|One Spring Night|
The story of the S.S. Atlantic teaches us of the importance of preparing for your voyage before setting out at sea.
In 1873 the Atlantic set out with an inadequate supply of coal and food. Because of this, it was rerouted to Nova Scotia for refueling, resulting in disaster. Below is the story of a ship whose captain emphasized speed over safety- and paid the price.
The S.S. Atlantic was built in Belfast by Harland & Wolff in 1870. She had a tonnage of 3,707 gross tons, with a single screw, compound engine with 4 cylinders and 4 masts rigged for sail. The engine delivered 600 horsepower, her length was 420 feet, her breadth 40 feet, and her depth 31 feet.
On June 8th she departed from Liverpool on her maiden voyage for New York. She departed from Liverpool on her 19th voyage on March 20th 1873. She called at Queenstown to take on more passengers and then set out for New York with 957 persons on board (number from the official Canadian report), of whom 833 were passengers.
On April 1st, the Atlantic ran on a solid rock and was wrecked about fifty yards distant from Meagher's Island, in the County of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Among the passengers were several Norwegian emigrants, who had departed from Christiania (Oslo) on March 14th. Many of them were among the deceased. Of the 957 passengers aboard, 545 lost their lives.
On March 31st Captain Williams and Third officer C. L. Brady were at the bridge until midnight. At this time, there were heavy seas and it was very dark. At 2 o'clock in the night on April 1st, the ship struck an underwater rock.Just prior to this time, Quartermaster Reynalds, had logged a true speed of twelve knots.
After hitting the rock, the officers and crew immediately rushed on deck, and tried to get the 10 lifeboats out by chopping the ropes with axes, but the lifeboats were washed away, as the ship was sinking and the seas washed over the deck.
Twenty persons were killed on the deck when the bow on the foremast came loose and turned. A lot of people drowned on the half-deck when the entrance was blocked by panicking passengers trying to get up.
With few exceptions married men refused to leave their wives behind, and preferred to die with them, even though they could have been rescued by climbing up the rig. Parts of the rig remained above the surface after the ship went under, and those who could, climbed up and clung to the rig.
Distress signals (rockets) had been fired every one minute, but without any results.
The top of the rock, which was sticking up over the surface, was 40 yards away from the ship. Officer Brady and two quartermasters succeeded in getting ashore on a near by island, by using four 200 ft ropes. About 50 persons managed to get ashore by using the ropes, but many drowned while trying.
At 6 o'clock in the morning Brady made contact with the local residents on the island, and 3 boats were set out. Many of the people on the rock, and from the rig were thus rescued. Some of those clinging to the rig had died from the cold.
The rescue operation lasted until midday, when all who were still alive had been rescued, except for officer Firth, who was still clinging to the rig, and could not be rescued due to the rough seas.
The contemporary newspapers reported that the ship's officers were mainly to blame for the accident. Quartermaster Thomas stated at the inquiries, that he had warned 1st mate Metcalf against keeping too close to land, but Metcalf had ignored his warnings. Thomas had then addressed 4th mate Brown, and suggested that they should go up to keep lookout, as if not, they would not be able to see land before they struck it. Brown answered that this was not necessary.
Thomas was at the rudder when the lookout before the mast shouted "ice ahead". The course was immediately changed and the engine reversed full power, but instantly the ship ran on to the rock.
There were speculations in the newspapers, saying that the accident was caused because the Captain and Mate had mistaken Sambro light for being Devil's light, which is further to the west.
It was also said that when the Atlantic called at Queenstown, to take aboard about 200 passengers, there had been strong reactions to the ship leaving England low on coal. However, the ship's owners in Liverpool claimed that the Atlantic had departed England carrying 996 tons of coal, and that was 260 tons more than what she needed for the crossing to New York.
According to reports in the "Times", the Captain claimed that the accident was caused by miscalculations of the ship's speed and current. He had calculated the speed to be 11 knots per hour, but it must have been faster, as the ship would not have been so far off course if not.
The captain also claimed that he had only 127 tons of coal left on Monday the 31st of March. He had then decided to go to Halifax for bunkering, as stormy weather was waiting ahead. He stated that 460 miles off Sandy Hook he had 127 tons of coal left. It had been estimated that the ship should arrive at New York on April 1st, but the ship had made little progress after encountering unfavorable weather.
