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Article: The Danger of the Sea and the Violence of the Wind

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    The Danger of the Sea and the Violence of the Wind

    32 Comments by Peter Copley Published on 3rd January 2021 04:32 PM
    I read with great interest the article on the sinking of the MV Pool Fisher in 1979. A tragic and upsetting event for all those involved in the incident. That story prompted me to write this article. Not that I have ever had to abandon a ship in danger of sinking, however, I have known the fear of being on a ship in danger of foundering at sea. And as they say, ‘there but for the grace of God go I’

    MT Velia. FD116 GRT296
    I was sailing on the trawler Velia with Skipper John Dunn, a Fleetwood ‘Top Skipper’, on our way north from Fleetwood to the Iceland fishing grounds. As we cleared the Outer Hebrides heading into the open ocean, the weather, that had been freshening since leaving the Lune Deep buoy behind, took a turn for the worse with winds increasing to around gale force 8 to severe gale force 9. The Atlantic swell growing higher, longer, and more fearsome. I think waves have a maximum height in such winds of around 35 to 40 feet, correct me if I’m wrong, but the waves in front of us were pretty big. The Velia literally climbing up the waves from the trough to the crest and not crashing through them. The occasional rogue wave hitting the middle-distance trawler seemed to be coming from the east, starboard to port, rather than from the Atlantic. There were three of us in the wheelhouse, the skipper, the helmsman, and myself the radio operator. We were being broached, heeling heavily, mainly to port before bouncing back. I remember thinking what wonderful sea-boats these little side-winding trawlers are. Then one enormous rogue wave pushed us over, farther than I’d ever been before. Instead of rolling back, we seemed to hang there on the beam for what seemed like forever. Then, a second rogue pushed us over ever further. This second wave knocked the three of us sprawling into a pile in the portside corner of the wheelhouse. The boat just hung there, shuddering and juddering as if unable to make up its mind whether to capsize or roll back to starboard. With the helmsman almost upside down in the corner on top of the skipper, there was no control of the helm adding to the confused state. I was completely disoriented. Then slowly but surely, Velia rolled back on an even keel allowing the helmsman to get back on the wheel and get control again. Skipper Dunn, who was one of the most experienced seamen sailing out of Fleetwood, looked pretty shaken to me, he said the immortal words, “Well, that’s as far over you will ever go on the beam and come back again!”
    It was after this experience that in my mind there was no mystery surrounding the disappearance of the Hull trawler MT Gaul H247. I always thought she was simply overwhelmed by big seas sending her to the bottom before any chance of a Mayday being transmitted

    MV Eugenie S Embiricos POR Andros GRT9061.

    Sailing from Long Beach to Kobe Japan on the Great North Circle up by the Aleutians we were hit by a typhoon. The North Pacific can be as malevolent as the North Atlantic with tropical storms and typhoons. It was around September 1967, I cannot remember the name of the typhoon, Carla maybe. Anyway, as the barometer pressure dropped the wind and waves increased, we seemed to have been in rough seas for days on end. The wind increased to typhoon level.
    We got a right battering from the north. The waves pounding the starboard side of the vessel. I had already experienced gales and storms in the Atlantic and an earlier typhoon in Hong Kong around 1960, but this typhoon was something different. The winds were reaching around 180 mph (295kmph) pressure around 900mb. This must have been a super typhoon. The sea an unbelievable maelstrom of confusion. Rain belting down. I was quite worried, watching the sea get much rougher than I’d ever seen before. I had joined the ship, in Honolulu, a couple of months earlier to replace the sick radio officer. I didn’t get on too well with the captain who I thought was a miserable old man, however, he was an experienced Greek sailor. The first sign that we were in trouble was when the ship’s bell and tripod broke free, torn from the fo’c’sle-head by the waves, came cartwheeling, clanging, and banging along the deck before plopping over the port side. The next sign was when the bulkhead walls along the starboard foredeck were bent and twisted by the force of the waves. The waves continually pounding the ship along the starboard side. I looked out over the dark sea and thought if we sink in this storm there is no way we’ll get the lifeboats away. Then the MacGregor folding hatches to holds one and two caved in; seawater pouring into the holds. It was at this point I said to the captain, “if we don’t come head to wind and waves and ride out the storm, we will bloody well sink.” Well, he gave me a look of contempt but didn’t say anything. And, who am I, a 25-year-old radio operator, telling a 63-year-old master mariner what he should do to save his ship, but I couldn’t help myself. Reluctantly, I thought, the skipper ordered a change, of course, to head into the wind. When the wind moderated and we were able to inspect the damage we were horrified to see that apart from the steel hatches being caved in, the buckled and twisted steel walls, and the mainmast badly damaged, there was a crack in the deck from the fo’c’sle to the superstructure housing. There is a photograph on this Friends site of the Eugenie S Embiricos, from that you can see how substantial the bulkhead walls and mainmast are. We had bales of cotton in number 1 hold. I’ve been told that cotton, subjected to seawater, can swell and break the hull plates. Thankfully this didn’t happen. Almost a week overdue we were diverted to the Yokohama shipyard for repairs. We were in dry dock for six weeks. I believe a cargo ship sank in the same typhoon with the loss of all hands, although I didn’t pick up any distress signals. I am convinced that if the ship had not been built in Germany to their high standards, the Eugenie S Embiricos too would have sunk with all hands.

