USS Compass Island (AG-153) (ex-MA 26, GARDEN MARINER (YAG 56)

Thursday, August 16, 2012 0:37 AM

Compass Island (E-AG-153) was launched 24 October 1953 as a fast cargo ship SS Garden Mariner by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey and sponsored by Mrs. H. A. Smith. Acquired by the Navy 29 March 1956 and commissioned 3 December 1956, Commander J. A. Dare in command.

The USS Compass Island: One of a Series of Columns By ION Historian Marvin May
The ship was converted by the New York Naval Shipyard and commissioned in 1956 to serve as a research vessel in the Polaris Fleet Ballistic Missile Program. The ship had a length of 564 feet and a displacement of 18000 tons. Its 19500 horsepower single screw engine provided a cruising speed of 18 knots with a cruising range of 16800 nautical miles. It had a complement of 18 Naval officers, 240 enlisted men and 33 civilian scientists. The primary mission of the USS Compass Island was to advance the development of navigation systems for the Polaris and Poseidon FBM ships through operational research, development and evaluation. The Compass Island program operated under the direction of the Strategic Systems Project Office with the technical support and guidance of the Naval Strategic Systems Navigation Facility. The contributions of this ship to the development of ship’s navigation is most vividly indicated by her specific achievements.

Commanding Officers

CDR Dare, James Ashton Dec. 1956 - Dec. 1958
CAPT Brandt, John Henry Dec. 1958 - Oct. 1959
CAPT Cotten, John Henderson Oct. 1959 - Nov. 1960
CAPT ??Unknown?? Nov. 1960 - Nov. 1961
CAPT Irvine, Robert Klink Nov. 1961- Nov. 1962
CAPT Dancy, Charles Allen
Nov. 1962 - Oct. 1963
CAPT Jones, John Marlin
Oct. 1963 - Sep. 1964
CAPT Chimek, William
Sep. 1964 - Jul. 1965
CAPT Coyne, William Dougherty
Jul. 1965 - Jul. 1967
CDR Bonds, Joseph E.
Jul. 1967 - Jul. 1969
CAPT Packer, Duncan
Jul. 1969 - Jun. 1971
CDR Carlson, James L.
Jun. 1971 - Jan. 1973
CDR Kessler Jr., Edward Leo
Jan. 1973 - Sep. 1974
CDR. Mace, James A.
Sep. 1974 - Feb. 1976
CAPT Johnson, Ronald Ralph
Feb. 1976 - Mar. 1979
CAPT Geist, Gary Quay
Mar. 1979 - May. 1980


Ship history

The USS Compass Island: One of a Series of Columns By ION Historian Marvin May
The ship was used initially for the conception of the FBM navigation system methodology where the inertial navigators are supported by computerized information fusion developed from other types of navigation data. Early exercises were used to calibrate the Broad Ocean Area Missile Impact Location System and establish Polaris operational readiness. Generations of Ship’s Inertial Navigation Systems, celestial trackers, navigation computers, speed logs, gravity meters, radio aids and sonar devices were tested. Early at-sea gravimeters were pioneered on the ship including demonstrations of the first at-sea compensation of vertical deflection effects. Shipboard evaluations of the Electrically Suspended Gyro, still the bulwark of precise inertial navigation, were conducted in the late 1960’s. Numerous advanced inertial calibration and perturbation techniques were demonstrated employing state-of-the-art computational algorithms. Extensive testing of the Navy Navigation Satellite System (TRANSIT) was accomplished in the mid to late 1960’s. During the same period comprehensive evaluations of early Omega, Lorac and Loran-C radionavigation systems were performed. Precise gravity and bathymetric ranges were established which were used to evaluate geophysical navigation map matching techniques. In the early 1970’s, Phase 1 GPS receivers were tested and initial GPS-INS integration methods were exam-ined. In 1980 the Compass Island was mothballed and replaced with the USNS Vanguard (TAG 194). The Compass Island played a major role in educating the scientists and engineers who developed and tested the navigation equipment in the practical aspects of at sea operation. It also provided invaluable stimulation and lasting memories for at least one navigation historian.