The value of the ship was estimated at 150.000£ sterling, and the cargo at another 50.000£ sterling. Among those who drowned there were about 200 English subjects, 70 Irish, and a high number of people of other nationalities. About 70 children and 100 women died. Two of the children had been born on the voyage.
Among the 250 saved were Capt. Williams, Officers Brady and Brown, the ship's surgeon, and several of the engine crew, but not one of the women or children.
Of the first cabin passengers only 4 were rescued. It was first estimated that about 780 persons had drowned, almost all of them laying in their berths. By April 2nd more than 100 bodies had been recovered.
It later became clear that the first estimated number of deceased was exaggerated. A dispatch from Philadelphia on April 3rd, stated that 336 survivors had been brought to Halifax, and another 77 of the survivors had been taken up by the S.S. Lady Head. The new estimated number of deceased then was 546, with 413 survivors. The survivors at Halifax were transported from Halifax on April 3rd to Portland, Maine. By April 4th 167 bodies had been recovered.
|Another Princess at the Bottom of the Sea|
On December 3rd, 1883 the Princess Louise met her doom in stormy weather. An inexperienced Captain attempted to charge through horrendous weather conditions, resulting in the ship losing its battle against the raging sea.
While the majority of people were quietly sleeping on their comfortable beds on Monday morning December 3rd 1883, the terrible disaster which occurred to the Princess Louise was taking place. The fearful hurricane, the terrific sea, the sleet and rain, the patchy darkness of the night, the parting of the chain fast to the hauser must have suggested at least the possibility of a disaster.
But when at half past three the hauser snapped and left the Princess Louise to the fury of the storm, none but those on board can realize what the sensation must have been. Alone and helpless on a raging sea - a dangerous coast close at hand, the Princess Louise suddenly became unmanageable, the ship not answering her rudder and drifting helplessly on to a cruel rocky shore.
The lights on the Newfield (the ship which was towing her) grew dimmer in the distance, proving that Capt. Browne and his crew must have had stout hearts indeed to set so manfully to work as they did to meet death in such a terrific storm.
Poor Browne had had some rough voyages before and was used to storms and heavy seas but this one capped the climax. He was lucky to the last and we are told, gave his orders calmly and quietly even when all hope of safety had fled.
There is something sadly pathetic in the last order given to his men "now my lads every one for himself". There is a sort of cheery helpfulness in the words, which almost must have inspired hope, if not confidence in his already doomed companions. He died at his post a true British sailor doing his duty to the last even though it cost him his life.
|The Doomed Maiden Voyage|
Few stories in modern history are as well known, romanticized or documented as that of the Titanic. The maiden voyage of this engineering beauty was marred by a collison with an iceberg.
With too few lifeboats and sinking quickly in freezing waters, the Titanic was unprepared for the conditions that led to her doom.
The story of the Titanic starts in Southampton, England. After four days of hiring crew members, loading supplies and making the final inspections, passengers started boarding on the morning of April 10. By noon, tugs pull the Titanic into open water for the start of her maiden voyage.
She proceeds to Cherbourg, France and then to Queenstown, Ireland to pick up additional passengers.
April 11, 1912 started with an emergency rehearsal with alarm bells and a gradual descent of the watertight doors.
With the final passengers on board, the anchor is raised at 1:30 pm and the Titanic heads to sea with 2,227 passengers and crew. The ship performs beautifully, and is found to be extremely stable.
Congratulations pour in by radio from other ships, often with warnings of icebergs ahead. For the next three days the weather is beautiful and the sea calm. Ice warnings continue to come in on the radio.
At 6 pm on April 14, the course of the Titanic is shifted slightly south, and the speed continues to increase. All through the evening ice warnings come in on the radio, but many are not relayed to the Captain.
At 10 pm the Californian is stopped in heavy ice and sends out warnings. The radioman on the Titanic tells the Californian wireless officer to "Keep Out! Shut Up! You’re jamming my signal." and so the Californian shuts down its radio for the night. At 11:30 pm lookouts see a slight haze ahead, and ten minutes later signal the bridge: "large iceberg dead ahead".
