Wednesday, 25 November 2015

WERE ANY HULL PLATES CRACKED BY THE FORCE?

William. Dow

Pilot under Marine Board of Victoria.

Holds a master's certificate.

I piloted the ship from the Railway Pier at Melbourne to the pilot station outside Port Phillip Heads.

She appeared to be staunch and in every way fit for the voyage. I saw nothing while on board to make me alter that opinion, and I had the same opinion when I left her. I saw no sign of a list on her while at the pier or going down the Bay, neither did she appear to be tender.

As I had not piloted her before, and the captain was an old acquaintance, I took particular notice of the vessel, and her condition and behaviour.

The sea conditions in the Bay, so far as I remember them, were exceptionally good, and the vessel behaved well. There was no rolling or pitching, but she went along as steadily as could be wished.

The captain and officers spoke very cheerfully to me about the passage home, and made no complaint of any kind about the vessel or any remarks about the seagoing qualities of the ship.

Something significant had happened. Another expert of the time expressed complete confidence in the Waratah, and at last, the officers were cheerful. Confidence had returned.

Fredrick. Chas. Saunders.

Passenger, Adelaide to Durban.

Had made numerous trips in mail ships and coasting vessels.

We ran into dirty weather soon after leaving Adelaide, and then for a few days until well past Breaksea we had heavy seas and wind squalls from the south-west. The vessel rolled a lot during that time, but to my mind, it was nothing unusual having regard to the weather, practically midwinter in Australia. The rolling was not sufficient to interfere with my sleep, or cause me to put out my elbows to steady myself in my bunk as I have had to do in other vessels.

A very favourable comment, strengthened by the Waratah's handling in significantly rough weather. 

The only matters which occurred to cause comment at the time were when the vessel (on two occasions) gave a bit of an extra roll and seemed to shake before she started to return, and one day when it was fairly calm when the vessel took two or three waves over her bows without any apparent reason.

The very heavily loaded Waratah was likely to 'shake' and take waves over her bows, further compounded by the quadruple expansion engines which caused significant vibration.

Mr. Richardson called my attention to this latter fact, and Mr. Ebsworth and I went to the fore end of the boat deck to see the occurrence. When I saw it 1 remarked that I had seen something like it before in the Indian Ocean, a wave getting up suddenly without any apparent cause or reason and Mr. Ebsworth agreed that it was not uncommon, but he thought the "Waratah" showed a fondness for "putting her nose into them." These matters passed from our minds at the time, and were only recalled by me in the light of what subsequently occurred.

We're now well and truly into comments describing a very heavy steamer, but at least, so far, the extreme features of tenderness had been put to rights. The observation was only recalled as something of significance in the light of the Waratah's disappearance.

Both Mr. Ebsworth and myself were so confident of the safety of the vessel that we made arrangements to go back by her to Australia on her return voyage. I arranged to join the vessel at Cape Town. 


There can be no stronger conviction of the improved Waratah; both gentlemen expressed the desire to return to Australia by the Waratah. 


When we arrived at Durban it was difficult to obtain apartments or accommodation, and I had decided to proceed to Cape Town (i.e., in the "Waratah"), but at the last moment a friend managed to make arrangements for me, and I then went to the vessel and cleared my luggage.


A man saved at the eleventh hour. He could have used his moment in Court to slate the Waratah, but did not, for there was no reason to.

Final, return voyage:


George. Samuel Richardson.

Chief mechanical engineer of the Geelong Harbour Trust, Victoria.

Had made other ocean passages.

While off the Leeuwin we had some bad weather. There was a heavy sea running with a strong wind. The vessel did not roll to any great angle, but she rolled slowly. It was a slow majestic roll with a distinct pause at the extremity of the roll.

At last the Waratah was what she was supposed to be.


She was pitching, but I did not notice anything abnormal about the pitching.

The sluggish character of the rolling of the vessel continued after we left the vicinity of the Leeuwin, but in the moderate seas the rolling was not so pronounced.

'Sluggish' hints at the vast cargo manifest.


When we encountered the heavy swells in the Indian Ocean, the vessel began to both roll and pitch to a greater extent. The rolling and pitching were worse than when she was in the heavy weather off the Leeuwin. I accounted for that in my own mind by the fact that she was getting lighter owing to the consumption of coal on the voyage, and that the wave length of the swell was greater than it was off the Leeuwin. The rolling had the same character as before, that is, a slow roll with a distinct pause before recovery, and the pitching was of a similar character with the same pause and slow recovery especially from the forward dip. She rose more quickly aft.

Mr. Richardson gives us an expert opinion, explaining the Waratah's behaviour due to longer wavelengths and burned out coal. The slow recovery from the forward dip could have been in part due to reduced buoyancy and heavy refrigeration machinery forward on the spar deck.

