SALVAGE of the SEA
Danger is not alone for those who go down to the sea in ships, for there is risk and to spare for the men who go down “under" the sea for ships that have been lost.
Genevieve Lipsett Skinner
Dorothy G. Bell
"WE HAVE abandoned hope, but are going on working.” This spirited message, flashed through the air to A. C. Burdick, managing director of the Pacific Salvage Company, Victoria, was from Superintendent Allen of the company’s salvage tug, which in answer to an S.O.S. had gone to the rescue of the Japanese liner, Canada Maru, pounding her life out on the ragged reefs off Cape Flattery.
The 6,000-ton liner, with two million dollars worth of silk on board and a complete cargo value of five million dollars, could not have picked a more dangerous spot on the whole of the Pacific to run ashore. Great pinnacles of rock reared themselves on all sides of her and jagged cliffs towering a few yards from her bows waited hungrily for what seemed must be their prey. The heavy ground swell which runs almost continuously off the Cape fought off the divers who tried to make an estimate of the damage, and made the removal of the valuable cargo impossible. For five days and nights they battled with the fury of the waves that thrashed her broken sides and when finally they boarded the vessel their powerful ten inch centrifugal pumps made no impression and they succeeded only in pumping the Pacific right through her. To the experts working there it looked as if the great ship hanging on the rocky ledge must break her back and go down to destruction, carrying all she contained with her. It was then that the superintendent’s message went through to Victoria, and it was then that the salvage crew decided to stake all in one last attempt. Sealing up Number One hold they struggled all night with extra pumps and the best effort of every man to keep the water under control in the other two holds. Succeeding, they put out kedge anchors, and the big steamer which had seemed so
surely doomed slid off the ledge into deep water and safety.
This is but one of the many difficult tasks faced and conquered by the ship salvagers of the Pacific. Those who ply the western coast know that the rock-infested, tempest-lashed water west and south of Vancouver Island is known as the Graveyard of the Pacific. At the Victoria docks, within easy access to this wicked water from whence come so many calls for help, lie the salvage boats, steam always up, completely equipped, fully manned and, like harnessed fire horses, ready to go at the first call.
Into driving snowstorms and icy winds that blind the mariner and turn the salt spray into flying ice particles; into dense fogs that blanket the vision until every move is a peril; into crashing storms that drive bigger vessels onto rocks and reefs, go these little salvage ships unhesitatingly, because their coming may mean the difference between life or death to some sister ship in distress. And the crews that guide these little vessels through their dangers must be all picked men—clear-eyed, quickthinking, fearless men who know the sea and can reckon with it.
The salvage crew never know just what their work is to be or how serious and dangerous. They only know that it is both, otherwise they would not be on their way to it.
Saving the Prince Rupert
ONE of the most technically difficult pieces of salvage work ever accomplished on the coast was done by the Pacific Salvage Company of Victoria, in the rescue of the Canadian Government steamer Prince Rupert from seventy feet of water. Striking a rock in Swaçson Bay the ship sank almost immediately, taking on a list of sixty degrees, which left only the tips of her funnels showing above water. The first thing was to bring the damaged steamer to an even keel, which was done with two sixteen inch cables and two 1400 ton barges. This done, there was only one way to float her. With 100,000 feet of lumber they built a huge cofferdam around her, covered the heavy timbers with canvas, and closed the holes in the side of the ship. Three months later, on a cold December night, with the snow falling heavily, the pumps of the rescue ship Algerine roaring into the silence of the
hills, the Prince Rupert rose from the depths of the sea with the huge cofferdam, 125 feet long, seventy-five feet high and forty-two feet wide fastened to her like high board fence. A few days later she made Prince Rupert under her own steam.
Clever as this piece of work was, it does not intrigue the imagination to the same extent as the rescue of an old
German freighter, the Sesostris, which had been landlocked for more than fifteen years. Riding at anchor one day near the little town of Ocos on the west coast of Guatemala, the chains of the heavy ship parted before a tidal wave and she washed ashore before the crew could get her under way. So hard and fast was she that the Germans sold her to a Mexican as a wreck and the buyer in turn provided the town with electricity from her powerful dynamo. Some years later an earthquake wiped out the town and advanced the shoreline further seaward so that the ship became entirely landlocked and settled to her water line in a bed of deep sand. Some natives took over the abandoned ship, made their living quarters on board and opened a dance pavilion. During the war the Pacific Salvage Company bought the wreck. To all but the salvors the proposition looked hopeless and was the cause of a great deal of amusement. However, a great hole was dug about the Sesostris, flooded, and the ship turned with her stern towards the sea. Then a long ditch was dug and the ship floated out to deep water, towed to port, repaired and sold for a good price.