The First Officer orders "Hard-a-starboard". All engines are stopped and then ordered full reverse. The watertight doors are also ordered closed. Titanic veers to port, but too late. An underwater spar rips a 300-foot hole, opening five forward compartments to the sea.A quick inspection reveals the unthinkable: Titanic is sinking.
The distress call is sent out. Shortly after midnight, the lifeboats are ordered uncovered, but there is only room for 1178 people if the boats are filled to capacity.
Signal rockets are fired. Several ships hear the distress call and change course to help. The closest, the Carpathian, is 58 miles away. The Californian is actually within sight of the signal rockets, but with the radio off for the night assumes the ship in the distance is a tramp steamer and continues on.
Wallace Hartley and his band play lively ragtime tunes in the first class lounge almost to the very end. They were last heard to be playing "Nearer, My God, To Thee", a song Hartley had always said he would choose for his own funeral.
At 12:25 AM, the order is given to start loading the lifeboats, women and children first. The boats were filled and lowered, sometimes with less than half their rated capacity. The last boat was launched by 2:05 AM, as the Titanics tilt becomes much steeper.
At 2:17 AM the stern began to lift clear of the water. One minute later a huge roar was heard, and everything crashed toward the bow of the ship. The lights blinked once and went out. At 2:20 AM the Titanic silently slid to the ocean floor 13,000 feet below.
Two hours later the Carpathian picked up the first lifeboat. At 5:30 AM the Californian finally hears of the disaster and moved to help, but arrived just as the last boat was pulled form the water.
At 8:50 AM the Carpathia set sail for New York with 705 survivors, leaving the search for additional survivors to the other ships.
|Ocean Ferry Tragically Misses Turn|
When the 409-ft BC ferry, the Queen of the North, hit a rock and sank on March 22, 2006- officials thought everyone had gotten off the boat safely.
The provincially owned 37-year-old ship veered off course and hit a rock off Gil Island just after midnight. The ship was sailing through the narrow Wright Channel off the province's north central coast in an area known to be treacherous.
However, after the boat hit the rock, crew had about an hour to evacuate the 99 accounted for passengers.
The squall lasted less than two hours, Mr. Jones said.
By mid-morning, less than 10 hours after the vessel sank, an incandescent spill at least 1.5 km wide was visible from the air.
|The Empress Meets Her Doom|
May 30th, 1914 would be remembered by all Canadians as the night of the largest shipwreck in Canadian history. In only fourteen minutes, with only four lifeboats escaping and many dying clinging to the vessel in the icy waters, the Empress of Ireland sank to the bottom of the St. Lawrence River after colliding with a freighter, in dense fog.
The Captain's overconfidence coupled with fog, proved to be a deadly combination. Without adequate preparation for its journey a supposedly safe, unsinkable ship quickly met its destiny in the sand of the river floor.
In the early 1900s, the Canadian Pacific enjoyed immense success and popularity among the traveling public, with their famous fleet of Empress-liners as a trademark. One of these liners was the Empress of Ireland. She and her sister ship, Empress of Britain, were both commissioned in 1906 for Canadian Pacific’s Liverpool-Quebec route.
The Empress of Ireland was launched by Mrs Alexander Gracie on January 27th, 1906. Five months later, on June 29th, the day had come for the new Empress to set out on her very first voyage across the North Atlantic. She soon proved to be a reliable ship, meeting every expectation of her owners. With her 14,191 tons and 17-knot service speed, the Empress of Ireland was one of the largest and fastest ships operating on the Canadian run.
Tragically, as history would have it, the memory of the Empress of Ireland was to be associated with disaster, just as with the Titanic, Lusitania and Andrea Doria – to mention just a few.
On May 29th 1914, the Empress of Ireland left Quebec at half past four in the afternoon with a total of 1,477 people on board. Traveling down the St. Lawrence River, the Empress – under the command of Captain Henry Kendall – encountered heavy fog when she was nearing the mouth of the river that same evening.
Later that night, when it had already become the 30th of May, the Empress’ lookout reported spotting an incoming ship on the ship’s starboard side.
The rules to be applied when two ships meet in bad visibility were not very complicated: When meeting head on, each ship was to turn to starboard and pass the meeting vessel ‘port-to-port’. But if the two ships were on a ‘starboard-to-starboard’ course, this was to be maintained due to the risk of collision.