    Yacht ‘TOBAGO’ Westerly Centaur 8m.

    After leaving the Merchant Navy I bought my own boat and sailed it around the Irish Sea. Kathleen, my wife, and I had some squeaky bum times over the 22 years we had the boat and once had to call for the lifeboat. We were heading for Howth in Ireland with the wind over tide the sea was quite choppy. Kathleen was on the tiller when suddenly there was an awful noise coming up from the rudder. I looked down the engine hatch to see that the propellor shaft had parted from the engine and had disappeared down the stern tube and had jammed on the rudder. We couldn’t steer the yacht or retrieve the propeller shaft. I looked at my youngest son sheltering below, and thought, well I’ve supported the RNLI most of my life and I’m going to get them out to us. Via the Holyhead coastguard, they sent out the Lytham lifeboat. By this time the tide had turned and the sea had calmed down. The inshore lifeboat found us, they were unable to assist, so they called for the Tyne class boat to tow us to Lytham (Make lifeboats two, Peter is at sea again!). All the lifeboatmen were brilliant. But, instead of Ireland, we spent our holiday on the lifeboat’s reserve mooring at Lytham and in the marina at Preston! However, the story I want to tell you happened a couple of years later. My wife, Tim my youngest son, and I were storm-bound in Liverpool. The weather was terrible, so I sent Kathleen and Tim home by train and asked my good friend Eddie if he would crew me back to Fleetwood. I misread the weather forecast thinking there was a slot between the low pressures crossing the Atlantic that would allow me time to get back to Fleetwood safely. A big mistake! We were the only boat to leave Coburg Dock that day. Once in the river, I contacted Mersey Control for permission to proceed down the river to the sea. Mersey Control called me up on VHF and asked, “What are your intentions, Tobago?” I told him I was heading for Q4 then to sail north to Fleetwood. A few moments later, I think for my benefit, he called Lynas Pilot and asked, “What’s the weather like out there, Bob?” “Bloody awful.” Was the reply. Never-the-less I pushed on regardless. Night fell and the weather freshened to about 4 or 5 and to make things worse, Eddie knelt on my compass and broke the lamp. The night was so dark you could not distinguish the sea from the sky. At that time, I did not have a GPS so it was all dead-reckoning and estimated position. I calculated by the time I got to the Lune Deep it would be low-water so to avoid running aground I headed west for the north cardinal Lune Deep buoy intending to sail from buoy to buoy to the Fleetwood fairway buoy. As I said, it was pitch black as we headed towards shell wharf buoy with a massive following sea that sounded like an express train bearing down on us. It was terrifying. The waves roared down onto the poop. Twice we were knocked down. The following sea picking us up and thrusting us forward like surfing the ocean waves in the roaring 40s. The fact that we could not see anything, including the compass, trying to keep the flashing North Cardinal on our stern before picking up the green light on the starboard. That night was the most terrifying night I have ever spent at sea. Eventually, we reached the fairway and relative safety of the River Wyre. Inside the marina, the halyards tinkling like cowbells gave no indication of the nightmare out at sea. Come to think of it, I’m glad now passing my time writing and gardening…Or maybe not, as I’m sure a lot of our readers would love to go down to the sea again, the wonderful sea and sky, etc…On second thoughts…Not likely.

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: The Danger of the Sea and the Violence of the Wind

    The Sea is Not a Playground.
    cheers
    Brian

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    Default Re: The Danger of the Sea and the Violence of the Wind

    #2... Indeed it’s not Brian and just reaffirms the old arguments of people on ships who don’t know this, being a hinderance to those who have to work the same , fair weather or foul. The descriptive essay of hanging there with loss of righting lever emphases that the vessel was in a serious situation probably due to a re-distribution of weights on the vessel , but is in a situation which fortuanetley didn’t founder the vessel. We have all probably been in similar situations and have lived to tell the tale. But your remark “ the sea is not a playground” amply fits the occasion and seamen will know the huge area those 6 little words cover. Cheers JS
    R575129

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    Default Re: The Danger of the Sea and the Violence of the Wind

    I sailed on sidewinders out of Hull. my first was 1914 built 'Swanland' H402 in 51, she was a sidewinder, the 'Gaul' as far as I remember was a stern trawler and a lot of controvesy surrounded her disappearance and subsequent inquiries drew the conclusion that she foundered by fouling her nets on seabed obstruction(s). Local Hull thoughts had other ideas about her disappearance as she was sprouting numerous anntenii, much more than any other trawler and her fishing grounds were close to Norwegian and North Cape shores and it was intimated that she was being used as a listening vessel for soviet shipping activity. This was neither proved or unproved or as the Hull community thought 'hushed up'

    The stern trawlers trawled at a faster speed (8/9 knots) than sidewinders (5/6 knots) and that makes one hell of a difference if a sudden shock load is placed on the trawl wires. In inclement weather stern trawler would have far less chance of clearing their nets if the nets fouled obstructions and if in a following sea, she would already be down by the stern and liable to being pooped (even though they had a slipway)

    The sidewinders had a different hull shape which aided their stability and their underwater form was wedge shaped for'd to aft and rode the waves better than a stern trawler which has a conventional oblong underwater form.

