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CAPTAIN SMALES 

MAGDALA

 
 On the 21st of January 1928 at 6pm, Captain Smales in command of the S.S. Magdala left the River Clyde for New Orleans. By 10am on the 22nd they had passed Instrahall. On Monday 23rd they encountered a S.W. gale and by 8pm 'Not Under Command' lights had been hoisted. At 10pm the steering gear carried away but by 0.30 on the 24th had been jury rigged.
 
 Captain Smales journal continues:-

"Wednesday, 25th at 7 a.m., a shackle pin in the port side of the steering chain parted. 8 a.m. shackle replaced by a new one. Five minutes later the port buffer spring carried away and the rudder was banging about, fit to break the stern post. We managed to get the quadrant secured with wire lashings round the "Bitts" and put the steering gear into "hand" again. Whilst we repeated the process of the Starboard side with 2 inch flexible steel wire. By 9.30 a.m., we were all connected again and back into steam steering gear. That was the two new buffer springs smashed up beyond any further use, but the wire lashings were holding out fine and would have taken her to New Orleans if worse had not happened. By noon, it was again blowing a whole gale with mountainous seas and now I have to relate the story of what I consider the worst predicament I've ever been in at sea and the closest call ever I had. So much happened in such a short space of time that the task of relating it seems difficult, but I'll just try and recount things as they happened.

Thursday, 26th January, began with a heavy N.W. and Westerly gale with a very high sea running. The "Magdala" was behaving splendidly. About 11 a.m. I remarked to the Mate who was on watch at the time "Isn't she a fine sea boat?" It was his first voyage in her as he had only joined in Glasgow. A little while after, I was standing on the lee side of the bridge watching the heavy rollers as they rolled away to leeward in the hurricane squalls that came along at short intervals and as I stood there the words of the hymn came to my mind "He plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm. There was something awe-inspiring in the long heavy billows as they rolled away to leeward, clear of the ship. We had had no observation of the sun since we left Glasgow and I made the dead reckoning at noon to be Lat. 53 - 11 N. Long 15 -57 West. Somewhere about 260 miles West of Ireland. At 10 minutes past noon, during a hurricane squall, ship not steering at the time, a huge mountain of a sea - tidal wave in fact - came rolling and towering above us on the starboard beam. Just a black mountain of water with a white crest on the point of breaking, "The ship had not the ghost of a chance, she simply could not rise to it but just gave a sickening roll to wind-ward and the mountain fell on her and rolled right over her from the fore rigging to the main. Over she went and buried her port rail, listing to 46 degrees measured later.
 
 What happened was, - 600 tons of coal in the bridge space and No,2 tween deck was thrown bodily to Port. The front of the funnel was stove in and the whistle lanyards tightened with the whistle having been knocked inside the funnel. It was howling away full blast inside! Two minutes before, the 2nd mate was standing in the lee shelter of the bridge, but had just come out and walked to the after part and stood facing the sea holding on to the rails inside the port boat, when the sea same over the Chartroom. After the sea had somewhat cleared away from the bridge and the 2nd Mate got his eyes cleared of water, the lee shelter he had just left, was clean gone over the side, port boat clean gone and davits swinging about loose, awning spars washed away, life-belt box gone with thirty six life-belts, the two teak-wood harness casks smashed to loose staves. I slid across the bridge deck on my back, and brought up amongst the wreckage. The steering gear rods were laying about the bridge deck, twisted like wire and stantions down. The Fore deck bulwarks were laid inboard and main hatch coamings set in. Bridge deck bulwarks were laid flat on the bridge deck and stantions broken. Starboard life boat laying across the engine room skylight with her bottom stove in, port lifeboat clean gone and the two lifeboats davits bent like hair pins and trailing in the water. The Bunker hatch. 16 ft. by 17 ft. abaft the cabin, had the tarpauling burst all round and every hatch cover thrown over the side. It was estimated from 30 to 35 tons of coal had poured out of the hatch overboard. The starboard side of the bridge deck where the coal had been, was as clean as though it had been swept and the coal sloped up to the top of the hateh coamings. Now, we must have a look at the Cook and see what had happened in the Galley. The two skylights had clean gone off the deck and the volume of water that had poured through, added to the heavy list, had shot the cook, James Dunn, out through the galley door along with all his pots and pans, dinner and everything. He went through a space of about three feet, between the Ice Chest and the after rails, clean over the side. Fortunately, he grabbed hold of the lee rail and hung on with his body in the Atlantic. The Assistant Steward, who was waiting outside the galley to bring the Cabin dinner along, slid down to leeward and helped the Cook to climb back aboard again. He was taken into the Saloon and wrapped up in blankets. Now, we'll see what happened in the stokehold. The Donkeyman was giving a hand to clean fires, as one fireman was laid up, when she went over. The rush of coal out of the starboard permanent bunker carried both Donkeyman and fireman across the stoke hold plates and almost buried them to leeward. The Donkeyman had some small bones broken in his foot and was more or less badly bruised, as was the fireman, but no bones broken. They were also taken into the Saloon, where the Steward was doing his best to make them comfort­able.
 