When the two ships were approaching in the night, the fog suddenly became much denser. Captain Kendall ordered the Empress of Ireland stopped and her engines put astern to give the meeting ship more manoeuvring space. He then gave three blasts with the ship’s whistle to announce his action.
Tragically, the crew on board the oncoming ship – which was the Norwegian collier Storstad – had taken actions to pass ‘port-to-port’. Making their starboard turn, the crew of the Storstad put their ship directly across the path of the Empress of Ireland. Emerging from the thick fog, the Storstad’s bow crashed into the starboard side of the Empress. Disaster was now a cruel fact.
The Empress of Ireland had been holed above and below the waterline just where the engine room was situated. It took only a short moment before the engine room was flooded, making it impossible for the crew to operate the ship’s watertight doors. It also rendered the Empress powerless to move, thus making any plans of beaching the ship unexecutable.
In addition, the Empress’ electrical power was rapidly fading, and only one S.O.S.-call could be sent before it went out completely.
The whole course of events that followed after the collision occurred during the brief time of only 14 minutes. The Empress of Ireland had taken on a serious list to starboard immediately after the impact, and it grew worse by the minute. Open portholes in the ship’s hull made matters even worse – as soon as they went under, more water was rushing in at a horrifying pace.
For many of the passengers who were asleep in their cabins, there was barely time to understand what was happening before it was all over. A small number of people, mostly from the first class cabins situated on the upper decks, managed to get out on the boat deck. But once there, things did not look much brighter.
Some ten or eleven minutes after the collision, the Empress of Ireland violently lurched over on her starboard side, throwing hundreds of people – including Captain Kendall – into the freezing waters of the St. Lawrence River.Hundreds of people were clinging to the side of the ship, which was now lying completely on its side in the water.
For a short moment, it seemed as if the ship had gone aground and would stay in this position. But suddenly, the Empress of Ireland’s stern rose slightly out of the water, and then the ship slipped beneath the cold waves. Hundreds of people were left in the icy waters, and only four lifeboats had managed to escape the sinking vessel.One of the lucky souls pulled into one of these lifeboats was Captain Kendall.
Pulling survivors from the water, the lifeboats offloaded them on the ship that had crashed into the Empress. The fog was still very dense, and Captain Kendall did not yet know the name or nationality of the ship that had sunk his command.
After several rescue runs with the lifeboats, no more survivors could be found and Captain Kendall gave up the search. He then returned to the Storstad, which was badly damaged but still afloat.
The most terrifying part of the Empress of Ireland’s wreck is the place that is commonly known as ‘The boneyard’. This is in fact the stewards’ dormitory, and it contains the bones of the sixty stewards who were sleeping there at the night of the disaster. Lying in a ghastly rubble, these bones are a horrifying reminder of that hellish night of May 30th, 1914.
|Crude Calculations Lead to Loss of Italian Beauty|
In 1956, miscalculations, assumptions and intense fog resulted in the 12,000 ton Stolkholm colliding with the Andrea Doria.
Decisions based on unfounded assumptions rather than facts, combined with a false sense of faith in radar technology, resulted in a collision that may have been easily prevented. Because of the slow sinking of the Andrea Doria many passengers were saved.
The Captain's overconfidence in technology was the largest contributing factor to the sinking of the Andrea. By the mid-1950s, with the postwar passenger boom at its peak, more than 50 passenger liners sailed the sealanes between Europe and America.
The Andrea Doria was equipped with the latest in navigational equipment, including two sets of radar. Yet the Andrea Doria was destined to become the last great lost ship of a transatlantic passenger era that was about to fade away.
On the evening of July 25, 1956, two passenger ships were converging on a point southwest of the Nantucket Lightship. The 697-foot-long Andrea Doria, carrying a nearly full complement of 1,706 passengers and crew, was nearing the end of a mostly sunny and uneventful nine-day voyage from Genoa to New York.
The Stockholm, at 528 feet in length and only 12,165 tons, one of the smallest of the new postwar liners, was just beginning its homeward voyage to Sweden. It was standard policy in the Swedish Line, as on most liners, for only one officer and two seamen to stand each bridge watch.