The first mission of Compass Island was to assist in the development and evaluation of a navigation system independent of shore-based and celestial aids, a necessary adjunct of the ballistic missile program. She operated along the eastern seaboard testing equipment and training personnel until 13 March 1958 when she sailed from New York for experiments in the Mediterranean, returning to New York 17 April to resume her east coast operations. A dramatic example of her work was provided when USS Nautilus (SSN-571), using the Shipboard Inertial navigation system tested by Compass Island , made a submerged cruise beneath the Arctic ice pack touching exactly at the North Pole 3 August 1958. On 10 September 1958, Compass Island entered New York Naval Shipyard for overhaul and installation of additional navigational equipment to be tested. With this new equipment, she continued her east coast and Caribbean cruising through 1960. Those that served on the USS Compass Island affectionately refer to the ship as the " C I ".

Name: USS Compass Island (AG-153)
Namesake: An island in Penobscot Bay off the coast of Maine
Builder: New York Shipbuilding Corporation
Launched: 24 October 1953 as Garden Mariner
Acquired: 29 March 1956
Commissioned: 3 December 1956
Decommissioned: 1 May 1980
Struck: 31 March 1986
Honors and

Navy Expeditionary Medal (5-Cuba)Navy_Expeditionary_ribbon

National Defense Service Medal

Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal (Cuba)

Fate: Maritime Administration 9 April 1993
Status: Scrapped in UK sold for scrapping to Able UK, Hartlepool, Teeside, England, and removed from the Reserve Fleet, 16 October 2003 under tow to the United Kingdom
Ship's Patch :
USS Compass Island (AG-153) Ship Patch
SHIP's Characteristics
Class and type: Compass Island Maritime Commission Hull C4-S-1a (Mariner)
Displacement: 18,000 tons (full)
Length: 563 ft (172 m)
Beam: 76 ft (23 m)
Draft: 26 ft (7.9 m)
Propulsion: Propulsion 17,500 HP, Steam Reduction Gear Drive Single Screw
Speed: 18 knots
Complement: Officers 18, Enlisted 220, Civilian 32
Armament: 1971, (4) Twin 20mm Cannons Port, Starboard, Fore and Aft
International radio call sign of
USS Compass Island

During the 1960's Renwal Model Company developed a model of the USS Compass Island. Today at times you might find the model on EBAY. The last going price was around $325.00. The model is not that accurate to the real ship. The model displays fins, this is a correct item. The model shows SSM-N-8 Regulus on the model. The CI did not have these. It is documented in All Hands, a US Navy Magazine that a missile was fired from the deck of the USNS Observation Island (T-AGM-23) (ex-EAG-154, Empire State Mariner) the Compass Island's sister ship. The model has wings on the bow below the water line, the real ship did not. and the real ship did not have as many mast and booms as shown on the model. The helicopter landing pad is correct.

Renwal Model of the USS Compass Island

USNS Observation Island
(T-AGM-23) (ex-EAG-154)



( 1969 Welcome Aboard the Compass Island Document ) Most information about the USS Compass Island is almost nonexistent. Maybe this is due to the mission of the Compass Island. One can search forever and find very little about this ship that has a great deal of history about her. It is documented about the USS Compass Island that was involved in the rescue of the Schooner Curlew in 1962. You can find that the USCGC Mendota (WHEC-69) In 15 November 1962, Mendota assisted the disabled schooner Curlew 90 miles (140 km) northwest of Bermuda. But there is no mention of the CI. There is a great more detail located here at about the Compass Island's rescue of the Curlew.

"On Thursday the seas were higher than ever and the wind was estimated as gusting 75 – 80 knots. At 0700 a mountainous sea broke over the full length of the ship and stove in the main cabin skylight. As a result of mayday calls to Burmuda, Curlew was spotted by a search plane and at 1400 the 663ft. USS Compass Island (EAG 153) hove into sight. The yacht then continued to run under bare poles on her course for Burmuda, with the USS Compass Island standing by and giving course instructions by radio telephone. That night Curlew, under a lee created by the USS Compass Island, succeeded in getting within a quarter of a mile of the flashing buoy off St. George’s harbor. Shelter was at last at hand. But the wind must have shifted, and it was so violent that no further progress could be made against it, even with the help of her powerful engine. It was impossible to gain harbor and Curlew had to run off. By then the yacht’s condition was critical and, as the weather forecast predicted a continuance of the storm for another 24 hours, it was decided to run off and abandon her. Curlew maneuvered alongside under the lee of USS Compass Island, but in doing so broke her bowsprit and carried away her foremast in shrouds against the ship’s sides. Nevertheless, all the crew were rescued by Compass Island without injury by means of cargo nets – a creditable performance at night with winds little below hurricane force.