I was in the habit of walking with Captain Ilbery on the boat deck. One morning I was there with him before breakfast, during the time the boat was rolling and pitching heavily, and I said to him, "I don't like the behaviour of this ship of yours any too well, Captain. She recovers too slowly for me."

He replied, "Yes, she is a little that way, but you must remember there are many thousands of tons of dead weight to shift. When this once gets in motion, it takes some power to stop it, and, when stopped, it also takes a considerable force to start in the opposite direction."

Although this is hearsay, for the first time we have a plausible explanation from the master of the Waratah. There is no doubt in my mind, GM issues aside, Captain Ilbery described a significantly laden vessel, suggesting by inference to an expert such as Mr. Richardson, that the unique behaviour characteristics in large part were due to 10 300 tons of dead weight (cargo 9 000 tons and lead concentrates 1300 tons). Waratah should have been able to transport 12 000 tons by specifications, but Captain Ilbery made a point of the many thousands of tons. In the context of Waratah 10 300 tons was by inference exceptional

From my observation of the vessel's previous behaviour and of its behaviour at that time I was then of opinion that she was tender, but not dangerously so under normal circumstances.

Mr. Richardson was not about to let go of 'tenderness' despite Captain Ilbery's wise words. 

On another occasion, Captain Ilbery told me that the ship had behaved extremely well on her outward voyage in the Forties where you might expect much worse weather than this.

One morning during fine weather, while there was a heavy swell, I was on the boat deck.

Once when the ship pitched heavily, she took a heavy sea over the port bow, and was an unusually long time in recovering. I felt a distinct trembling through the boat as she was coming up. This might have been caused by the racing of the engines as the propellers came near the surface.

Another description of the heavy vessel. Let's also not forget that she was relatively under powered and strain translated as 'trembling'.

I could not see anything to account for the shipping of a sea at the time.

Low freeboard confirmed!

After breakfast I told Mr. Saunders what I had seen.

He said," Did she? I must speak to Ebsworth about this."

Mr. Ebsworth was a fellow passenger who had previously been a ship's officer.

Later in the day Mr. Saunders told me that he had mentioned the matter to Mr. Ebsworth and that they had both watched the vessel and had seen the same thing repeated twice.

Neither myself nor Mr. Saunders nor Mr. Ebsworth was alarmed by this.

I said to them, "One of these days she'll dip her nose down too far and not come up again."

This was only said in a jocular manner. I did not seriously think there was any risk of the vessel doing that, and if it had not been for the disappearance of the vessel, I should probably never have again thought about the occurrence.

However, the comment stuck. 

Again we have a witness who made the very important point that 'had it not been for the disappearance of the vessel, I should probably never have again thought about the occurrence'. It also reinforces that despite observations and comments there was no alarm

Another day, I think it was after the events mentioned, I was reading in the music room. I felt a distinct shock through the vessel. After a minute or two I went down on to the forward well deck to see what had happened. I saw the second and fourth engineers examining the vertical ladder which ran from the forward well deck to the boat deck on the port side. The ladder was broken about 3 feet above the deck. The engineers told me that it had been broken by the impact of a sea.

Was this incident due to a heavily laden vessel (diminished ability to absorb a sudden impact), or poor build quality; or a combination of both. Perhaps it was simply due to the longer wave lengths, previously referred to. If such wave lengths approximated the length of the vessel, such could be the force upon the hull. Were any hull plates cracked by this force ??

I know of more than one instance when passengers fell owing to the peculiar rolling of the vessel, which I have described before.

Once I was walking on the promenade deck with Mrs. Cawood, Miss Lascelles, and the ship's surgeon, when the surgeon and one of the ladies fell into the scuppers, and I with difficulty prevented the other lady from falling also. The fall was caused by a further roll after the pause I have described, probably by the vessel being struck with another sea before she had recovered.

I am of the opinion that the 'jerk' described by Sawyer was the cause of the fall. Note that he said that the vessel was probably struck by another sea. He was not sure....

The angle to which the vessel rolled at that time was not in my opinion alarming, but it was the peculiar manner of the roll that caused the fall.

Mrs. Cawood some days afterwards fell and injured her back severely, and had to be carried ashore.

From this account it seems Mrs. Cawood was prone to falling, for which there could be other reasons apart from the distinct roll of the Waratah.

I am certain that the vessel never reached anything like an angle of 45 degrees at any time I was on her. I don't think the angle was ever half that much.

This makes far more sense, further reinforcing that Mr. Sawyer was inclined to exaggeration.

There was no permanent list on the vessel. There would be a slight list varying from side to side with the direction of the wind and as the coal was used from the bunkers.

The GM had improved, case closed.




SS Koombana - with 900 tons ballast water, stable - without, unstable and top heavy...



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