At 10:20 p.m., the Andrea Doria came abeam of the Nantucket Lightship, and Captain Calamai ordered a new course that aimed directly at the Ambrose Lightship, which marks the mouth of New York harbor. The two ships were now approaching on roughly parallel courses, but being still beyond the range of each other's radar were as yet unaware of each other's presence.
To complicate matters, the Andrea Doria was steaming in fog, while the Stockholm sailed through a clear night bathed in moonlight. Officer Carstens-Johannsen had no inkling of the fogbank that lay just ahead. Given the circumstances, neither ship was exercising maximum caution.Although the Andrea Doria had been through patchy fog, Captain Calamai had only slightly reduced his speed.
The Stockholm should have expected fog on the waters south of Nantucket Island because the cold Labrador Current encountered the warm Gulf Stream. The ship was also traveling to the north of the recommended outbound route on a course likely to bring it into contact with incoming ships in one of the busiest sealanes in the world.
The Andrea Doria, whose radar had a slightly greater range than the Stockholm's, detected an oncoming ship at about 10:45 p.m. at a distance of about 17 nautical miles. Curzio Franchini, the ship's second officer, alerted the captain, and Calamai immediately requested the other ship's bearing. She was only four degrees off the starboard bow -- in other words, almost dead ahead.
This information didn't worry the Andrea Doria's captain or the two watch officers on the bridge. There was ample time and distance to pass the oncoming vessel with plenty of room. They had done so a thousand times before with a thousand other ships. Only one important decision needed to be made -- whether to pass the ship to port or starboard.
According to Franchini, the oncoming ship continued to bear slight to the right, causing Captain Calamai to begin to think it was a small coastal vessel that would soon turn north to Nantucket.
On board the Stockholm, things were seen differently. A ship was seen 12 nautical miles away on radar, slightly to port. Acting according to standard Swedish line procedure, he plotted the course of the oncoming vessel, which required two radar fixes. By the time he'd completed his calculations, the other ship was fewer than six miles away. As soon as the other ship came into view, Carstens told himself, he would alter course to starboard, so as to increase the width of their passing distance.
After several minutes, he began to wonder why the other ship's lights did not appear. He could still see the moon and the possibility he was sailing into a fogbank seems never to have occurred to him. Those navigating the two ships racing toward each other at a combined speed of roughly 40 knots had somehow come to opposite conclusions.
Aboard the Andrea Doria, the approaching ship seemed to be maintaining a position just off the starboard bow. According to the Stockholm's radar, the other vessel seemed clearly to be a few degrees to port and on a parallel course. One of the radar sets, or one of the men who read them, was wrong.
Captain Calamai's faith in the radar caused him to make one of his most controversial decisions of the night. He decided to pass the approaching vessel starboard side to starboard side.
Standard procedure when two ships meet at sea is for a port-side-to-port-side passing, but the Andrea Doria's skipper thought he had good reason for making an exception. The other ship was already to starboard -- or so he believed. A port-side passing would mean crossing her bow and sailing closer to more heavily traveled coastal waters. Given the wide and empty ocean to his left, it seemed natural to stay port and stay clear.
About 11:05 p.m., with the other ship about three and a half nautical miles away, Captain Calamai ordered a small four-degree course change to port to increase the passing distance. Neither ship had yet seen the other, except on radar. Just as the Andrea Doria changed course, the two ships finally made visual contact. Only two miles now separated them, a perilously short distance, given their combined speed. They were converging at a slight angle, so that the Andrea Doria saw lights to its right and the Stockholm lights to its left.Thus the first sight of the other ship only reinforced the false assumptions on each bridge: The other vessel was where it was expected.
On the Stockholm's bridge, Carstens now issued an order he might more wisely have given long before -- a sharp turn to starboard to give the oncoming ship a wider berth. Unfortunately for him, Captain Calamai remained convinced the Stockholm would pass him safely starboard to starboard. Without realizing it, Carstens was turning his ship toward the Andrea Doria's course. And he failed to signal his turn with the usual blasts on the ship's whistle.
Then the bridge telephone rang and he turned way to answer it. For a split second, after replacing the receiver, Captain Calamai couldn't believe what he was seeing. The other ship was turning right! Then the red light appeared, indicating the ship was showing its port side, confirming the worst. "She is turning, she is turning! She is coming toward us." All 39 of Captain Calamai's years at sea must have passed in front of his eyes in the instant before he called out his next order. Had experience prepared him for this, his greatest test? "Tutto sinistra," he called out. "Full left."
