Without the aid of NOAA weather radio or hurricane and storm tracking software, sailors had to rely on their weather eye and sound judgment to head for shore or batten down the hatches for a storm. Shown here is the watercolor of the TROVATORE which wrecked when a waterspout hit it in the Mediterranean.
Oliver Park relates the story: “When I came on deck I found a severe squall a-coming… When the squall passed, which it did almost instantly, there was not a breath of air stirring. When it stopped, it stopped all at once. Voices sounded like hollering in a barrel. We staid [sic] in that state for a few moments. Then … a downpour of wind and water struck us. The last I saw was yards flying in all directions. Then I was submerged in water, and knew that the vessel was blown over on her side. The water was coming over me in such torrents that I thought the vessel was upside down and I was under her. But I happened to be on the upper side, and having to catch my breath I found I got a little air, and I hung on. Almost instantly the downpour of water stopped, and it stopped all at once.
A waterspout is like a tornado that picks up houses, only on the ocean it sucks up water into a big balloon-shaped body of water on a neck. When that neck hits something the water in the balloon comes down. At the moment when that deluge of water poured over me, it was pitch dark, so I couldn’t see a thing, but in all probability the neck of the waterspout hit the vessel, and the water in the balloon-shaped part came down on us. When that downpour of water stopped so suddenly, the darkness grew less, and I could dimly see the state we were in. The masts were in the water, and the broad side of the vessel was up. I managed to climb up on the broadside, which was badly stove in.
[Emma Blanchard (wife of Captain James Blanchard) was stuck below was hollering]… She wanted to know if she couldn’t come out. Captain told her yes. I threw a rope down to where she was. Captain slid down on the skylight. She reached out and he took her by the hand. But he could not save her, for at that very moment, as we could tell by the sound, she died with her hand clasped in his. Instantly the vessel pitched forward, going down. I started and ran, and jumped right off the keel.
In the Water
The next thing I knew, I was being tumbled and jumbled upside down, going down in the suction of the vessel. But being a good swimmer from childhood, I knew what to do when I was in the water…In my aimless swimming I finally chanced to face west where a glimmer of light sky showed the breaking of the storm; and between me and that light streak I saw a dark object bobbing up and down. I …found it to be one of the main deck hatches about three feet wide and six feet long. …I found it would partially bear me up by lying lengthwise on it, concave side up, with my hand paddling at the side, stomach down.
I floated around on that for an indefinite period of time until I accidently ran afoul of another exactly like it. I got that other hatch and I wiggled around, and worked around and got under that other hatch crosswise. When I had the two of them, I could sit up instead of lying down, with only my legs in the water, but I didn’t have any rope to fasten them together, so I had to hold one against the other.
In the meantime the clouds had all rolled away, and a bright moon had come out. In the morning, I kept up a hollering all the time….[eventually] I heard the sound of a fog horn. Then I knew someone had heard my voice and was answering with a fog horn…. When the boat came up to me I reached out and caught the gunwale of the boat. But at that point the reaction set in and I had no control of my muscles. The men reached out and hauled me into the boat. I was so benumbed and bewildered I couldn’t speak.
It proved to be an Italian vessel…, they took me to the ship, where the other sailors rigged up a boswain’s [sic] chair which they put me in and hauled me aboard the vessel….and put me in a bunk.
One of only three survivors of the waterspout disaster, Oliver Park shipped back to New York aboard an American brig. His mother had heard the report that the TROVATORE had been lost, and only one officer and two sailors saved. Captain Greene Park, a captain with whom Oliver had served in the past, had reassured her and the whole neighborhood that “if swimming had anything to do with it I was the officer saved, for I was like a duck in water.”
Captain’s sons who wanted to go to sea learned on ships commanded by their father’s friends and colleagues. It was a sad day when a ship went down with young men aboard. The story of the wreck of the ELIZABETH is one of loss for four Searsport families. Her master, Captain John Herbert Colcord, was travelling with his wife and two children, who were saved, although he died. Also drowned were James Edwin Herriman, 17-year-old son of Captain James Herriman, and Nathan Philip Pendleton, son of Captain Nathan Pendleton. Earlier, James Locke Pendleton, son of Captain James Gilmore Pendleton, was killed falling from the ELIZABETH’s rigging. The Colcords had a long history of trading in San Francisco Harbor, and when the ship went down, Captain Colcord’s loss was felt in his hometown of Searsport and that of San Francisco. A set of resolutions of regret for the untimely death of the Captain, and expressing the high esteem in which he was held, was drawn up by the principal merchants of San Francisco, engrossed and framed, and after being exhibited in the old Merchants’ Exchange, was presented to his widow.
Chief officer W.C. Barclay gave the following account of the loss:
We arrived off San Francisco… Feb. 21, 1891. Despite the offer of two tugs to tow the ship through the Golden Gate, Captain Colcord proceeded under sail until 2 pm, when she was nearly through the Golden Gate, and the wind shifted, heading her off. The tug ALERT, which had followed the ship in, offered to tow us for $50, which offer Captain Colcord accepted … As soon as the tug started ahead, the hawser parted and the ship commenced to drift in towards the shore…The tug came up again and wanted us to take his hawser on our quarter to tow the ship off stern first, as the Captain thought we were setting in shore. As the ship was paying off all right, Captain Colcord ordered the tug to pass the hawser over the bow and go ahead, which was done and proceeded towards the city….The ship at this time was drifting steadily to leeward, there being a strong and increasing breeze and the tug being unable to make any headway. At about 4pm the ship struck heavily on Four Fathom Bank or Potato Patch, the tug still towing and whistling for assistance. Soon after striking, the hawser broke or was cut away. Part of the ship’s keel floated alongside and the ship commenced to leak badly….The tug RELIANCE now came to us and the ALERT went away. Captain Colcord ordered the second cutter launched to carry his wife and two children to the tug, but she swamped under …with three men in her, they being picked up by the tug. The dingie was then launched with mate Barclay and two men…Captain Colcord persuaded his family to get in the boat. They were taken on board the RELIANCE and the dingie again returned to the ship. By this time the ACTIVE had passed her hawser to the ship, she having worked over the bank…Captain Colcord decided to get the ship into the harbor and beach her, if a suitable place could be found. The RELIANCE made fast to the ACTIVE and towed ahead of her but the ship drifted steadily leeward all the time, the wind having increased to a heavy gale. Captain Colcord ordered…the long boat turned over…Mr. Barclay went forward and seeing the ship was close in to the breakers, launched the boat at once, put three men in her and ordered the second mate and boatswain not to allow the boat to leave the ship until he returned with the master. Mr. Barclay then went aft to get the Captain, who had been injured in the side…but…the ship’s stern struck and she swung around broadside to the beach, with heavy seas breaking over her, it being about 7 pm…Captain Colcord was told that the boat was ready and that it was time to leave the ship. He at first demurred, saying he was too much hurt to help himself, but he was finally persuaded to make an attempt. While Mr. Barclay and one of the crew were assisting him along the main deck, a heavy sea came on board and injured him so that he died. Mr. Barclay then went forward and found that the boat with 13 men in her had left the ship and could not return, leaving 9 on board. We secured ourselves as well as possible forward. About 8 pm the masts commenced to come down and the ship to break up, driving us out on the bowsprit. A heavy sea washed us overboard and only Mr. Barclay succeeded in reaching the shore alive. Four of the men from the longboat also got ashore. The tugs had disappeared in the darkness.”
Of the 29 persons on board, 18 were lost.
When a ship suffers disaster far away from the nearest Coast Guard Base, the Coast Guard puts out a call to other civilian and naval ships in the distressed vessels area to come to their aid. This age old tradition of assisting your fellow mariners in need often goes unheeded. The Ladies Seamen’s Friend Society ensured that recognition went to these civilian rescuers, as evidenced by this silver medal given to Albert A. Gould of Lincolnville for his assistance in the rescue of the schooner JANE’s crew.
The schooner JANE of Bangor, ME dragged onto the rocks at the entrance to New Haven Harbor, Connecticut and sank at 2 am on February 28, 1884 during a furious gale. The thermometer only registered 6 degrees above zero. News of the wreck reached New Haven at 8 am and numerous rescue attempts were enacted. The tug WILLIAM narrowly escaped swamping in the heavy seas in the first rescue attempt. The captain of the WILLIAM joined the tug FREDERICK C. IVES crew. Nearing the wreck, the tug’s yawl attempted to reach the schooner, but was too frail and small for such work. The tug could not approach any closer without wrecking on the reef itself. Heading back for the harbor, they borrowed the yawl of the schooner ROBERT MORGAN, as well as two of the MORGAN’s crew. Four volunteers in the yawl were able to rescue the JANE’s captain and two of her crew by passing several times over the wreck between her masts, rather than tying off and risking swamping the yawl. The JANE’s crew had lashed themselves into the rigging, and had to time their descent down the icy shrouds of the schooner and into the yawl. The fourth crewmember, Elsen, was too benumbed with cold to descend the rigging and it was impossible for the volunteers to rescue him as they became frostbitten and the yawl iced up. They promised to return speedily and took the three crewmembers ashore. The tug returned to port and borrowed the yawl of the schooner EMMA F. ANGELL and eight volunteers, including Capt. Albert A. Gould of Lincolnville, who proceeded out into the gale, which still howled with unabated fury, and struggled for an hour to return to the wreck but, succumbing to frostbite, returned to shore to dry out and try again in the afternoon after the storm began to abate. Darkness set in when they reached the wreck, but they found Elsen still alive. In a lull in the wind, a volunteer sprang into the rigging and with much difficulty helped the Elsen down into the yawl. They rowed as quickly as they could back to shore and Elsen was taken to the hospital in New Haven. The howling of the tempest, the dangerous character of the sea and the intense cold were almost enough to deter the stoutest hearts from venturing out, and it was great wonder that no one died.
