During February, 1935, the SS. Exminster of the American Export Line ran aground in the Dardanelles during a blizzard. Nothing could be done that day because of the heavy seas. The blizzard, however, eased considerably during the night, the hard driven sleet changed to an occasional snow flurry, and the seas no longer slashed at the side with their fury of the day before, so it was judged that a small boat could work. Daylight also brought better visibility and the shore could now be clearly seen, a dreary treeless waste in each direction, broken only by the figure of a soldier, with boots, rifle, and cloak, huddled close to his horse, standing tail to the weather. The horse shifted his feet and the soldier beat his hands, but otherwise made no movement.
It was still very cold, but much warmer than the previous day when she had gone on, at some time around noon. The vessel had struck bow on, but the force of the wind and seas had turned her broadside to, and so she now lay, pounding now and then but not too hard. When she struck the engine had been put astern, but seeing that it had no effect on pulling her off or even holding her where she was, it was stopped in order that the condenser might not become sanded up, grounding conditions being unknown. At a conference it was decided to conserve all the energies of the ship and crew for an attempt to pull off should the weather moderate. Soundings were taken, indicating that the ship was ashore rather deeply forward, and aft alongside as far as the starboard after well deck, with a slight list to port. Evidently the ground was quite far under the starboard bilge, amidships.
Messages were sent to the offices of the line, telling of conditions, and help requested, as another ship of the same company was only a few hours away in a safe harbor. This ship was also contacted, but because the grounding was in enclosed territorial waters of a nation having a national monopoly on salvage work, permission was officially refused at the foreign office for this help to be sent. The officials did, however, send word that the ship could get off by herself if she could, but that no fuel would be allowed to be jettisoned. It seems that this was considered to be a safe offer, as a large ship had not succeeded in so doing of late years without lightering of cargo; and being almost at the end of her run the ship was light when she hit, having only 100 tons of tobacco in the holds.
The ship was made as secure for the night as possible under the conditions, and as she was making no water, all hands except the deck and engineer officers of the watch were in their bunks early, turning out at daylight.
The boat chosen for the work now planned was an ordinary metal lifeboat, 24 feet long with an 8-foot beam, pulling six oars, three on a side, such as is in common use in freight vessels. The equipment was removed therefrom and it was cleared away. As the rudder was useless under the circumstances, it was necessary to use the steering oar, and because of line towing operations contemplated it was not possible to use a grommet for this oar over the peak of the sternpost, so a bumpkin was made of 2"X4" oak and bolted across the gunwales about 2 feet forward of the sternpost, projecting about 12 inches overside, and the oar lashed with 12-thread Manila to the end of it. The boat was also strengthened by the addition of a 4"X4" oak strongback athwart- ships in the waist, nailed lightly to the insides of the gunwales. A short 3-inch Manila strap was made and fitted to the size of the boat at the waist, with 2 feet of loop remaining. This was placed around the boat, doubled, drawn tight and slipped around until the loop hung directly below the keel. The strap was marked on the exact opposite side to the loop, in the middle of the boat, with a rope-yam lashing, after which it was loosened and the loop pulled around to the inside gunwale. The third officer and two seamen made these preparations, leaving the boat to hang overside in the davits when they were through.
It was found that deep water existed aft alongside No. 5 hatch, inshore on the starboard side, and as this gave a lee it was decided to work from there, as the seas were still too heavy to work on the offshore side. The chief officer with three of the seamen and half of the black gang removed the kedge anchor, weighing 1,300 pounds, from the poop deck to the well deck, using No. 5 booms, cleared it of the rust collected in the crown socket, and lashed a short strap of 3-inch Manila at the balancing point of the shank. Going forward, the starboard bower anchor was lowered outside the hawse while a strap of 4 parts of 3-inch Manila was made fast to it, by means of which it was lighted along the side, using Nos. 1 and 2 booms, until it was abaft No. 2 hatch, whereupon it was cut away from the strap and the chain hove taut.
Meanwhile the second officer with the other three seamen and the rest of the black gang roused up two new 7-inch Manila mooring lines, each 100 fathoms long, and carried them aft to the poop deck, there splicing them end to end. These lines were slightly light weight for the intended purpose, but they were the heaviest aboard, and it was judged that they were able to take as much strain as could be put on them with the available power; which proved to be the case, but with no great margin for safety. More line was aboard and might have been used had it been desired, but the addition of another hundred fathoms would have only changed the angle of pull on the kedge shank, in 10 fathoms of water, from 4.2 degrees to 3 degrees, and this was not worth the pains. The end of this 200-fathom line was then passed out the weather quarter chock and lighted around the taffrail to the lee side of the well deck, where it was bent to the anchor ring. Number 5 booms were now set in place, one over the deck and one outboard, the winch runners of f-inch plow steel wire shackled together in the regular manner and to a medium weight cargo hook, which was hooked into the strap on the shank of the anchor.