Now to return to the bridge, When I picked myself up out of the wreckage and surveyed the damage and the stricken ship, I was almost dumbfounded. The port rail awash, ship listed so heavily it seemed impossible she could ever recover. I looked at the sea so close to us and said to myself "You'll never see Moray Avenue again", and I thought in half an hour it will be all over and no more "Magdala" above water. For a minute I felt paralysed, and I clawed my way to the high side of the bridge and taking off my cap, I prayed "lord, help me and tell me what to do". Like a flash my prayer was answered , "oil". I slid down to the low side of the bridge just as the firemen came clambering up the bridge ladder - "Capt. give us lifebelts". I said, "Men, you see the whole box of lifebelts have gone overboard. The only Life-saving gear left aboard the ship is shovels. Get shovels and start shovelling that coal to windward". Like one man they rushed to get shovels and were soon shovelling coal for dear life. Meantime, the mate came along and I never saw a man so scared in my life. He could scarcely speak ."Captain, S.O.S., S.O.S., quick. I said "never mind S.O.S. just now, Take a couple of hands with buckets and knock the head of one of those oil casks in and get a bucket of oil down each of the W.C.s on the starboard side. Hurry up for if another sea comes along half as big as the last, she'll go right over. The mate hurried away about his job. I should have mentioned, the Injection was above water, and the main engine dead stopped, ship drift­ing fast to leeward, The mate soon had the oil down and it spread away to windward as the ship drifted to leeward and soon there was no break-ing sea as far as the oil extended. As soon as a heavy rolling sea reached the edge of the oil, it simply seemed to slip under and there was nothing but a heavy swell between the far edge of oil field and the ship. Occasionally, she gave a sickening lurch as a heavy swell came along, putting her lee rail a little further under, but she slowly came back again to her usual. The Mate came baek to the bridge and I handed him a slip of paper with "Magdala Lat. 53.11 N, Long, 15.57 W approximate S.O.S. I told him to give it to "Sparks" and tell him to send it out at once. Shortly after he had left me with the message for Sparks, the Steward came up on the bridge looking as white as a ghost. He said, "Captain is she all right?", I replied "How do you mean all right? What's the matter with you?". "Will she go over Captain?". "No, certainly not, What's the matter?". "Oh, it's alright, Captain, there is nothing the matter if you say she's all right. I'll tell you after what made me come up to you", and with that, he went below. (I learned afterwards that the Mate had gone down from the Bridge after I gave him the S.O.S and entering the Saloon he took off his oilskin coat saying "no hope, no hope, every man for himself", he left his oilskin coat on the Saloon floor while he went round to the wireless room, then he came back, picked up his coat, put it on again, and went out on deck). Although I was pretty scared myself, I don't mind admitt­ing, it would never do to let the men think so, I went down the ladder and into the Saloon.
 
