Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Waratah - build-quality compromised.

The Waratah cost the Blue Anchor Line 139 000 pounds to build in 1908. If we compare the Waratah's specifications and build cost with those of the Marama (similar triple deck design):

                                          Waratah                                                      Marama

length:                                   465 ft                                                         420 ft

gross tonnage:                       9 339.07                                                      6437

passenger capacity:                1032 (432 cabins + dormitories)                    488

first class passengers:             110 cabins and staterooms                           270

cost:                                      139 000 pounds                                          166 000 pounds

The Waratah was larger but yet cost less than the Marama to build. Why? If we look closely at the figures there is one component that could account for this:

The Marama had a greater number of cabins and first class accommodation than the Waratah.

The Marama was noted for her lavish fittings.

The Waratah's first class accommodation and facilities were also luxurious but perhaps not as opulent as the Marama's. If we compare the Waratah specifications with another cargo / passenger steamer of 1908, RMS Hilary, the comparative chart is as follows:

                                              Waratah                                                     Hilary

length:                                     465 ft                                                        418 ft

gross tonnage:                         9 339.07                                                    6329

passenger capacity:                  1032                                                           500

first class:                                110 cabins and staterooms                          200

cost:                                        139 000 pounds                                          124 000 pounds

In this case we have an example of a steamer, also smaller than the Waratah, costing less than the Waratah, which on the surface seems to make sense. However, there are differences applying to both the Hilary and the Marama worth pointing out:

The Waratah had a comparatively large gross tonnage of 9 339.07, +/- 32% more than the other two vessels, even though she was only 10% longer. This might explain why, despite twin quadruple expansion engines, the Waratah with an average speed of 13.5 knots was slower than the competition.
Waratah's power output of 5400 ihp was significantly less than equivalent steamers of the time.

With dormitories deployed, the Waratah also had a far larger passenger capacity - more than double. The passenger capacity numbers (432 cabins) would be more comparable if one subtracted the emigrant component of the Waratah's outbound voyages. Clearly the Lunds were getting more out of their investment, with potential for a far greater profit margin, even taking into consideration the elevated first class fares of the other two vessels.

One does wonder if the Waratah's hull was up to the job of transporting so much more? There are anecdotal reports of boltheads coming loose and gaps opening up in the superstructure after the Waratah's maiden voyage. This might in part have been related to reports of the Waratah grounding at Kangaroo Island (if this was true).

An important question is raised:

Despite an acceptable triple deck design and Lloyd's monitoring of the construction process, were the quality of building materials, attention to detail and overall size enough for the task at hand? Did the build cost equate with what was expected of the Waratah?

We can assume that the overall build quality was acceptable to the Lloyd's assessor and insurance cover verifies this point. However, the steel used was high in sulphur content, making it brittle and susceptible to fracture in certain conditions. It is possible that the 'acceptable forces' exerted on the Waratah's hull were exacerbated by the rough seas and cargo tonnage (just short of 10 000 tons and her gross tonnage) beyond that which the hull steel could withstand. With or without pre-existing hull plate and rivet damage, fatal cracks and leaks may have manifested 27 July. It is not a leap of faith to imagine structural compromise played a part in the ultimate demise of the great ship - so much more was expected of her than the build budget allowed.

SS Minnewaska (1908) foredeck - note triple deck configuration

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