But a huge ocean liner going nearly full speed doesn't turn on a dime. On board the Stockholm, Carstens brought his gaze back from the bridge telephone, still assuming all ahead of him was fine. The stranger was turning across his bow! He wrenched the handle of the engine telegraph to full astern and shouted to his helmsman, "Hard-a-starboard!" It was too little, too late.
Within a few minutes of the collision, the list exceeded 20 degrees, a point beyond which the system of watertight compartments was compromised. Since the ship seemed likely to capsize before rescue could arrive, Captain Calamai quickly took steps to organize the evacuation of the Andrea Doria by lifeboat. But the crew dispatched to swing out the port-side boats discover that the ship's list now exceeded the maximum angle that allowed them to do so. A surfeit of lifeboats had suddenly become a shortage.
Fully loaded, the starboard side boats could carry only 1,044 of the 1,706 on board. This grim echo of the Titanic's predicament may explain why Calamai never sounded the abandon-ship signal. Perhaps he feared a panic.
In the end, all the passengers not killed by the Andrea Doria's initial collision were saved. The first boats did not leave the ship until an hour after the collision, and were full of mostly crew members. The tourist class had to fight their way through oily sea water to make it safetly onto deck.
When Captain Calamai finally decided to leave the ship, after much protest, it was 5:30 a.m. The Andrea Doria finally sank 11 hours after the collision, at 10:09 a.m. on July 26. It capsized and sank at 10:09 a.m.
The fate of the Andrea could have been much worse, had the initial fear of Captain Calamai of a quick sinking been realized. The tragedy could have amounted to something of Titanic scale.
|Cape Sable Catastrophe|
On February 19th 1860, off the coast of Cape Sable, Nova Scotia, the S.S. Hungarian experienced a total loss of life. Despite the six lifeboats, not a single life was saved as a result of the Captain's rash decisions. Below is an account of the fateful night when it is speculated that a Captain gambled with the fate of his crew and passengers, and ultimately lost.
Newspaper report, 1860
The loss of the S.S. Hungarianhas thrown gloom over the whole of British America, for although there could be no absolute certainty on the subject, it was feared that among her ill-fated passengers there were several well-know colonists, whose families and friends were overwhelmed with anxiety for their fate.
Nothing had been seen of the ships' lifeboats, of which there were six very superior ones on board, and, excepting a few spars and a portion of the mail bags, nothing had been washed ashore from the wreck.
The Canadian Royal Mail steam ship Hungarian, which left Liverpool on the 8th, was totally lost on the night of the 19th on Cape Ledge, the west side of Cape Sable, Nova Scotia. Up to the 26th no communication with the wreck was possible owing to the weather.
The weather was very stormy at the time of the wreck and no assistance could be rendered from the shore. At daybreak on the 20th one mast was standing, with men on it, but soon after it went over.
Pieces of woodwork, with small portions of the mail and the bodies of a man and a child, have drifted ashore, but no fragments of the boats have been found. A dispatch from Ragged Island, dated the 24th ultimo, to the Postmaster-General, says the supplementary mail bags for Canada and New York were picked up in a safe but damaged state, and were awaiting orders.
The latest intelligence is dated Halifax, Feb.27, which says: —"The steam ship Hungarian lies one mile from shore, in twelve feet of water, visible at low water. The bay is covered with portions of the ship and cargo, a large amount of which will be saved."
The Hungarian was the newest steamer, except the Bohemian, at present on the line, and she was considered in many respects the finest vessel and had made some of the quickest passages. She had been running about 18 months, and her value is estimated between £40,000 to £50,000.
Her crew numbered 80, and she took out on the 9th, from Queenstown, about 15 cabin and 40 steerage passengers and a general cargo. The total number of souls on board is, therefore estimated at from 130 to 140.
Although the actual reason for the sinking of the Hungarian is not known, it most likely can be attributed to the recklessness and need for speed that so many captains impressed on their crew and used to motivate their decisions. When the fate of so many lives depends on one man, selfish and rash choices are inexcusable.