Barrett "Buzzy" McLaughlin
With 14 months on the U.S. Navy minesweeper Chickadee already logged, 21-year-old Buzzy McLaughlin, a Falmouth native, first stepped into a WHOI ship’s engine room in 1947. He joined Mentor as an oiler, worked aboard Reliance and Caryn the following year, then left to join the U.S. Military Sea Transportation Service.
Fifteen years later, Buzzy returned to WHOI as chief engineer of Chain, a position he held for seven years before becoming Knorr’s first chief upon the ship’s delivery in 1970. He was later chief engineer for both Atlantis II and Oceanus before retiring in 1994.
During his nine years in the Knorr engine room, biologist Peter Wiebe sailed with him a number of times and remembers him for supporting his science, especially on one occasion in 1971: a newly designed “jumbo” plankton recorder (dubbed “Black Mariah”) suffered a severely crumpled frame during recovery. Buzzy proceeded quickly to straighten and strengthen the frame in time for the next scheduled tow.
In addition to keeping ships’ engines running for science, Buzzy (so nicknamed by his father because he was a talkative kid) is well known for etching ivory. His scrimshaw avocation began in 1964 when Chain, on the way home from the Indian Ocean, put into Beirut aft of a Russian whaling ship.
When Buzzy accepted a few whale teeth offered by a Russian sailor, he was picking up a family tradition that went back three generations. His great grandfather was a whaling captain and scrimshander who worked out of Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard.
Since that Russian encounter, Buzzy has carved more than 400 whale teeth and bones for artifacts ranging from tiny earrings to jawbones, one of which fetched a tidy sum in a local Heart Fund auction.
Originally published: May 1, 2005