As 2018 ended, Andrew Fitzgerald, the last courageous member of the crew that heroically rescued 32 of 33 merchant seamen clinging to the stricken tanker, the Pendleton, died at age 87.

To this day, the feat seems impossible. How did this intrepid Coast Guard crew take off in the incredibly tiny CG36500 in blizzard conditions back in 1952 and somehow succeed?  Where did the courage come from?

In recent years, this saga has been shared by millions of people via book,  “The Finest Hours: The True Story of the US Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue,” by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman, and in the 2016 movie “The Finest Hours.”

For those of us living on Cape Cod, there’s always the opportunity to experience this amazing story up close and personally each summer, when the craft is docked at Rock Harbor for viewing – and sometimes touring.

Two of our museums along the trail offer insights among their collections and exhibits. The Atwood House & Museum has a replica of CG36500’s cabin. You can only imagine how the crew safeguarded the rescued Pendleton survivors in such tiny quarters as the sea roiled around them.

The Orleans Historical Society also has a formidable collection focused on the Pendleton saga.

Motor Lifeboat CG36500 originally 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, according to the Orleans Historical Society.

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.

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.

Special onboard  talks and tours are scheduled on summer weekends at Rock Harbor.

Questions regarding the history of the vessel, current location, ongoing exhibits and more: contact the Orleans Historical Society.

Questions regarding construction, maintenance and operations or about the restoration history: contact Richard G. Ryder at