Litho by M. Reilly
Deep Sea Stories from the Thermopylae Club
Edited by Ursula Jupp.
Published by author. Victoria, BC. 1971.
This story written by F. Walter Hearle.
Mr. Hearle was born in the Cornish village of St. Constantine, he apprenticed on the barque PENRHYN CASTLE and finished his maritime career in Victoria, BC, preparing huge warps for tugs towing great booms to the mills and making nets for the life-saving Carley floats during WW II. Several of Hearle's valuable stories were archived by the Thermopylae Club, Victoria, BC.
A Heavy Gale––1902
"This is an account of one of the heaviest gales I was ever in at sea. I do not say that it was worse than the other shipmates of the THERMOPYLAE have been through, for everyone who goes to sea gets into real bad weather sometime.
The time of which I am writing was the year 1902. We were bound from Tacoma to Durban, South Africa with a cargo of flour and canned fruit. We left Tacoma on 17 March. The run down to the Horn was uneventful. We rounded the Horn on 13 May with a westerly gale behind us.
It never left us till we were off the Cape of Good Hope.
For nearly two weeks we ran before it with the seas getting heavier all the time. They would come rolling up astern looking like hills with the wind blowing spray from their crests and just when it looked as if they were going to bury the ship she would rise to them, though they generally broke on board from both sides and filled the decks to the rail.
It became a common occurrence for seas to break on board all the way from poop to the forecastle head and often they would break right over the top of the deck-house and fill the boats, bursting in the covers.
There were life-lines stretched along on deck on each side and the fore braces were led along to the bitts on the fore deck as it was impossible to stand amidships and brace the yards.
There was no fresh water to drink as the pumps were continually under water. We used water out of a barrel in the life-boat but it was so bad we could hardly drink it.
One evening in the second dog watch I was returning some mess tins to the galley. It was quite dark at the time. I worked my way along the deck on the port side and just as I came around the corer of the deck house I saw a tremendous sea roll up to the rail on the starboard side, shining with phosphorous. I should imagine it was about twenty feet high where it broke over the side.
I dropped the mess tins, which I never saw again, and grabbed the life-line. My feet were swept from under me and I was in solid green water like one drowning.
The same sea broke in the two-inch teak galley door and washed away the winch abaft the main hatch, breaking the castings just above the deck.The winch went into the scuppers, the broken castings plowing up the deck as it went. It took about half the next watch to get it lashed; it was under water most of the time. One man stood in the main rigging with a lantern while the rest of us lashed it to the bulwark stanchions.
Just at seven bells in the 4 to 8 watch the next morning she took the biggest sea of all. I had just gone into the half-deck to call the watch below and had no sooner closed the door than it came on board with a roar. I felt the ship tremble and then she seemed to go dead as if she had settled down. It was daylight at the time and for several seconds the solid green water stood against the porthole and squirted in all around the door––and that was a deck house!
The second mate, who was on watch, said that as far as he could see there was nothing but the three masts out of water. The only damage it did was to flood the cabin, every room there was awash.
That evening the captain decided to try to heave to despite the risk. We got her around all right but she still continued to keep the decks full of water. The green seas came over the bows so bad that we had to keep look out from the roof of the deckhouse. We could tell that the side lights were burning by watching the reflection against the water every time she took a sea. It was no use to strike the bells as the bell was tolling continuously with the motion of the ship.
I was on the roof of the deckhouse on the look out from ten to midnight. Just before eight bells she shipped a sea. It must have broken exactly as it met her for she shook as if she had struck something solid. I don't know how high that sea mounted but in the distance it looked as if it was coming over the foreyard.
The main topmast staysail was stowed at my feet and when the sea struck me the clew of the sail dragged me off my feet and I seemed to go away in a solid body of water. I didn't know where I was. When I got hold of something solid I found I was on the main deck amidships, jammed between the deck spar and the bulwarks.
The next day we found that the bulwarks were bent where that sea had struck her, several stanchions were started and the door of the wash port was gone.
The half deck was never clear of water for weeks. Our chests were afloat most of the time and were moored at both ends like ships at a wharf. The bunks got so wet that we had to sleep in the sail locker.
This gale continued till we were off the African coast. We arrived at Durban on 10 June, 28 days from Cape Horn and 85 from Tacoma."