Monday, 2 January 2017

BALLAST 'RATHER MUCH'.

Continuing with Mr. Hoehling's superb account of the Waratah enigma, he referred to Captain Ilbery acknowledging that each steamer had her own peculiarities and in the case of Waratah, required 'rather much' ballasting to steady her. There is nothing new in this comment and Waratah was never going to be steady without significant, concentrated ballast lowest down and a significant draft - Mr. Hoehling's claim that it reached 35 ft. is never far from my mind.

According to Mr. Hoehling, on Waratah's return from her maiden voyage, apart from dry-dock inspection and re-certification as being fully seaworthy, affidavits were submitted to the Board of Trade: “behaved in a most extraordinary manner in apparently calm weather.” Of this I was unaware. In fact a point of contention at the Inquiry was the lack of meaningful feedback regarding the new flagship during her maiden voyage. The Court found it difficult to accept that Captain Ilbery had made no comments, in writing, on the behaviour of this new departure from standard Blue Anchor Line vessels. As surprised and disturbed as the Court might have been about this crucial omission in accepted maritime practice, not one word was mentioned of these so-called affidavits reaching the Board of Trade - if true, should have given the Court further cause for concern. 

Let's say for argument's sake that the Board of Trade did in fact receive such affidavits. Why did it then not act on the concerns and still issued Waratah with a certificate for her second voyage to the Antipodes? It could be that the Board of Trade acknowledged that Waratah was a significant departure from the steamers of the Blue Anchor Line fleet and as such presented a peculiarity which was unfamiliar to the seamen employed by the company. A 'peculiarity' might not have been interpreted as a 'dangerous flaw'. Boasting an extra deck and towering navigation bridge, the Board might have accepted that Waratah would not perform at sea like her predecessors. If appropriately ballasted and stowed this in itself did not present a threat to safety. 

One could, however, argue that William Lund, Chairman of the Blue Anchor Line, held undue sway over the Board of Trade. We know that Waratah departed London on her maiden voyage with excess emigrants on board (according to the Act), suggesting that the Board of Trade turned a blind eye. If this was the case how could Mr. Lund have exerted such influence regarding his 'flawed' steamer" Let us remind ourselves of the positions held by Mr. Lund:

William Lund was highly influential in English shipping and held a number of significant positions of trust:
He was a member of the Board of Lloyd's Register and chairman of the classification committee.
Associate of the Institution of Naval Architects.
Vice Chairman of the General Shipowners Society of London.
From this it is clear that Mr. William Lund was an influential man. He was very much part of the workings of the Board of Trade and held positions via which he could have allayed concerns regarding his flagship. 

My personal feeling is that there might have been a combination of both and the challenge reverted to Waratah's master to gain control of his new charge. After all, Waratah had successfully completed a return voyage in good time without any glaring emergencies apart from a bunker fire which was subdued over the course of 4 days in December, 1908. But rumours and hearsay were to gather momentum during this interim period: 

Edward Dischler, an able seaman on Waratah, claimed that “the general opinion among sailors…that she was unsafe for a long voyage.” and that “none of the sailors on the first voyage would go on the second.” Fraser Chapman, an engineer, on the other hand firmly stated that she was “a very steady ship” and that he had left Waratah not because of concerns but that his wife was ill.

But before we put this contentious period between voyages to rest and move onto Waratah's second, final voyage, we are obliged to revisit two claims relating to Captain Ilbery. The one alleged that Captain Ilbery refused to take command of Waratah again unless she was materially altered (reducing her top hamper). The other claimed that he was 'unwell' just prior to departure and a replacement master, Captain Pidgeon, earmarked to take command of Waratah. At the last minute it was said that Captain Ilbery 'recovered' and took charge of Waratah into the annals of history. 

It does beg the question, was Captain Ilbery genuinely ill or was he concerned about the safety prospects of Waratah and angry that 'material changes' were not affected? He knew the flagship intimately from the maiden voyage and that she required 'rather much' ballasting to steady her, reducing the buoyancy factor and increasing drag. This plus excessive dead weight would place too much demand on already under powered engines. If Waratah ran into problems under such circumstances she would go down like a stone. 

If these allegations were true I believe Captain Ilbery, being the man he was, would finally have assumed responsibility for Waratah and taken command, not allowing Captain Pidgeon to be saddled with the consequences. Leaving it until the last minute might have been a ploy, calling his bluff if you will. The Lunds and William Lund in particular were not likely to be swayed and in the interests of pride and business kept Waratah in service in the form as intended.










   

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