Sunday, December 21, 2008

Fear and Panic at Navy St. Pier, by Lt. Don Rosenthal

(Photo source:

(note: The Navy St. lifeguard tower can be seen to the right (or south) of where the Navy St. Pier pilings and the remains of P.O.P. pilings that took years to remove during the 1970's).

"Fear and Panic at Navy St. Pier", by Lt. Don "Rosie" Rosenthal, Ret.

Date: Labor Day (date and year not specifically recalled), in the early 70's (before County Merger).

The day started slowly, slightly overcast, and the surf rather calm. We could see that some of the swells were starting to increase. I requested some additional lifeguards be called in to render possible assistance as the day wore on.

Not remembering the Captain at that time (I believe Bob Williams, and Don Rohrer the Lieutenant). Due to the possible slow day, the budget constraints, few were hired to work.

The swells started to increase, and the current pulling north, quite strong. We had another lifeguard come on duty at Navy Street. Keep in mind this is about 25 years ago, so dates and names have drifted from memory.

As the day wore on, and the surf grew, and crashed, the current soon had the buoy line bending North. The current started sucking swimmers into the buoy line, and a few rescues were made for those who slipped past the line, and headed for the Navy Street Pier (pilings).

(Photo source:

(note: The above photo is representative of the type of pier pilings that existed during the rescue sequence described herein).

We requested additional lifeguards, as the crowd was growing (at Rose Ave and Navy). I remember Rim Fay was with one of his children (on a day off). We recruited Rim to help out while we waited for more guards to help.

We kept making PA announcements to the public to move South from Navy. Soon we had some larger swells, and crashing waves. Needless to say the current was pulling very hard towards the pier (pilings).

I noticed one of the broken pilings that belonged to the pier. Wrapped around the crusted broken piling, like a monkey, was a man who either didn't hear us or speak English. I hit the water, as there was a break in the swells. As I swam to him, using the current, I would raise my head and yell at him to let go of the piling so I could take him between the two sections of the pier where there was a small beach. The victim was terrified and hung on to the piling. I literally had to peel him off of the piling.

As you could guess, I looked for the next set of waves, and was not disappointed. The first of about five waves was just about to hit the man.
I was able to peel him off of the piling as the first wave broke. The set continued to push us into the pilings under the pier. These were large, powerful waves, and I held the victim in front of me, no way losing him. The waves pushed us around like a pinball from piling to piling. Most time under water, with very little foothold.

I managed to get the victim and myself through this maze of mussel encrusted pilings, cut and scratched but on the small beach between the Navy piers tired and safe.

I looked up, and saw that Ed Perry and Walt Reeves (deckhand) had brought the boat (Salvador I think) in as close (between the piers) as they could to see if I was all right.

Walt told me later, that Ed was sure I would not make it. I did, and the victim did as well. I didn't have time to think if I could come through the pilings. The large breaking (boomers) that propelled me through the "Old" Pier.

I'm sure other Lifeguards have had some "hairy" adventures in "Mother Ocean". In 37 years, I had others, but this one I described, is hard to forget.

Merry Christmas and a Great New Year to you and all the Bloggers...

"Rosie" aka (Don Rosenthal 1951-1987 not dead, just lifeguarding years).

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Editor's note: Many Thanks to Rosie for his contribution to the ongoing "County Recurrent" effort to share some of the memorable rescues of our ocean warrior clan.

And one more final color shot of P.O.P. "back in the day" during its heydays during the 1960's with the Navy St. lifeguard tower easily visible to the right (and south) of P.O.P and Navy St. Pier (the latter the shorter pier on the south side which once held up the famed Aragon Ballroom, home of Lawrence Welk and his Orchestra):

(Photo source:

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