A Rough Job
ANOTHER remarkable piece of work accomplished by the Pacific Salvage Company was the floating of the Mexican steamer Guerrero beached at Mazatlan, Mexico, in October, 1922. The Guerrero, formerly H. M. S. Dianthus, one of the six mystery ships built for the British Navy during the war, ran into the worst storm that had broken along the Mexican coast in fortynine years and word was sent to the salvage company that if she was not salved at once she would go completely to pieces.
Since no other salvage concern along the 7,000 mile coast would risk their outfit without large guarantees, the Pacific Salvage Company answered the call and ordered its premier unit, the Algerine, to proceed 2,200 miles south to the scene of the wreck.
Arriving at Mazatlan on the tenth day out, the salvage crew found the steamer lying across a spit, with six feet of water and oil in the holds, for the oil tanks had been punctured and were filled with sand and water. The crew had to go down naked into the mess to keep the Algerine's pumps clear. With the holds finally empty, the next problem was to get up steam in the injured vessel in order to help pull her off the bar. Wood and water were at a premium. The ship’s dunnage had to be cut up into furnace lengths and water costing five dollars a ton was brought from Mazatlan but the seas were so rough that the barges carrying it could not land alongside the stranded vessel. The water then was put into small casks and transferred to the Guerrero's hold by little boats. The work proved too slow to be practical and a scouting party was sent to search again for water. They found a dirty swamp far back in the jungle and though it was filled with snakes and other reptiles, pumps were installed at its head and a pipe line run to the ship. Steam was raised, and with the spring tides at their height and the Algerine ready to throw her 1,400 horse-power into the task, the Guerrero, after many days of strenuous towing, moved off into deep water. But the difficulties of the salvors w'ere not ended. The rescued ship, badly dented, with plates sprung, rivets loosened, a badly twisted rudder and propellor, sprang a leak in her boilers. The fires w'ent out, a heavy storm came up and the two ships crashed together in the heavy seas. But the staunch little Algerine held on. When the weather cleared,divers were put to work patching, the Algerine went off for water and fuel; and several days later both ships arrived safely in San Diego harbor.
A Night of Mystery THE sea often plays weird tricks t on the salvage crews. Called out in a fierce storm to the aid of a vessel which had gone on the rocks, the Victoria salvors rescued the crew and lay off into deep water to wait for the sea to abate so they could board with their salvage equipment. Late that night the whole crew was awakened by a shrill blast from the whistle of the stranded ship.
Alert to danger, every man was on deck in a moment. Again the long shriek from the vessel on the rocks and though every man strained his eyes to cut the blackness between the ships they could see nothing and there was no other sound than the scream of the wind through the rigging and the long, steady siren from the wreck. The rescued crew was mustered. The roll-call was complete. There could be no one on board—yet again and again came the steady, persistent cry through the darkness—-the cry of a ship in distress. The waves were still rolling high; the salvors knew they could not yet hope to board the calling ship but it was their business to try. They put out through the wild blackness. As they neared the ship they learned the cause of the call. Lying across a rocky ledge the stern of the vessel dipped into the trough of every mountainous wave and with every dip came a blast of the whistle. Her back was broken and with steam still up every bend of the hull pulled down the whistle cord and caused it to blow.
And again the hand of Nature turned a queer trick on the salvors. Sent to aid another boat which had run foul of the reefs, they found her in bad condition, but. as they thought, securely locked in a cradle of rock. So safe did they deem her that they left ten thousand dollars worth of equipment on board of her when they went back to their own ship for the night. The next morning one of the crew reported to the captain that the ship was no longer there.
“In fact, I think she’s adrift, sir,” the man said. “Adrift? Impossible. She could never float in her condition. She must have gone down.” When a two days’ search revealed no sign of her, they agreed that she had slid off the rocks and gone to the bottom. Reluctantly the salvors put back to 'S ictoria. Shortly after their arrival there they received a message that the ship had been found in a secluded and almost land-locked cove, and further-more she appeared to be in
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Puzzled, t he salvors put forth again and found her at the point named. How she got off those rocks, how she floated those many miles to the only shallow cove which could have given her perfect protection and how she made the opening to it through which a human hand would have had difficulty in guiding her, no one knows. It was one of those things the salvors do not try to explain.
There are some unexpected contingencies, however, that can be accounted for. An oil tanker running aground off the mouth of the Columbia river was towed off by the salvage boat. The bar on which she had rested was smooth and sandy and it was believed that she had escaped damage. No sooner was she riding—safely as everyone thought— in deep water than she tipped on her bows, rolled over and proceeded to founder. The tanker was so constructed that there were four compartments amidships, a boiler room astern and a pump room forward. In the hammering she got on the bar a valve controlling the oil compartment had been damaged; the oil ran out into the pump room, lightening the one side so that she turned completely over.