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    Default Re: The Danger of the Sea and the Violence of the Wind

    The antenna bit is very feasible Ivan , but whether this was the cause leading up to her demise others will know. However as have said in other posts being a member of Naval Party 1007 for 4 years was very aware of similar events as spying by our adversaries at the time , in. The Faslane and Holy Loch areas . So if one side was doing it then the other side also employed the same tactics. I can never remember signing any official secrets acts so am not breaking any laws as such. But it was common sense at the time that one didn’t go blabbing ones mouth off to all and sundry. anyhow that was 40 + years ago now for the work we used to be employed in, I have no doubt such or similar is still underway. Think in another post I described. Serving on a Russian survey vessel on the NW Shelf out here in Australia. I pulled a book out of the shelf in the Chartroom and it contained all pictures of US and British warships , together with a brief history of various people and their idiocracys in them. Among the British warships was the civilian vessel I had worked on. I pointed this out to the Russian master who I was very friendly with and he immediately took out of my hands saying you aren’t supposed to see that. Someone had slipped up and forgot to stow away before the Australian crew arrived.However the amount of personal knowledge this book contained surprised me. One should never under estimate a possible future enemy. What you think is secret in today’s world is most likely known by others . Cheers JS
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 4th January 2021 at 12:14 AM.
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    Default Re: The Danger of the Sea and the Violence of the Wind

    Quote Originally Posted by Captain Kong View Post
    The Sea is Not a Playground.
    cheers
    Brian

    Indeed Brian, pity some of the ones who drown by the beach would consider that before they go into waters they do not know.
    Happy daze John in Oz.

    Life is too short to blend in.

    John Strange R737787
    World Traveller

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    Default Re: The Danger of the Sea and the Violence of the Wind

    Hi Ivan, I think the fouling of gear would be a reasonable idea. A 90 foot prawn trawler working out of Darwin, sank in good weather of the Kimberley coast. She had been trawling but gear had been stowed and in company of another couple of trawlers was proceeding at full speed but with arms out and using stabilisers. Reports given to the court of inquiry indicate that the otter boards may have become loose and fallen over the side and swung out to end of booms where pressure would have caused the ship to violently turn and list. Being calm and as they were processing catch, it is probable that some water tight hatches were open. Only the skipper and his partner were not found, the rest of the crew were picked up by the other trawlers.

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    Default Re: The Danger of the Sea and the Violence of the Wind

    Every year there were casualtys in the North sea mainly fishing vessels and downed helicopters , some day someone is going to make public all those lost in the past fourty years or so, if not already done so. it might shock a lot of people the price paid for their fish and chips and the cost of their electric light to eat them by. JS
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    Default Re: The Danger of the Sea and the Violence of the Wind

    Quote Originally Posted by j.sabourn View Post
    Every year there were casualtys in the North sea mainly fishing vessels and downed helicopters , some day someone is going to make public all those lost in the past fourty years or so, if not already done so. it might shock a lot of people the price paid for their fish and chips and the cost of their electric light to eat them by. JS
    John, if published the public wouldn't have a bluddy clue of what it said, most don't even know they live on an island!!

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    Default Re: The Danger of the Sea and the Violence of the Wind

    If ever I got the yearning to own a yacht or similar I would keep it in a nice hot area where I could sit sipping gin and tonic whilst watching the world go by.
    Every ocean I sailed upon threw up horrendous weather.
    In the North sea with loss of propulsion and drifting to within 2 miles of the coast of Holland in a hurricane, had to call for tug assistance, fortunately the engineers got propulsion back before the tug arrived.
    Had to abandon ship on the grand Banks off Newfoundland in huge swells after the engine room flooded during a storm 10.
    North. Pacific crossing from Los Angeles fully laden with phosphate for Korea, for a couple of days with seas continuely breaking across the hatches of a 25000 ton geared bulker at times it looked like we were more a submarine than an ocean going vessel and it looked like we were going to be completely overwhelmed at times, 40 degree rolls on forest product ships in the sea of Japan when carrying steel cargo, a VLCC in ballast coming to an almost immediate stop when we got a rogue wave off the south African coast.
    41 years at sea and my first trip to sea on a 66000 ton tanker where a sea coming over the focsle and washing me over the deck, I learnt my lesson, the sea is a dangerous place just waiting to bite you in the bum when you least expect it.
    Rgds
    J.A.
    P.s anyone see the documentary on t.v last night on the loss of the Derbyshire where the relatives of those lost got the initial findings of crew neglegince overturned with the real cause of its loss been put down to water ingress into the fore peak tank via the ventilators and not from the previously thought of the incorrectly secured rope hatch.

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