It being then near noon and all in readiness, the hands were sent to lunch, after which a boat’s crew was picked. There was not much choice. The third officer and a cadet were chosen for strokes together with six sailors, being all available hands who could pull an oar. The boat was lowered and hauled aft alongside No. 5 hatch, manned, with the chief officer in charge, and the kedge anchor lowered to the level of the boat gunwale, where its ring was shackled to the loop in the strap encircling the boat. It was then lowered away carefully while the strap was hauled around until the rope-yarn lashing showed that the anchor was below the keel, the weight then being eased onto the strap. When it was seen that the boat rode on an even keel the cargo hook was freed of the strap on the shank of the kedge by jiggling the wire at the gunwale, no weight being on the hook. This method was followed in all of the subsequent operations and worked without a hitch.
The following equipment was then provided: hatchet, sheath knife, bucket for bailing, boat hook, two spare oars, and life preservers for two of the sailors who could not swim. The boat shoved off and rounded the stem, towing the line, which was payed out from the poop. Six men were at the oars and two men were used in a constant relieving system. The second officer remained on the poop together with the boatswain, carpenter, and the black gang to handle the line.
It was desired to place the hedge directly abeam of the poop deck chock, but in the meantime the wind, force 7, and the sea, moderately rough, had hauled more ahead, which tended to set the boat astern, and this coupled with the increasing drag of the bight of mooring line as it payed out made it a difficult task to keep the bow up to the weather. The boat could not overturn, of course, from the weight of the anchor below, but it did ship nasty seas.
The relief system worked well, and a constant pull was kept on the oars, but at length after a hundred or so fathoms of line were out it was found impossible to do more than to keep the ground gained, so the strap was cut, letting go the anchor. The boat then returned to the ship, the falls were taken down on deck to the winch, and she was hoisted to the davit heads. Should the vessel come off with the boat in the water it might become broken or left behind.
Extra steam was then put on the stern capstan, the main engine was already warmed up, and a strain was taken on the line. It was then 2:00 P.M., and the engine was put slowly at first and later with full power ahead and astern; the idea being to loosen the grip of the land with the engine, and pull the ship astern and offshore with the kedge. This worked only fair, and while the ship was seen to move, the captain’s bearings showed that she had not moved seaward appreciably, and around 5:00 P.M. it was seen that the kedge was coming home.
The engine was stopped and the kedge hauled in rapidly until two blocks at the quarter chock, where the No. 5 booms were again brought into play. The kedge was hooked on by the cargo hook, and by surging on the mooring line was brought forward and inboard of the well deck. The mooring line was unbent and unreeved through the quarter chock, being taken down and faked out in the well deck, then rebent to the anchor.
It was now decided to try to carry the line and anchor out together, using a messenger line to haul the bitter end back aboard when the kedge had been planted. With this in view the mooring line was coiled carefully into the bottom of the boat, bitter end first. It made two piles and exactly filled the bottom of the boat, the last few coils being squeezed beneath the thwarts. The anchor was then shipped below the boat’s keel again in the same manner as before.
The second officer’s gang had meanwhile roused out the Lyle gun line, being 250 fathoms of 3-inch Manila, carried it aft and rove it through the weather chock, around the stern of the ship and to the boat, where a hitch was taken with it around the bumpkin, the attempt being made to have it help support its own weight on the weather side and at the same time keep clear of the steering oar, which worked out correctly. As it was then 6:30 P.M. and quite dark, a flashlight was added to the boat equipment, the captain arranging to give the signals from the bridge, as it was found to be difficult even in daylight to judge from the boat correct distance and direction. The men were given the chance to stop on the ship, any who might desire, but none backed out, so the boat shoved off.
She was deeper in the water than before by added weight of the line and pulling was slightly difficult from want of leg room below the thwarts, but she appeared to handle and pull easier, due to the light-weight line now trailing. The same relief system was used and, conned from the bridge of the ship, no particular difficulty was found getting proper bearing and distance. Enough line was pulled from beneath the thwarts to allow the kedge to take bottom, and it was cut away. A pleasant by-product of this manner of kedge laying was discovered to be that the men could boat the oars while the poop- deck gang with the capstan pulled the boat home stern first, the kedge line paying out over the bow. Arriving at the ship it was found that the whole 200 fathoms of line had been laid out, and the boat was again hoisted to the davits.
The same procedure was gone through as before and the ship made to back somewhat, but wind, tide, and the stern capstan were too much for the kedge anchor, and it broke ground, commencing to haul home, biting occasionally. It took hold at the halfway mark and as it was then 8:00 P.M. and too dark for effective work, it was allowed to hang so for the night while the crew knocked off for supper and sleep, and it may be that the officers nodded a little also, as they kept watch in the warm wheelhouse; the lights of the two salvage tugs which had arrived during the day bobbing and ducking as they rode at anchor in the swells. The sea was going down, and during the night the chief engineer pumped all the fresh water overboard except the port double bottom tank.
The following morning there was only a small chop remaining, with the wind down to force 4, and in another conference it was decided to run the stream anchor, weighing 3,100 pounds, out from the bow, and by alternately heaving and slacking on the two anchors while running ahead and astern on the main engine it was hoped to work the vessel sideways off the bank.