Dangers of a Diver’s Life
THOUGH every part of salvage work has its dangers, the divers are the men who have to face the greatest risks. One of the most frequent and dangerous jobs they have to do is the patching of ships under water. When the hole is stopped the ship will sometimes rise and then settle back suddenly so that the diver when working has small chance of escape. This danger was particularly apparent to the divers who were working on the salvage of a vessel sunk in the Icy Straits. She had settled in a cradle of rock that might have been made for her, she fitted so snugly. The hole to be patched was amidships, low down in her side, and could only be reached through a narrow gap or cave in the rock so small that a diver would have to squeeze and wiggle his way through it, with no chance of a quick return if the vessel should list or sink lower. If she moved at all, as she was liable to do, he would be caught.
There are some things that a diver does which he wouldn’t be sent to do. This was one of them. Three men went down to survey the situation. Each of the three was an experienced diver; each of the three realized in a flash the danger that would face the man who made the patch and there was only room for one man to work.
Involuntarily, it seemed, the three met on deck that night.
“Dirty job,” commented one.
“Never knew a dirtier,” said another. “A one man proposition,” put in the third.
“To those on board it’s—just a patch?” The first man’s words were a query but they were accepted as a fact.
“Yes,” replied the second speaker. “If the tender knew he’d call it off.”
“And the first one dressed—?”
There was a moment’s hesitation. Then the other two nodded to the third man’s question. “Yes, the first one dressed,” they replied.
Next morning it may have been that the divers were a little slow in climbing aboard the work scow.
“Ain’t you fellas thinkin'about goin’ down to play with the minnows this mornin’?” chided the tender. “Come on you, Tommy, step inta the clothes.” Tommy squared his shoulders and stepped into the clothes. The first one dressed—? Well, now that he knew he was detailed for the job it wouldn’t be so bad.
Once down, he climbed unhesitatingly through the gap and his hands were steady as he handled the tools passed to him through the narrow opening. The patch completed, the ship rose, but the fates were kind. She did not settle again and Tommy crawled through the gap back to safety.
A Hazardous Undertaking
ANOTHER danger for the divers is the ■ swinging of a ship on the tide. One Victoria man declares that the most exciting moment of his life was when he was
making a patch on a vessel which was held across a ledge in Seymour Narrows where the currents are as bad as they are any place on the Pacific Coast.
“We had sealed her up and the pumps were working and we knew that she would rise with the tide. Just as it started to come in we sprang another leak that we knew the pumps couldn’t hold for long. The side of the ledge rose right up out of the water beside the ship, and there was just room between it and the ship’s side for a man to work. As I went down to patch that hole the tide was coming fast and I knew that with the tide she must rise and I knew, too, that when she had risen sufficiently to lose her grip on the rock, that the strong back eddy there would throw her against the ledge —and me! That patch was just about the fastest job I ever did!”
There are occasional devil fish and sharks to harry the diver at work on the floor of the ocean but probably the technical dangers are more tobe feared. When a diver gets too much air in his suit, for instance, it extends his arms so that he is helpless, and usually when this condition prevails he becomes lighter and rises to the top of the water.
One of the salvage crew who went down to close the port holes of the Admiral Watson which sank just off Seattle had an unpleasant experience in this way. He had been under water for some time, and the tender, receiving no answer to his signals, became uneasy and sent another diver down to investigate. The second diver found the other gone ffom his post and was unable for a long time to find him, but discovered him finally jammed tight up against the
bottom of the ship and almost hidden in the shadow of the keel. The man was upside down and absolutely powerless. The air had got ahead of him, extended his arms so that he could not reach the air valve on the top of his helmet and he had shot up to come to a sudden stop against the ship’s bottom.
A Ghastly Find
DIVERS come very often face to face with grim tragedy. A gruesome incident took place not long ago when a diver was sent down into a half submerged and heavily rolling passenger ship. As he reached the bottom of the hatch that led to the water filled saloon he found himself staring into the wideopen sightless eyes of a dead man. The corpse stood upright swaying to the rolling of the ship with a life-like motion, and the hands clutched the rail of the hatchway in a death grip that the diver could not loosen.
But even the members of a salvage crew have their moments of mirth. One of these was during the salvaging of the Prince Albert. Before they could get the ship off the rocks it was necessary to blast off a huge ledge of rock that had gripped her propellers. A powder man from Prince Rupert came to do the job. It was bitterly cold and powder to work quickly and effectively must be kept warm and dry. There was no possible chance of heat aboard the wrecked ship, so the powder expert, quite unconcerned, donned an extra shirt, stuffed several sticks of dynamite inside it, and seizing a pick, sledge hammer and drill, remarked casually: “Guess I’ll get myself in a sweat, in case these sticks get chilly.”