably one of the best organized and most professional Sea Scout programs in the history of South Bay Sea Scouts.

After his Sea Scout retirement in 1974, George Moore's last Sea Scout cruise was the Super Cruise Activity of 1978. He joined the combined crews of Ship 51, 65, and 17 on a six week voyage to Alaska aboard the Sea Scout vessel Morris. The Morris is a 125 foot; ex-Coast Guard Cutter. Tragically, with what started as an altercation, George was murdered by an acquaintance in 1983. He was a fine gentleman who's sudden death represents another great loss to South Bay Sea Scouts.

Skipper Mike LaPlace, 1974-1976:

Skipper LaPlace, a multi-media manager at Santa Clara University, was also a dedicated volunteer who continued Ship 40's successful pattern of coastal cruises and regatta excellence. His combined bachelor status and dedication to the program ensured that Ship 40 would enjoy a popular and stable training program. In 1975, under Mike LaPlace's leadership, the Captain Wrucke embarked on a three week coastal passage to San Diego and return.

Skipper Gary Lowman, 1976-1978:

Skipper Gary Lowman was the youngest Skipper of Ship 40 at just twenty-one years of age. Gary was a former crew member and junior officer of Ship 40. At the time of the 1975 summer cruise to San Diego Gary Lowman served as a junior deck officer having graduated from Cubberly high school the year before. He married a young lady from Gunn high school.

Being a Skipper of a Sea Scout unit is a major commitment. For someone just getting a career started the challenge is especially daunting. However, Skipper Lowman was keenly committed to the Wrucke having himself been a former crew member and having been trained under the tutelage of Skipper George Moore.

Membership was down, funding was limited, and the Captain Wrucke vessel, after seventeen years of consistent use, combined to place Ship 40 in the twilight of its existence. Talk of transferring the vessel to another unit beyond the Stanford Squadron further eroded the moral of the then Ship 40 membership.

Skippers Joe Bjorkman and George Downing, 1978-1979

In the final year of Ship 40s program, two highly dedicated Sea Scout leaders attempted to revive the Ship 40 program. First, Dr. Downing stepped-in to fill the ranks of the recently departed Skipper Lowman. Shortly thereafter, Joe Bjouland, a former Belmont Sea Scout, former mate with Ship 145, the Challenger out of Redwood City, and the current Commodore of the Pacific Skyline Squadron, became the last Skipper of the Captain Wrucke.

Despite their best efforts a combination of events conspired against these two long term Sea Scout leaders. In the end, with its hull having been last hauled in 1975, much of its equipment missing, sinking at the dock, broken engines, and a lack of personnel not participating in either a cruising or regatta program, Ship 40 folded in 1980.

The Last Chapter?

Suffering from dry rot and stripped, the Wrucke was towed to Mare Island where the vessel was hauled out, sat on blocks for a year or so and subsequently broken-up by the work of the Mare Island personnel. For a time the Wrucke sat stem to stern with the "85," the eighty-five foot ex-navy patrol boat once owned by Ship 51 Intrepid unit. This vessel would eventually sail in 1997.








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