The Compass Island also took part in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

1963 - The first operational multibeam sounding system was installed on the USNS Compass Island. This system, and other multibeam sounding systems that have evolved since, observe a number of soundings to the left and right of a ship's head as well as vertically allowing the development of a relatively accurate map of the seafloor as the ship proceeds on a survey line.

In 1968 the CI was involved in the search for the USS Scorpion (SSN-589) which is documented in the novel Scorpion Down by Ed Offley. In the book are reports from some personnel that were on board the CI during that time.

UPDATE: 15 AUG. 2012

Search for Scorpion - Parisi, Hank (IS)

I was aboard the CI during the search for Scorpion. I was in the deck division under LT. Commander Reason and Chief Sullivan. The Boatswaine mates were ( if memory serves me correctly ) Bischer, Mosier and Kanet. Some of my fellow deck apes were Seamen Browne , Stillatano, Schilling and Cross. I was striking for Photomate at the time. We had a Photomate and dark room on board so it was a logical fit for me as I was a photographer before enlisting. I remember the search cruise very well. The CI had just arrived back in N.Y. after a 2 week cruise in the Bahama waters. We pulled out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard during the night with a skeleton crew and short supplies with a heavy rain and wind storm raging . Half the crew was ashore for liberty call and we embarked with only the crew that pulled the duty weekend. Lucky me. With such short notice I barely was able to call my parents to let them know I won’t be home for awhile ( I lived in N.Y. city and went home for dinner every night). I was told by my girl ( wife now ) that the local T.V. and radio stations put out alerts “ Requesting all ships company of the Compass Island return to the ship immediately”. No one returned, big surprise. After a couple of weeks at sea, the photomates father passed away and a helicopter landed on the stern helo pad to fly him home. A short time after that we put in to the Azores to replenish our food supply. A shore party went ashore led by Lt. Itner and bought out all the local stores. A caravan of local people carrying arms full of fruit and veggies, snaked their way along the road to the ship. They balanced giant plastic bags of goats milk on their heads ( no cows on the island ) and one after another placed it dockside. The rest of the ships crew were there as well after being flown into the Air Force base. They were waiting for the CI to arrive for 2 weeks. They dazzeled us with stories of liberty every night , fifty cent beers and native woman that were available for the night, cheap. At one point, with the photomate still not on board, I was ordered to the ships gym to take some photographs. What I saw was a collection of debris, life jackets and unrecognizable pieces of equipment. But most puzzling was this horseshoe shaped chunk of plaster obviously sculptured by someone. I later found out it was a model of an underwater mountain range. Capt. Barns later took these photos to D.C. for the inquiry. The story goes that the Scorpion tried to clear the top of the mountain range after entering this canyon and didn’t make it. A few months later I was discharged. Served on board 18 mos. 1967-1968. Naval reserves TAR program. I now sail my own ship. A 41 foot motor sailing ketch out of San Diego. Thanks for the opportunity to walk down memory lane. Hope some of my shipmates can read this.