First one I saw was the cook wrapped up in blankets sitting on one of the swivel chairs at the table and to cheer them up I said "Look here, Cook, next time you try to leave this ship without my permission, I'll log you". He had to smile and the donkeyman and Fireman laying on the Settee laughed also, although the Donkeyman's foot was paining him. He said "Captain, is the ship all right?". I said "Of course, she's alright. she'll not go over any further, she'll get better now all the time and we'll soon have somebody standing by. I've sent out S.0.S. so cheer up everybody. The Steward was also considerable cheered and was doing his best to make the others comfortable. When I got back to the bridge Sparks came with a wireless message. It was from Valentia, West Coast of Ireland, "Swartsee (sic. Zwartsee) leaving Queenstown steaming 14 knots to your assistance". To this I replied "thanks Magdala''. Then answers began to come in from other ships which were various distances away from 50 to 300 miles. To these I replied "Your assistance not now required, thanks", Then came one from M&M asking the nature of the trouble. I replied with a detailed account of damage caused by one heavy sea at 12.10 p.m. "No cause for immediate anxiety conditions improving". Shortly after a message was brought along by sparks "Leaving Falmouth steaming 15 knots to your assistance, do you require me. Seafalk".(sic.Seefalke) This was a German salvage boat similar to the "Swartzsee" Dutch tug whi«h was supposed to have left Queenstown for our assistance, so I replied "Thanks your assistance not required, Swartzee on the way". Back came her reply "swartsee diverted to s.s. Yarung" . I replied "In that case your assistance required", and the '"Seefalk" oame along for our position asking for a few taps on our wireless now and again for her direction finder. Meanwhile, firemen and sailors were down in the tweendeck shovelling ooal, Darkness came in shortly after 4 p.m. and the red lights were exhibited, I told the Mates to take spells below with the men to encourage them and I would keep the bridge, fortunately , the weather was slightly moderating. About 11p.m. the Mate came on the bridge to ask if I required anything and I told him to knock half the men off ahovelling coal and let them have a few hours sleep. It took him a considerable tlme to get from the bridge down into the tween deck and back. Just before midnight, he appeared on the bridge again and told me the men said they would rather shovel coal as they oouldn't sleep if they laid down. I told the mate I didn't want them to knock themselves up as I had a job for them as soon as it got daylight and I described what I wanted him to do.
Rough sweep the floor of No. 3 hold (starboard side) and throw the Phosphate rock over the tunnel to the port side, never mind wasting time gettting it up on deck. After the floor is fairly clean of phosphate rock, let the carpenter slack back the manhole door bolts of No.4 ballast tank and tell the engineers to start the pump and pump water or let it run into the ballast tank and to flood No.3 hold star­board side until the water was nearly to the tunnel top. Then stop the pump, also, get the deck hose and fill all the bilges on the starboard side, right fore and aft. This was done during the next forenoon, and it brought her up to 26° list, which was a great improvement. The Captain of the "Seafalk" (sic) asked me by wireless to unshackle the star-board anchor and be ready to shackle on his steel towing hawser to our cable. The cable shackle next to the anchor was riveted, so I lashed the starboard anchor with wire to the ship's bow and it lay very snug and quiet owing to the heavy list. Then I got up the cable from the chain locker and flaked the cable on the high side of the Fo'castle head, unshackling at the 15 fathom shackle, payed the end of the cable down the pipe and brought the end up to the chock on the fo'castle head all
ready for the Seafalke's wire hawser. Then I knocked all hands off for a 'well earned rest and sleep'. Friday night about 11 p.m. we were expecting the "Seafalk" to heave into sight any minute. I was keeping the bridge. The weather was hazy with a slight drizzle of rain. I was keeping a sharp lookout to the S.E. for her, when suddenly lights appeared out of the mist to the N. W. The Captain told me afterwards that he passed our position without seeing us. He found us by asking for a few taps on the wireless so had to turn back. The "Seafalk" came down close off our port quarter and asked by morse lamp "Are you ready"? "I replied "Yes, ready but suggest leave her until daylight". She replied, "No, will connect at once". My idea for leaving her as she was until daylight was because I did not like the idea of slacking away 60 fathoms of heavy cables in the dark. I was just afraid of accidents as 60 fathoms of our cable would be quite a heavy strain on the windlass. However, our deliverer seemed to be anxious to get on with the job and I was the last one to stand in his way so replied "Alright, connect". She steamed slowly up our starboard side, which was the weather and high side. He had his search light on us and all hands were ready on the fo'castle head to heave in his hawser. When abreast our fore rigging a heaving line waa thrown from th« "Seafalke" and quickly passed to our fo'castle head, we hauled in and attached to the small heaving line was a 2" rope. This we took round the windlass and hove away. Attached to the 2" rope was the steel towing spring. This was soon hove up to the chock close to our cable and we tried to connect the shackle which was in the eye of the towing hawser, but the shackle was too unhandy that before we could get it to work the "Seafalk" was ahead and drifting to leeward and we had to let go. The performance was then repeated with the same result so I signalled, "Leave her until daylight", and she steamed off and lay on our port quarter until about 8 a.m. then came along again. What a difference. One could plainly see what was to be done and from the time she started to come up alongside until we were connected, no more than fifteen minutes elapsed. I signalled to the "Seafalk" not to put any strain on the tow rope until I gave him the signal to go ahead, In due course, when all was ready, I signalled and the "Magdala" followed the "Seafalk" like a whipped boy following his mother. With the full length of the "Seafalke's towing hawser and sixty fathoms of our cable the tug was a long way ahead and the weight of our cable acted as a spring, keeping the towing hawser well below the water all the time, We started away for Queenstown at 9.20 a.m. on the 28th January, and arrived there on Monday 30th at 4.35 a.m., anchored off Queenstown and cast off hawser after heaving in the cable. 7.55 a.m. made fast to tug with short tow line. 8.20 a.m. anchor up, and towed slowly in to Queenstown. At 11.30 we arrived at anchorage and moored with two anchors. Distance towed 237 miles".
 
After taking on 500 tons of coal to help correct the list and spending ten days in drydock for repairs Captain Smales and Magdala left Queenstown at 5p.m. on 14th February and continued their voyage to New Orleans.
 
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