Free Picture: Menhaden fishing vessel EARL J. CONRAD, JR. idling near seine skiffs of the FV TIDELAND in the Chesapeake Bay near Reedville, Virginia

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Ships are sold. Names are changed. Structures are reconfigured.

The boats of Omega Protein’s Reedville menhaden fishing fleet bear little resemblance to the ships of World War II.

“Sailors on the original boats wouldn’t recognize these boats,” said Captain Paul Somers, a menhaden-boat captain living in White Stone, Virginia. “Their outlines have completely changed.”

The biggest change was that the wheelhouses were moved forward. To hold fish, the holds have been converted with lots of refrigeration piping.

A few boats have plaques in their engine rooms attesting to their naval service.

Tying Up One Boat’s History
One of the most famous of this Reedville fleet is the Earl J. Conrad Jr.

In its 65 years, the 166-foot-long boat has sailed under six names, from the USS Deal to the Akuarius, or Akvarius, according to the Lloyd’s Register of shipping.

In the early 1970s, the ship was purchased and converted to a menhaden fishing boat by the company now known as Omega Protein Inc. and rechristened the Earl J. Conrad Jr. Captain Somers is her captain.

His boat is very seaworthy, Somers says, explaining why the 50-plus year-old boats are still in service.

The fame of the Earl J. Conrad Jr. is due not to its wartime service as the USS Deal but to its brief career as the Olga Patricia, renamed Laissez Faire, a floating pirate radio station.

Built in 1944 in the Wheeler Shipbuilding Corporation in Whitestone, New York, for the U.S. Army Transportation Service, the ship was numbered FS-263.

photo by Ron O' Quinn

After its World War II stint as the USS Deal, this ship was bought and transformed in the 1960s — with the addition of a massive antenna broadcasting at 50,000 watts — into the pirate radio ship Laissez Faire off the coast of England.

FS-263 was named USAT Deal for Deal Island in Chesapeake Bay west of Salisbury.

She was manned by the U.S. Coast Guard, with Lieutenant Junior Grade W.G. Hill her first commanding officer.

During World War II, she operated in the South Pacific out of New Guinea, ferrying supplies from port to port.

Decommissioned at war’s end, Deal came to the navy and was commissioned as Miscellaneous Auxiliary, USS Deal (AG-131) at Apra, Guam, in March, 1947. With Lieutenant Junior Grade P.G. Patton commanding, she carried cargo to the Pacific islands out of Guam until 1949, when she berthed in Pearl Harbor.

The USS Deal (AKL-2) ferried equipment and supplies during the Korean War as part of the 7th Fleet out of Sasebo, Japan. She was decommissioned in 1955 and laid up in Puget Sound (Bremerton) until she was sold in 1961.

After a brief period working as a cargo ship in the Caribbean in the early 1960s as the Don Carlos, the ship was rechristened the M/V Olga Patricia and later the M/V Laissez Faire.

Fitted with a towering antenna, the Olga Patricia/Laissez Faire attained some measure of notoriety as a pirate radio ship operating off the coast of England in 1966.

That’s after the 160-foot antenna snapped in rough seas and fell overboard when the floating radio station was barely out of Miami on her Atlantic crossing. The ship had to drag the antenna to the Azores to get help to haul it on board. The antenna was reset in Lisbon.

Broadcasting to England and Europe on a powerful 50,000 watt AM station called Swinging Radio England, American disc jockeys excited teenagers with rapid-fire, personalized patter and rock and roll music. The station, the project of Texas entrepreneur Don Pierson, was unsuccessful financially and was short-lived.

But not forgotten. This swashbuckling radio adventure is fondly remembered by both the boss jocks who broadcast from on board and their now-aging British and European fans who listened on their radios.

Source: Bay Weekly

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This page last updated January 2015