An early breakfast and start was made, using the same boat and identical procedure in slinging and running out the stream anchor. Mooring lines from the bow were brought to the after well deck, approximately 200 fathoms, and coiled in the boat. The stream anchor was hung under the keel and the effect on the boat was noted. About 4 inches of freeboard was left and there was no crushing effect on the gunwales, but the bottom of the boat tended to buckle upward, inward bulges of about 1 inch height forming on either side of the keel. This was not considered dangerous, however, as the coils of line furnished an opposing weight. It is thought, nevertheless, that this is as heavy an anchor as could be safely carried out by this size and type of boat.
The messenger line was then brought out the forward weather chock, around the bow and back to the boat, as it was thought to utilize the lee of the ship for the pull to the bow, because of greater weight carried. An unforeseen difficulty arose in this, however, as the suspended anchor went aground when the boat had pulled as far as the midship section, and considerable effort was necessary to get it free. The messenger was therefore taken back aboard and brought completely around the ship, under the stern and to the boat, which had to go back under the counter and so to deep water.
Again directed by the captain from the bridge, bearing and distance was reached and the anchor cut away, the boat being pulled back as before. No difference could be noted in the boat work except a natural added sluggishness. The boat was again hoisted and the men split into two groups to handle lines at either end of the ship. Boiler pressure (200 lb.) was put on the deck machinery and an engineer detailed by the chief engineer to stand by at each end of the ship with tools handy in case of trouble. With an officer at each line backed up by three seamen, oilers, and firemen, the captain started the engine, astern and ahead. The lines stretched, sweating grease on the pull, and when they surged the niggerheads smoked, but aside from minor cuts and bruises no one was hurt. The starboard bower dragged forward and was housed, while the kedge anchor aft soon hove home under this treatment, but it was seen that she was moving and the bow gang on the stream anchor redoubled their efforts.
Moving in jerks, she swung to port, to starboard, stopped, swung some more, stopped, and finally under a full ahead bell slid off. The bow gang slipped and slid and wiped up most of the ice from the forecastle head trying to hold the line and thus swing her head to sea, and the engine was stopped, but her freedom lasted only a couple of minutes, when she went hard up again.
As it was then noon, half of the men went to lunch while the other half dipped the stream anchor line out of the bow chock, carrying it aft along the side and through the stern chock to the after capstan. Soundings showed that she was aground this time forward on both sides and aft under the starboard side as far as No. 2 hatch. The starboard bower was again lowered and lighted alongside as before, being dropped in deep water this time.
When all was ready the bower chain was hove taut, the stream anchor line from the stern likewise, and the engine put full astern. After several minutes of strain the vessel did not move, and the bower anchor cable parted at the 15-fathom shackle. The loss of this anchor put an added strain on the stream anchor, and, probably due to the change in the angle of pull from the bow to the stern chock, it broke ground and commenced to come home. It was then hauled in rapidly, hove up to the counter and shifted inboard to the well deck in the same manner as the kedge had been. The boat was put over once more and the same proceeding gone through, with the stream anchor planted at the full length of the line. The boat returned and was again hoisted.
The port bower was then lowered, and as a quicker method of getting it into deep water than lighting it along the side by means of the booms, a 50-fathom length of 5/8-inch steel wire was shackled around and across the crown of the anchor in such manner as to pull it backwards, led along the side to the after end of the forward well deck, through the line chock there, being made fast on the drum of No. 2 port winch. The chain was then veered and the winch hove, with the desired result easily obtained. The chain was then hove taut and the free end of the wire thrown overboard. All cargo booms, fore and aft, were then set at a low angle from the horizontal and swung out to port (offshore) as far as they would go.
It was now 4:00 P.M., and being ready again the port bower and stream anchors were hove on, the engine was put full astern, and the line on the stream anchor tightened from 7 to 4 inches. The vessel commenced to move almost at once; stuck one time, bumped a couple or three times, and came astern, free, floating, and hell for leather. The bower was brought into its hawse and the wire removed, but she came astern too rapidly for the capstan to break out the stream anchor, and when it commenced to tend under the counter it was cut away at the deck to prevent fouling the propeller. Backward she went into deep water, rudder hard aport. No further difficulty was encountered. The black gang then returned to their regular duties and the sailors commenced clearing away the spare anchor to ship in the starboard hawse.
It was highly necessary to keep the propeller off the bank. The holds could not be flooded. The relief system in the boat would have been better had another man been available, that is, one relief for each two oars. An old-fashioned stock anchor, weight for weight, makes a better kedge than the kind used, which were patent stockless. The operations described would have been impossible without the full cooperation of all hands aboard, in particular the engine-room force and the chief engineer. Unasked, he sent all of his men to the deck for orders, and they performed them cheerfully although the weather was bitter and they were unused to it. When power was wanted he gave all that he had at no little risk to his machinery. This is remarked on, for naval practice be what it may, such co-operation is not an everyday occurrence on merchant ships, and it may be noted that he was formerly C.M.M. aboard the Dixie at Queenstown.
Finally, if it is of interest, this occurred in the Dardanelles, February 12-14, 1935, to the Exminster of the American Export Line, Captain Hugh Switzer, Chief Engineer Smouse, and the writer was chief officer.