Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Waratah - sister ship Geelong.

It is important to have a closer look at the Geelong, the Waratah's sister ship, on which the Waratah was based. Also built by Barclay Curle Whiteinch of Glasgow, the Geelong was roughly 8000 grosse tons (2000 less than the Waratah) and launched in 1904 for the Blue Anchor Line. She was 450 ft long, 15 ft shorter than the Waratah, and could accommodate 90 first class and 450 third class passengers.

What is quite surprising and alarming considering that she preceded the Waratah by 4 years, was the fact that she was equipped with  radio wireless, whereas the Waratah was not. Had the fitting out of the Waratah taken short cuts to accommodate the limited budget? Geelong had similar refrigeration equipment and electrical lighting which suited her dual purpose of passenger emigration to Australia and a predominance of cargo transport on the return leg to the UK.

Her power source came in the form of 4 boilers feeding twin triple expansion 3-cylinder engines coupled to twin shafts and screws (propellers). This combination generated 803 n.h.p which translated into a cruising speed of 12 knots.

Important to note that captain Ilbery commanded the Geelong between 1904 to 1907, and was intimately familiar with both ships. When the proposal for the Waratah was placed on the board table at the Blue Anchor Line, the Geelong was used as a template and point of departure for the bigger Waratah. The crucial difference between the two vessels, Geelong had two superstructure decks, whereas the Waratah had three. This departure was to raise many questions regarding the Waratah's stability - was she top heavy?

The Geelong was in service from 1904 through to November 1915.  Initially she serviced the same route as the Waratah and was therefore subjected to similar sea and weather conditions.  In fact, she was one of the ships tasked to look for the Waratah at the end of July. She did not succumb to heavy seas nor issues relating to instability. In fact Mrs Hay who had voyaged on both steamers believed the Waratah was more comfortable and stable. But there were many observers who believed otherwise.

The Geelong was sold to P&O Line for 88 426 pounds when the Blue Anchor Line folded, and after modifications, was able to accommodate 700 3rd class passengers continuing with the UK, Australia run. She provided service in the First World War and was converted to transport 62 officers and 1539 additional personnel. The Geelong was lost 01 January 1916 after a collision with another Allied vessel, the SS Bonvilston, with no loss of life.

The Geelong came under the spotlight at the Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah and some extracts are as follows:

"The owners intended Waratah to be an improved "Geelong," the previous addition to the Blue Anchor fleet, and the specification for the new vessel was based upon the existing specification of the "Geelong."

"Rough sketches were drawn out by the owners' representatives showing the general arrangement of the ship wanted, and the subdivision of the holds. These sketches were sent to various builders as a guide to quote upon. and they were asked to draw out plans on the basis of the sketches."

"The plans selected as best fulfilling the owners' requirements were from a builder whose tender was not accepted; but these plans were forwarded to Messrs. Barclay. Curle""

"We would refer to our letters of the 3rd and 13th December, 1907, and your reply of the 14th December, 1907, referring to deadweight and stability."

"Regarding the former, the cargo on the first voyage was not such as would allow us to test the lifting, but as regards the stability, from what our representatives report, it seems clear that Waratah has not the same stability as 'Geelong.' Will you please inform us if your heeling tests prove this?"

So, from the outset it does appear that despite the similarities and only a difference of 15 ft in length, the Geelong was believed to be more stable than the Waratah - this relating to the crucial third deck on the Waratah.

"Our calculations show that with the ship empty the initial stability is the same as the 'Geelong.'"
came the response from  Barclay, Curle & Co., Ltd.,

"We have consulted Captain Ilbery, and he has been able to convince us that this vessel has not the same stability as the 'Geelong,' and considering he was present during the construction of these two vessels, and has commanded them both, he is in a perfect position to judge this and all other matters."

This paragraph is damning to say the least.  Captain Ilbery was indeed in a perfect position to compare the performance of both vessels.

"Our contract was that this vessel should have a greater stability than the 'Geelong,' which has not been carried out. We consider also that the contract conditions for shifting the vessel with no ballast, and also for going to sea with ballast, and bunkers and reserve bunkers full, have not been fulfilled."

Messrs Lund of the Blue Anchor Line, were in no mood to mince their words when corresponding with Barclay Curle and Co and the issue of stability may have been a smokescreen hiding the fact that the builders were significantly behind with the agreed delivery date of the Waratah - demurrage being more of an issue.

"It being your responsibility that the design and plans would permit of the conditions as agreed, we must hold you responsible for anything that may happen, and we will record again our protest to your objection to supply us with a copy of the lines of this vessel's hull; we consider, as before mentioned, that we are entitled to all and any plan in connection with the construction of our ship, although the responsibility of the vessel's performance is entirely with you."

"Following on the last letter, Mr. Peck (a director of Messrs. Barclay, Curle) called and saw Messrs. Lund. He fixed the date of the interview as about the 23rd of April, 1908. Mr. Peck says he assured them that in any condition the "Waratah" was as stable as the "Geelong," and they accepted that statement."

"There was never," he said (paragraph 563 of the printed evidence) "any question raised between us with regard to the vessel at sea." After putting this complexion upon the interview Mr. Peck in his evidence dealt only with the moving of the ship in dock."

"Mr. Lund gave a similar account of this interview. He represented himself as easily satisfied by Mr. Peck's assurances. The correspondence cannot be reconciled with this account of the interview.

Captain Ilbery, "a most experienced captain," who "undoubtedly knew a very great deal about ships in every way," and by whom "we were guided in most things" (answer 2797), and who moreover "has commanded them both" (i.e., "Geelong" and "Waratah") and "is in a perfect position to judge" had been "able to convince us that this vessel has not the same stability as the 'Geelong,'" and "we consider that the contract conditions . . . . . . for going to sea with ballast, and bunkers and reserve bunkers full have not been fulfilled;" yet a few words from Mr. Peck settle the whole matter. His mere assurance carries more weight than Captain Ilbery's considered representations."

It is surprising and alarming that Captain Ilbery's experienced comments were relegated by the reassurances of Mr Peck. Captain Ilbery, after the maiden voyage, claimed that once the stowage plan for the Waratah was refined, she was:

'as steady as a rock'

When the proverbial push came to shove, Waratah was required at sea, on duty and Captain Ilbery was tasked to keep her functional and on schedule, despite initial reservations.




SS Geelong - a virtual 'identikit' of the SS Waratah

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