Thursday, 11 February 2016


This lengthy continuation of the sinking of the Gael gives us an insight into the tribulations of a disaster at sea and survival on lifeboats. An interesting comment is made in the context of crew trying to establish the cause of the Gael taking on water. They surmised that the heavy cement cargo might have shifted, not in this case causing instability, but rather hull plates to fail.  Lead concentrates can liquefy and shift, whereas cement can become aerated during loading and shift. In the case of the Waratah we think of the lead concentrates shifting and causing destabilization. It is also possible that the lead concentrates were a contributory factor to a hull under strain, in effect the last straw. 
It transpires now that the crewof the mate's boat, which was picked upoff Naturaliste yesterday were in a muchmore assured and comfortable positionthan is usually the lot of sailors forced toabandon a foundering ship in mid-ocean.The lifeboat in which they made theshore is a particularly substantially builtcraft, and practically new. She is wellfound throughout, her equipment including two strong grown spars, good sailarea, seven 18ft. ash sweeps, and life-beltsand buoys more than adequate for themen on board. They certainly hada plentitude of previsions, water and wine,they had the advantage of being able totake with them a sextant, a couple ofchronometers, a compass, and charts, andthey were all protected to some extentby oilskins and heavy sea topboots. True,the boat measured only 23ft. 6in. inlength, 6ft. 5in, in beam, and 2ft. 10in. indepth, and with 13 men on board in addition to that already mentioned, she had only a scanty freeboard; nevertheless, the air tanks, which run the fulllength of the boat, gave her great buoyancy, and the most serious hardships which the occupants had to suffer were on account of their necessarily cramped position, and the constant wash of the wavesover the sides. An idea of the restrictedspace was given to those on board theVigilant when the boat was picked up,for the men were in rows of sixon either gunwale, while the mate wascramped astern alongside the tiller, whichhe did not for a moment relinquish during the four days she was at sea.
The story of the Gael's misfortune andof the subsequent experiences of the recovered was interestingly told in French by the mate, Maurise Gerard, a bright and intelligent young Frenchman, and a native of St. Malo,Brittany. He seems to have beenparticularly systematic in the keeping of his log-book after the abandonment of the ship, and with the aid of the instruments and charts inthe boat was able to keep a complete record of every day up to the rescue. As he tells the story, the Gael met with very heavy weather for some days in theearlier part of the month, but as, however, she was a comparatively newly-built steel vessel, having only been launched eight years ago, those aboard her had no reason to fear any danger, althoughcement is regarded amongst the maritime fraternity as one of the worst cargoes a ship can carry. It was on August17 that the first knowledge of the ship's unsafe condition was brought home to them with dramatic suddenness by the discovery of 4ft. of water in the well. In keeping withher exceptional equipment throughout, the ship was fitted with steam pumps, and although the intake of water causedsome alarm there was no reason to believe but that the pumps would be equal to the emergency. For some undiscovered reason howeverit is surmised by the mate that some plates must have beensprung by the shifting of the cargo during the spell of heavy weather-neither the pumps nor the hand buckets, which were brought into requisition,could keep pace with the leakage, and on Sunday, August 22, the position became so precarious that the ship's boatswere provisioned and launched. The two boats, in charge of the captain and materespectively, then cruised about the doomed ship, which was gradually getting lower in the water. On Monday they went alongside her, and on sounding the well found 1ft. of water in the hold, and there was further steady secretion. The main deck was now almost flush with the water. It was apparentthat the vessel could not remain long afloat, and as a result of a conferencebetween the officers it was arranged that the first mate, having the faster sailer,should make for the nearest shore to report the misadventure. The Gael wasthen 170 miles to the south-west of the Leeuwin. Accordingly the mate at about7' o'clock that evening, in fine weather and a moderate sea, set his course forthe mainland. The Captain, however, was determined to see the last of his vessel, and as he watched her gradually subsiding was moved to tears. The mate computes that the Gael could not have remained above water for more than six hours after he left, and that the captain probably followed him shortly after midnight.
