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.”