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Blue Bar No 2

"...And Just When We Thought It Was Safe!!!"
Part Five
by Gordon Sollors

Blue Bar No 2

Continued from "...And Just When We Thought It Was Safe!!!", Part Four


Rescue Tug Foundation Franklin

This photo of Foundation Franklin is from the Memorial University Archive, located at the Memorial University of Newfoundland. It is part of the Captain Harry Stone Collection.

At some time late on February the second, the Foundation Franklin made radio contact with us, and asked us to fire a rocket into the air so that she could see us. The first rocket was a bit optimistic, but after a while, we sent up another one, and we were seen. As the second one went up, the tug spotted us and came as close to us as she dared. She was mobile, we were not; she just had to stand off whilst the Tug master radioed his requirements to us for towing, and his intentions for getting things under way. The Master of the tug wanted us to use the ďsea lengthĒ of the anchor cable, thus avoiding any chafing of his wire on the ship. The Captain wouldnít hear of this.

In the event, the tow rope was placed over a bollard and lashed there. The tug informed us that they would come as near alongside as possible, and fire a rocket across our fore deck, and that all crew should keep clear the deck, but stay handy to retrieve their line after the rocket landed. The first rocket missed. Considering the continual changing positions of the two ships, it is hardly surprising! As it was, we were all quite impressed when the next rocket came squarely over number two hatch, trailing the heaving line right across the deck. In no time, we had retrieved the line and run it up to the foícísíle head where we fed it through the starboard fairlead. We started pulling by hand. They attached a much heavier rope to the relatively light heaving line, and then a heavier rope still was attached to that. It was the heavier rope that we could wrap around the windlass and start heaving in the heavy wire rope that was to be our tow rope. The tug people had even squeezed the eye of the tow rope to make it narrower so that it would fit right through the fairlead. In order to be able to bring more of the towing wire aboard, we had rigged up a block on the after end of the foícísíle head, and from there to the windlass. Once we had a decent length of wire aboard, we ďstopped it offĒ and slipped the eye of the wire over the nearest bollards. Once there, we then lashed the wire rope in such a way that it couldnít ďjumpĒ off the bits.

It was all over in a surprisingly short time. However, it mustnít be assumed that it was as easy as it appears to have been from what I have written. During all these operations, the ship was, of course, behaving very violently, and just trying to keep upright required quite an effort. We were all wearing heavy oilskins and sea boots, which whilst offering us the best protection from the weather, are not the easiest of things to work in. Tons of water were still crashing over the foícísíle head, often causing us to at least pause in what we were doing until a more favourable moment came along. Having secured the tug, the Mate informed the bridge, who in turn informed the tug Master.

There was no question of us being towed anywhere in that weather. The best thing the tug could do for us was to stand off to our starboard bow, and hold the shipís head into the storm. This he did, and the violent rolling of the ship that we had endured for the past several days became just violent pitching and tossing once more. We still had tons of water smashing over the foícísíle head after each wave, but anything was better than the continual rolling that had some times almost put the mast head down to the water. Life became easier; we all felt that sense of relief. There was no point in anyone going on the wheel, so lookouts both in the wheelhouse and on the Monkey Island were kept. The Captain stayed on the bridge. The tug was using several hundred fathoms of towing wire, so he was stood off, well away from the ship. Some times, we could hardly see him. One thing that subconsciously surprised me was that the length of towing cable was so heavy that most of it was submerged for most of the time, and yet with the continually violent pitching of the ship, there must have been considerable strain on the bollards which held the end of the tow rope on the foícísíle head.

I suppose there must have been plenty of information passing between the tug, the Captain, and the shore based weather stations. All we knew in the mess room was that the weather did not look like easing up. Life carried on. We spent time below, we spent time on watch, and we ate our meals, all in this topsy-turvy world of violent motion. There was no expectation of a let up at any given time. We just knew that even the North Atlantic had its better moments, and that our turn was bound to come.

Just over a day later, at 9 AM on the 4th of February, the tow line parted, and before we knew it, we were back, beam on to the weather, and rolling as badly as we ever had. The best that can be said of it is that it occurred during daylight hours. Both Captains agreed that the weather was too rough to try another tow. It was to be another twenty four hours before it was deemed safe to effect another connection. It was decided to try again at 9 AM on the 5th of February.

Once more it was ďall hands on deckĒ and off to the foícísíle head to view the damage. Even with the smooth, round edges of the fairlead, the violent motions of the ship had caused the wire to chafe itself to destruction. The eye of the wire remained forlornly on the bits, whilst the rest of the wire lay somewhat forlornly along the deck as far as the fairlead where the end of it lay shredded. The crew of the tug had already reeled in what was left of the tow rope. They would have had quite a bit of work to do, serving the end of the wire, and cutting off the useless strands that were splaying out everywhere. By the time they had hauled in the complete wire, several fathoms of its length would have been rendered useless.

We unlashed the now useless end of the rope as it lay on the bits, and tossed it overboard. We took shelter underneath the foícísíle head as the tug came as close as he could to fire another rocket aboard. This time, it came straight across the fore deck first time. As before, we took it up to the foícísíle head, and began the hauling in process. From the small heaving line, through to a more substantial rope to which the towing wire was attached. Because the eye of the towing rope was now no longer any use, the tug sent us over half a dozen ďUĒ clamps with which to make an eye in the rope. This meant that we had to bring aboard a much greater length of wire so that we could form a large loop, and secure the end of the towrope to itself, thus forming an eye. This took quite some time, much longer than the first tow had taken to secure. Since we had to handle relatively small nuts and spanners, it was not feasible to wear gloves. With the spray still lashing us, it was quite cold and wet up there. However, after several hoursí work, we had fitted all the ďUĒ clamps, and the tow was under way again. Even as we were leaving the foícísíle head, we could feel the easing of the shipís movement as the tug took the strain, and brought us around once more to face the weather.

I must say here that the Empire Abbey, although under charter to the Ministry of War Transport, was run by Elders and Fyffes, the banana importers. Since most of their (Elder and Fyffes) work was to and from the West Indies, quite often they carried cargoes of rum. It was a custom in the company to give each crew member a ďtotĒ of rum each week. During our extended time on the foícísíle head, the Mate had seen fit to bring up a bottle of rum, and give us each a shot ďto warm us upĒ. I have to say that although I do not normally drink rum myself, it was extremely well received by us. With about half a dozen of us or more on the foícísíle head at any one time, by the time we had each had a tot of rum, there was still a bit left in the bottle. The Mate would designate two men to take the remainder of the bottle, and ďhave breakĒ under the foícísíle head, finish off the bottle, have a smoke, and then return to work.

Although we still couldnít go anywhere, it was a pleasure, just being able to stand up without having to hang on to everything in sight. For the first few hours of our second tow, we were just ďstood toĒ, head on, into the weather, but it wasnít long before the weather eased a bit, and we started the long tow to Halifax. Despite the weather, the Captain had decided that we should make every effort to get under way. Our voyage was brief. The weather became progressively worse, and at about noon on the seventh of February, the tow parted for the second time. Once more we were left to the mercy of the wind and sea.

"...And Just When We Thought It Was Safe!!!" is continued in Part Six: The Third Attempt