E-Mail Just in. from - Stephen Johnson (Author) Re: Compass Island/USS Scorpion

The Report on The Search for the USS Scorpion was prepared at the behest of the Chief of Naval Operations and is a fascinating and slightly technical document.
I believe it mentions Compass Island's effort in dropping SUS (sound underwater signal charges) soon after the Columbia University hydroacoustic data from Puerto Naos, La Palma in the Canary Islands was found to have SOFAR signals acquired from Scorpion's loss.
(I'm going on memory since my book encompassed 600 interviews and roughly 11,000 pages of documents.
However, Bowditch was on the scene early and the SUS charges provided a benchmark for determining that the Columbia University Hydroacoustic Station Canaries (CUHSC) signals were genuine.
The entire true story is amazing and full of detail of the efforts of the real folks who broke rules and worked night and day to finally locate Scorpion.
I may not be able to pull the Report out of my archives anytime soon since they're in storage but don't hesitate to remind me.
In addition, pass along my email to any who may have been involved in the operations on CI in 1968. Something tells me they won't remember that they were the ones who "discovered" Scorpion's wreckage. That would take another four months.
CI skipper Capt. Joe Bonds was seriously angry at the false claims in Scorpion Down.  (A second even more ridiculous book with a competing conspiracy theory was written entitled "All Hands Down.) You think these fiction writers would have more imagination.
At last word he was hale and hearty and nearing 90 in retirement in Florida. He was a great guy. He even drove across Florida to confront Mr. Offley and call his book a pack of untruths.
By the way, a perusal of the reviews of my book will provide some insight on how serious my work is.
We're in the middle of processing some of the original acoustic data that the U.S. Navy has apparently lost. It has reappeared after 40 years in a desk drawer and has been analyzed by a former member of the Office of Naval Intelligence Acoustic Analysis Division.
We have a full report that we can provide if any of your members are interested in it.
We also have a 250-member discussion group composed of many folks from the naval service, the submarine force and around the world.
We're all fighting to keep the history straight in memory of the 99 who died.
Stephen Johnson See my book here:
 Send me an E-Mail if you want to contact Stephen Johnson I do not post E-Mail addresses on my site unless it is public domain or approved ny the individual.


1970 Color Postcard from the USS Compass Island (AG-153) Post Office is at the right.
During the 1970's the Compass Island continued to operate up and down the east coast from the Arctic Circle to Devils Triangle visiting places like Port Everglades, Nassau, Bahamas, and Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
USS Compass Island (AG-153) Postcard
The Compass Island during 1970, 1971, 1972 the Home Port was Brooklyn Naval Shipyard, Pier J, Brooklyn, New York. During this period the USS Compass Island was the only active duty Navy Ship in Brooklyn. There was also a US Naval Reserve Destroyer located at another pier. In the photo on the right was taken between 1973 and 1974 at Pier J. The photo right shows the Super-Tanker Brooklyn next to the USS Compass Island. You can see the 20mm gun mounts port and starboard on the rear of the helicopter landing deck. These gun mounts were installed at the Charleston Naval Shipyard in 1971 port and starboard - fore and aft.
Compass Island AG153 in Brooklyn, NY. Pier J.
Across from the USS Compass Island on the other side of Pier J were 3 US Navy Aircraft Carriers that were decommissioned. They were the USS Boxer (CV-21), the USS Essex (CV-9), and the USS Randolph (CV-15). During our stay in Brooklyn, the USS Boxer (CV-21) was sold and scrapped in 1971. Rumor around the Compass Island was that the Gillette Razor Blade Company purchased the USS Boxer (CV-21). This is the only photo that I know of that was taken of the 3 carriers together with Steve Fuller on the deck of the Compass Island.
Steve Fuller on the deck of the Compass Island with USS Boxer, Essex, Randolph Pier J - 1970
While in Home Port, we the crew assigned to the CI did not realize we were a witness to history. We were privileged to witness the World Trade Center Twin Towers being constricted. No one could have imagined that those 2 large structures would be destroyed 30 years later.

11 December 1974 the USS COMPASS ISLAND (E-AG 153) completed overhaul at Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Hoboken, NJ.
View of the WTC Twin Towers fron the deck of the USS Compass Island (AG-153)
Well, Here we go again, Everyone gather on the fantail as we pass the Big Green B-!-!-!-h for the last time. With the crew of the USS Compass Island AG-153 it was a tradition to gather on the fantail of the CI and as we pass the Statue of Liberty we would throw our hats to the lady. We had our own name for her though. then we would head up the East River and dock at Pier J.
Sailor's throwing their hat at the Statue of Liberty on their Last Cruise.
The Last  

The fate of the famous CI has finally come to an end. See the 'Ghost Ships' on Teesside. This is the last picture pieced together from satellite photos from Virtual Earth at Teesside in the United Kingdom waiting to be scrapped. As you can see the "CI" looks in very sad shape. COMPASS ISLAND: “…has no cathodic protection and has topside decks and houses that are heavily corroded causing leaking into interior spaces. There is a moderate amount of fuel on the ship (2,125 barrels).”

Some of the Last Photos of the CI

Back to 25 Oct. 2006
1 Page