War put civilian merchant ships at risk as the opposing side sought to disrupt commerce. The Confederate raiders terrorized Yankee shipping on the high seas. The JOSEPH PARK of Searsport was burned by the Confederate privateer SUMTER.
A sister ship from Searsport, the DELPHINE with Captain William Greene Nichols and his wife Lillias aboard, was taken by the SHENANDOAH in the Indian Ocean on December 29, 1864. Lillias fought the Confederate’s fire with a tongue-lashing of her own. A newspaper article commemorating Lillias’ 90th birthday tells the tale:
The SHENANDOAH lulled her victims into a false sense of security by flying the English flag. Seeing another ship on the broad ocean provided crews and captains with a chance for a social call, and as Captain Nichols saw SHENANDOAH approach, he drew closer for a chat. Once in range though, the SHENANDOAH fired a blank shot and then began clearing away her two forward guns, which caused Captain Nichols to hove to. Lieut. Waddell of the SHENANDOAH informed Nichols that the vessel would be sunk, to which Nichols informed him that his wife was aboard and she was a delicate and nervous woman who would not survive the transfer to the Confederate ship. Waddell seriously considered allowing the DELPHINE go, but had the ship’s surgeon check on Mrs. Nichols, who turned out to be a robust woman with strong nerves and an acid tongue.
The transfer of Lillias, her son Phineas aged six, and the steward’s wife was effected by a bosun’s chair from the SHENANDOAH. Lillias insisted on bringing her canary bird in its cage and with perfect self-possession ordered the sailors of SHENANDOAH when to raise and lower the chair. Once aboard the Confederate vessel, she inquired of Lieut. Waddell what he intended to do with them and where they would be landed. When Waddell informed her they would be landed on the island of St. Paul, an inhospitable volcanic rock in the South Indian Ocean, she replied; “Never, I would rather stay with you.”
The SHENANDOAH set fire to the DELPHINE, and she drifted out of sight with her sails ablaze, a mass of flame and smoke. Capt. Nichols took the loss hard, and as he was pacing a Lieut. Chew of the SHENANDOAH tried to comfort him saying “Captain, just think that if at daylight this morning you had changed your course a quarter of a point, you would have passed out of our reach and sight.” To which Nichols replied: “That shows how darn little you know about it. This morning at daylight I just did change my course a quarter of a point and that’s what fetched me here.”
The SHENANDOAH took the prisoners to Hobson’s Bay in Australia near Melbourne. The books Lillias had brought onboard were returned to her, except for Uncle Tom’s Cabin which was tossed overboard and Capt. Nichols ship’s chronometer was kept. Lillias’ reaction was “If those chronometers and sextants were mine, I guess I’d make them give them to me.” Her last words to the SHENANDOAH crew were “I wish that steamer may be burned.”
As shipping traffic increased in the 1800s, the number of collisions between ships rose. The reason? “The other guy wasn’t paying attention and hit me” or “I had the right of way!” The rules of the road (sailing vessels with less maneuverability have right of way over small powered vessels, large tankers which have a slow response time in stopping or turning, have right of way over everyone) lessen the collisions, but only if there are no dare devils and if everyone is paying attention.
On the night of June 7, 1885, the ship CLARISSA B. CARVER of Searsport sailed into Hiogo Bay headed for the port of Kobe, Japan. Bearing down on her was the British steamer GLENMORGANSHIRE. Captain Leroy Dow of the CARVER ascertained that he had the right-of-way and his own vessel’s running lights were burning brightly, and ordered his helmsmen to hold his course. The GLENMORGANSHIRE stayed on the collision course until she was three lengths from the CARVER, then turned her helm hard-a-port to cross the CARVER’s bow, instead the collision sank the CARVER in 40 minutes and so severely damaged the steamer that she had to be beached. Luckily the wind was light and the sea smooth, and the crew of the CARVER was able to abandon ship, save the flag, and row ashore.
Dow immediately secured the services of British lawyer Lowder to institute proceedings against the steamer to recover damages. While he waited for the case to go to trial, Dow secured a job clerking for American ships discharging and loading cargo in Kobe. Dow was given an advance on the $1500 court fees by Dr. Charles Goddard Weld of Boston (one of the original rusticators on North Haven), who only asked that Dow send him the amount, with no interest, if Dow won the case. In all the case took a year and four months to try in British Admiralty Court. The owners of the CARVER sued for $100,000 in damages and the GLAMORGANSHIRE counter sued for $61,500.
The masters of both vessels, crew members, divers and nautical assessors were called in to testify. The case hinged on whether the steamer had seen the green starboard running light of the CARVER and had taken proper precautions to avoid her, as she had right-of-way. Testimony showed the light was burning brightly, but not observed by the steamer’s lookout, who one judge noted, was “not a sharp hand.” The judges ruled in favor of the CARVER, awarding $100,000 in damages.