Monday, 7 April 2014

Lost in the Pacific (VI)

This is just one of a series of around fifty old newspaper articles that I have been reading. I have been researching from old newspapers and magazines. Covering the last 200 years or so of life on the inland waterways. With particular interest in the major issues of the day that were effecting the canals. The most active periods for evaluation and change, has always been just prior, during and shortly after the two world wars. It should be remembered that between the wars the ownership of some of the canals changed hands as the railway companies bought up the waterways to get reduce competition. What is not clear is the effect this early form of asset stripping had on the viability of the inland waterways. Its good to take a look back at what people were saying and doing in the past. Most surprising of all are some of the problems that beset the canals back then - are still prevalent today. Reading old newspapers can throw up some rather interesting stories. Here is what we would call today a public interest story.

Caveat: Some of the articles are difficult to read and even using modern electronic  scanning and text conversion methods. The odd punctuation, word or character may have been transcribed in error. 



A ship no matter where she came from or where she was going was my greatest concern. Presently the little curl of smoke became so prominent that there could be no question regarding its arrival from the top of its mast rising above the horizon, followed by the funnel itself, and then the dim outline of the upper portion of ship's hull In an instant my plan of action was outlined and under way. I pulled down the sail got out Morrison's wet and bedraggled flag and ran it up the mast upside down the distress signal recognised in every sea. In another minute I had the motor started and began heading directly into the path, of the oncoming steamer. By the time I got in line her entire hull had risen above the horizon. Then I began zigzagging from left to right and going round in circles. I knew that a boat the size of the King Tut-Tut is a mighty small object as seen from the deck of a steamer in the open ocean, and I didn't propose to take any chance of letting the watchers on the ship over look me. I kept up these antics until the ship was within a mile of me, when a long blast of her siren indicated to me that I'd been sighted by those aboard. A few minutes after the ship's engines were shut down a man evidently an officer appeared on the starboard side of the bridge and began beckoning me to come alongside. In almost less time than it takes to tell it I had my boat close to the steamer's starboard side. A seaman came down a rope ladder and threw me a line. Then he jumped into my boat and, speaking in English, said, get aloft there and report to the captain we will take care of your outfit.

I swung for the rope ladder caught it and managed to climb up about three rounds before my arms and legs wilted under me. I fell back into the sea and should have gone adrift but that I managed to catch the bottom rung as it dangled past me. As I hung on gasping I heard a voice on deck shout "here you decky get down there and lift that man up." He's well nigh exhausted. In another minuet I was being carried up the ladder like a bag of meal on the shoulder of a burly seaman, and was deposited exhausted and dripping on top of  a hatch on the quarter deck amidst an astonished group of Englishmen. 

Presently a big. tall Britisher, evidently the Captain of the ship strode forward. Extending his hand he said I am Captain Fentress, sir, master of this vessel. Who in the name of Saint Peter are you and what in blazes are you doing out here trying to cross the Pacific in a punt. I shook hands, apologised for all the trouble I'd put him and his crew to, and then told him my name and how I happened to be adrift in the Pacific with a put-put. You're British, are you not sir? queried the captain. "You don't talk like a Yankee, even though your boat flies the Star and Stripes. No, sir, I replied am an American, but of English and Scots parentage. I also lived in England, which may account for my accent. I see said the captain. "Well, I've picked you up and now I'm going to do the best I can for you. 

Come to my cabin and I'll see that you get some food and dry clothing. You may come from a prohibition country but you look as if a noggin of brandy wouldn't hurt you. Forthwith we adjourned to the captain's cabin, and before leaving the deck I noticed that the ship was under way and that her course was virtually due south. In the cabin Captain Fentress produced a flask of brandy pouring out a drink of  it for me and another for himself. Then, lifting his glass he said: "Here's to the derelict!" I drank the toast, and then his cabin-boy called me saying that my bath and dry clothes were ready. The slight stimulant of the brandy a bath and dry clothes certainly worked wonders. I returned to the captains cabin feeling more like myself again.  Captain Fentress had me sit down at the table where the master had placed a delicious plate of ham and eggs, fresh rolls, and steaming hot coffee.  The captain sat down at the table with I me and began to talk and it was not until then that I thought to  ask him what ship I was on and where she came from, and where she was going. To this the officer replied This ship sir is the Oranasia I reckon you would call her a tramp. We hail from Liverpool and we have come through the Panama Canal bound for Wellington, New Zealand. 

This information nearly caused me to choke on a mouth full of food. Finally however I  managed to find my voice. Wellington New Zealand, that is a voyage of about sis weeks is it not? Aye sir responded the captain, about forty days to be exact. Here was a fate indeed! After narrowly escaping death  I'd been picked up by a ship that was to set me ashore as far from home as it was possible to get on this earth. And at least a months travel on the fastest ships and trains from the place I was attempting to reach on scheduled time.

My dismay must have been evident in spite of  efforts to conceal my disappointment. I said at last. This seems like a very comfortable ship and you have been kind enough to rescue me I' ready to work my passage to New Zealand or Pago Pago whichever you prefer. 

Have you radio equipment aboard? I must get a message ashore. I should let my family know where I am and arrange to have money forwarded to New Zealand so that I might get back to the United States with as little delay as possible. Yes, we have a wireless equipment on board, good for about eight hundred miles, but it is out of order at present, and may not be repaired for two or three days. As soon as it is put to rights you can send your messages to Balboa Panama. Your message can be relayed from there to the States over cables

Meanwhile, you are my guest aboard this ship I will not accept a penny for your transportation to New Zealand. And as for working out your passage, as I say you're to be a passenger. I thanked the captain warmly for this unexpected hospitality. At that moment he was called to the bridge by the first officer and left without giving me the opportunity to further discus my plight with him. I spent the rest of the day and the following night recuperating from my ordeal of three days at sea in an open boat. Getting some much needed rest in the comfortable cabin Captain Fentress has assigned me. 

I scarcely saw the captain until the second evening, when I chanced to meet him on deck and began to press him for some information regarding the repairs to the radio apparatus and to plead with him to speed the job up if possible. So that I might get my messages ashore before the vessel passed out of range of the Balboa station. To this the captain curtly replied, "The work is not yet completed, and we cannot send any messages until it is." With that he walked away. Later in the evening I managed get into conversation with him enough to tell him why I had taken my life in my hands in attempting the voyage from the Pearl Islands to Balboa in a eighteen  foot boat. He listened with apparent interest and said 'well young man  your purpose is commendable and I congratulate you on your spirit. We will get word to your wife as to where you are in due time. But you can't leave this ship until we get to Wellington. I fear your baby will be quite grown up by the time you get back to the United States. This was all the satisfaction to be got out of the captain.
 Continued in part (VII)

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