The trip of the mate's boat was without adventure. On Tuesday they sailedwith a fair wind, but were kept fairlyconstantly bailing. Fortunately, theyfelt confident of their ultimate safety,and ate and dank heartily. A littlerain fell to add to their discomfort andto wet such of their clothes as had notalready been thoroughly soaked withsalt water, and at night time, sittingcramped and wet, they felt the coldkeenly. On Wednesday morning at about9 o'clock they saw in the horizon thesmoke of a steamer heading south, andthe ensign was hoisted to the mastheadon the off chance of attracting attention.The steamer was apparently too far distant to notice so small an object andpassed on her way. About an hour laterthey sighted the mainland at PointD'Entrecasteaux, and at 2 p.m. werewithin four miles of the shore. Theboat's head was turned northwards, andhugging the coast they kept an outlookfor a likely landing place. A big seawas running, and the shore did not lookat all inviting. The mate then decidedthat having a fair wind they should endeavour to make the port of Bunbury.At 8 o'clock they rounded the Leeuwin,and at this point they experienced theworst weather since they left the ship.The sea was running high, a great dealof water came over the boat, and, unfortunately, Flinders Bay, which they passed by, was not shown on their chart.Throughout that night they were keptbusy with the baling buckets. OnThursday at about 11 o'clock they roundeNatalieThe misfortune which they most felt was theloss of their little store of money andpersonal effects, none of them havinganything left but what he stood up in.
The boat was dismantled this morningand it and the stores were placed in thecustody of he Customs authorities.Later telegraphic advice was receivedfrom the French Vice-Consul that themen were to be cared for at his expenseand sent to the Fremante Sailors' Bestto-morrow. In the early morning some indignation was expressed in the port at the delay of the authorities in sending out thetug Vigilant to endeavour to pick upthe captain's boat, inasmuch as a steamerfor Bunbury would have a start of 118miles on any leaving Fremantle. Thistardiness was however forgiven whenthe news of the landing of the remainingparty was received about noon.
Karridale, August 27.
At noon today word reached Karridaleby telephone that twelve shipwrecked sailors had arrived there.On inquiries being made it was learnedthat a ship had been wrecked off thewest coast, and that a portion of thecrew had made the coast and walked fivemiles inland. It was somewhat difficult to get an intelligible narrative from the captain or the members of the party owing to their being French and only ableto speak a few words of English, but asclosely as possible the following is thestory as told by Captain D. Meteye, themaster of the steelbarque Gael:-
"We sailed from Niantes," he said, "on April20 last. We were loaded with cementand bound to Hobart. When we were82 days out we ran into such very heavyweather, and it was soon discovered thatthe ship began to leak. The ship's crew,although working at the pumps for sixdays and nights, were forced to give in.The water in the holds was gaining faston them, and there was no hope of beingable to save the ship from foundering.Continuing, Captain Meteye said that arrangements were at once made to dividethe crew into two of the ship's boats, he,the second mate, and ten of the crewtaking one boat, and the fist mate andtwelve of the crew taking the other. OnSunday afternoon last at 3 o'clock thetwo boats left the ship's side. Theywere then about 265 miles from theWestern Australian coast. The twoboats stood to the sinking ship until Monday night, when she sank. It was thenabout half-past 1 o'clock. During thenight the two boats made for the coast,steering for Cape Leeuwin. They were,however, not long to be in company, forwhen the morning light broke the firstmate's boat could not be seen. Afterthree days' sailing against adverse windsthe captain's boat sighted land, and asthe sea appeared calm enough they decided to make the beach at 3 o'clock onWednesday afternoon, but in doing sothe boat capsized, and the occupants werethrown into the surf. After strugglingfor some time they managed to scrambleashore, none of them being injured. Thepoint at which they actually landed issouth of Point Freycinet. It wasthen discovered that they had lost all ofthe ship's papers, and everything elsethey had brought away in the boat fromthe ship. During that night they camped on the beach as best they could, andthe following day explored the coast inthe hope of discovering some habitation.After a fruitless search they returned tothe place where they had camped the previous night. On coming back to the beach they discovered a case of milk and a small barrel of whichhad been lost when the boat capsized, butwere washed up on the beach. This isall that the twelve men had to live onduring Wednesday and Thursday night.On Friday they again made a further attempt at entering the inland, when theycame across some cows and calves, whichthey determined to follow, and in doingso they were met by an opossum trappernamed W. Pickersgill. After relatingbriefly their plight they were conductedto Jamraidene Mill, then about five milesdistant. They were hungry, weary. andfootsore, some of the crew having noboots.

The captain's boat, like that in chargeof the mate, is a substantial little craft24ft. in length. She is not fitted withair tanks, but has the advantage of aheavy cork belting, and was otherwisesplendidiy equipped. The stores packedinto her when she left the Gael comprised30 gallons of water, one barrel of biscuits, 10 gallons of wine, 5 gallons of cognac, 701b. of boiled beef, and 501b. of ham  and cheese.

No comments: