The Warren Register of Colonial Tall Ships

Sunday, March 18, 2012

THE FIGHTING TUGBOAT

                                           THE FIGHTING TUGBOAT                                                                                                        copyright R.J.Warren 2011-2012  
Photographs have been provided by the family who also provided me with the below material, As soon as is possible I will scan them and place them within the below tale.
Author, Warren Register                                                                                                                                                                  A true story written by Captain T. S. Anderson who began his sailing career as an apprentice of 17 years aboard the ship ‘David Law’. He worked his way up to become master of the tugboat ‘Coringa’ of Brisbane, Queensland.
The tugboat ‘Coringa’ had been the workplace of Captain Anderson for some time when one morning in March 1929, he received a telephone call from his company’s chief officer. ‘I was at home enjoying the daily newspaper when the phone rang and I was informed that the passenger liner ‘Arafura’ was in need of a tow as she had fractured the stern tube in cyclonic weather off the North Queensland coast’.‘I took a look at the Brisbane sky and there was a steady southeast wind blowing that seemed to give a warning that things might become as little rough’.
We packed a few necessary items and headed off to the ‘Coringa’ where the crew of 21 men was getting things ready. On some occasions we were given a wireless operator but none were forthcoming for this voyage.We headed off down river and once we had cleared into open seas, we were bouncing up and driving into heavy seas.

The voyage up the coast was managed without too much difficulty and as we were running with the weather, we made good time. The following day we found the ‘Arafura’ about 75 miles Northeast of Lady Elliott Island.

The ‘Arafura’ was taking a terrific buffeting at the hands of the elements and the weather was getting worse. We managed to get the big ship in tow and were now ourselves, being pounded by ever worsening seas.Time after time our little fighting tug was driven into the seas, she was almost being swallowed by the mountains of blue. The wind tore the tops off the waves and turned the spray into little bullets that spattered against the bridge windows as if trying to shoot holes through them. Hours went by with the same thing occurring over and over until finally we ran into a sea that even ‘Coringa’ could not break through.

So powerful was the wave when it hit us, that the saloon lower bridge was smashed along with the bulwarks.She slowly recovered from that battering and struggled onward. The night was upon us and it seemed never ending, seas crashing and thumping against the hull with all those on deck continually wet by the driving spray.
When would the weather slacken off just a little, when would we get a little respite? The sea did not relent and seemed like an angry bull that just had to get us off her back. Such a wonderful little tugboat was ‘Coringa’. How hard she battled the waves with a heavy disabled ship in tow and still be able to keep all aboard her safe. Dawn slowly came and went with the wind screaming her torrents of abuse and the seas lashed at us first one side then the other. Poor ‘Coringa’ could not sway her quarters for the heavy load kept her down and she could only plow onward through the heavy seas. Great green and white waves towered over us and then crashed against our superstructure and across our decks with still no respite. We had not been informed that another tugboat [the ‘Forceful of Brisbane] had been given orders to assist us with the tow and it was indeed a comforting sight when she hove into view.

The mental strain that one suffers as one waits for a drama such as this to end, can make even the strongest of mind, happy to see an end on the horizon.But the sea can be a cruel mistress and as evening turned into night, the seas seemed to regain strength and finally, our steering gear carried away. Now we were in as much, if not more, trouble than the ‘Arafura’. We were forced to drop our towline and desperately we set to work in an effort to gain even partial steering. This was accomplished with great difficulty in the big seas and it was at this point that I was washed overboard by one sea and given the chance to get back on board by another. We were able to follow along behind the ‘Arafura’ which vessel was adrift because ‘Forceful’ did not have a line heavy enough to use and we had her spare below decks in our hold. Perhaps she would be able to get hold of the line we had discarded when our steering broke.We had very little rest ever since leaving Brisbane and at 11pm, I left the bridge after giving orders that we should keep the ‘Arafura’ in sight during the night. At 3am, a voice woke me from a sleep that seemed to have not even begun, it was one of the deckhands and he assisted me on with my oilskins and I resumed the bridge.The Mate was on watch and he peered ahead into the blackness. We had lost the big ship and now that the tension was somewhat slackened; everyone began to show how absolutely worn out and in some cases, seasick they were. It was all we could do now, to try and keep the sea from taking us in our semi-crippled condition. When I saw a particularly big sea coming, I ordered full steam ahead to soften the impact of the following sea.When dawns first light came, we searched anxiously for our companion tug and the ‘Arafura’ but they well out of our sight. Our little tug had by this time developed a list to port of several degrees and she was very sluggish in her steering and I found that She could not be got around to face the seas and was therefore forced to run before them.

As the morning advanced, it seemed that the sea wanted another crack at us and a huge roller smashed over our stern and carried the port lifeboat out of its davits and over the side. We could only watch and it was tumbled about in the maelstrom around us. Had a man gone over board he would not survive in those seas. Four days had now gone by since we had set out and try as we may, we could not get her head to the seas and we just had to take the tremendous buffeting that we were handed. On many occasions, the crew and I thought that we were finished but the gallant little boat kept going.

Sometime after midnight, the winds began to moderate and although the seas were still smashing at us, we could sense that relief was at hand. I felt that the worst had come and gone and that if only the seas would moderate a little, we could get her round and the rest would be easy.

The morning of the fifth day came and we managed to take a sight and found that we were about 120 miles east of Sandy Cape. It was a little after this that we were seen by the ship ‘Miruda’ which vessel radioed Brisbane to let them know our position and condition.The list we had developed had been because the forward hatch was full to running over and the pumps had only just managed to keep her going. Finally we reached the shelter of the Brisbane River and we were met by our company superintendent near the Pile Lighthouse and after inspection of the damage, we proceeded up river to arrange repairs and to get some well-earned rest for self and crew. One week later after repairs had been made, we again went to sea with the ‘Forceful’ and the ‘Arafura’ [still in tow] and we took the passenger liner on to Sydney for her turn at being repaired.

 A letter received by Captain Anderson dated March 10th 1929 stated: 
Dear Capt, 
 I was a passenger in the ‘Arafura’ during the cyclone and I feel I can never properly express my gratitude and appreciation to you and your crew for the perfectly wonderful way you stuck by the ‘Arafura’ in those mountainous seas. This until your steering broke and you were compelled to slip the towline. No one except those on board the tug can have any conception of what you must have gone through. I only wish I could have had the opportunity of thanking you and each one of your crew personally. But as that was impossible, I felt that I must write. You certainly earned the greatest admiration from all those aboard the ‘Arafura’ for the splendid way you stuck to your job in the face of such perilous danger. We were all so relieved when we heard that the ‘Coringa’ was safe. This is my first visit to Australia but my experience in the cyclone has left me with an admiration for the grit and bravery, of the Australian, which I will never forget. 
Please convey my greatest thanks to all the crew. 
Yours Ever Gratefully
 Signed: Twee. Ellison
Talisker-Merino Downs
Merino.

Newspaper report of the incident

ARAFURA IN CYCLONE
Disabled Propeller
Grueling Experience Drifting Out to Sea
BRISBANE. March 3.
After fighting her way down the Queensland coast with a damaged propeller for practically a week through tempestuous weather, during which the full force of a cyclone was experienced, the Eastern Australian Co.'s steamer Arafura, from the East, reached Pinkanha Wharf, Brisbane, about noon to- day, in tow of a Brisbane tug, the Forceful, and escorted by the oversea freighter, Peshawar. The vessel; which damaged her propeller in the China Sea by striking some submerged object, had temporary repairs carried out at Manilla.
She reached Townsville safely, and departed from there for Brisbane on Sunday last. Next day, however, bad weather worked up, and as the vessel was crippled an S.O.S. was sent out. The Peshavvur, en route from Townsville to Brisbane, responded, and escorted her till the tug Coringa from Brisbane arrived on the scene on Tuesday afternoon. The Peshavvur then went on to Gladstone. The cyclone was then forming, and the elements were extremely bad. The Coringa, however, succeeded in getting a line aboard, and commenced to tow the bigger vessel for Brisbane. After straining with her charge from 3.30 on Tuesday afternoon till Wednesday night, a period of 30 hours, the Coringa experienced trouble with' her steering-gear, which rendered her helpless. She was, therefore, obliged to cast off.
SECOND S.O.S.
By this time the cyclone had develop- ed, and the two vessels drifted apart in wild weather. Another call for,assistance was made by the Arafura, and the Peshavvur set out again to her aid. An- other Brisbane tug, the Forceful, had meanwhile been sent to assist the Coringa with her tow, but she and the Peshavvur could not reach the crippled Arafura till 4 o'clock on Friday morning, having to light their way through the cyclone. The Arafura had to fight her own way right in the heart of the cyclone, and drifted out to sea. It was as much as her commander could do to keep her head to the wind. At one period during the height of the storm her engines actually failed, and the worst seemed Imminent, but her engineers, toiling heroically in the bowels of the ship, succeeded in saving the situation.
When the Forceful and the Peshavvur reached the Arafura on Friday morning the weather was still extremely bad, but the Forceful succeeded in taking her in tow, with the Peshawur acting as escort. The Arafura's engineers succeeded in keeping her engines working, but on Saturday night, after the severe straining they had experienced, they broke down completely. The weather, however, was then considerably improved, and this morning delightful conditions prevailed. The tug Coringa limped into Brisbane River late yesterday afternoon, after nothing had been heard of her since casting off from the Arafura on Tuesday night, and since when she had experienced a most gruelling time. The tug Forceful also had a most unenviable experience when going to the Arafura's assistance.
ENGINEERS' FINE WORK.
A visit to the engine-room and shaft house of the Arafura as she lay in port to-day showed vividly the task with which the engineers were faced. The casings of the shaft were badly worn, the water pouring into the shaft opening. Substantial repairs had been carried out, but even when the vessel was lying at the wharf the water was flooding in, and the work in the stoke hold was carried through in frightful difficulties. It appears a marvel that the stokers ever came out alive.
The engineers worked on their backs under the shaft of the tunnel while carrying out difficult and dangerous work. The chief engineer stood by for 23 hours, but when questioned regarding his experiences he proved very modest, passing the matter off as if such occurrences were quite ordinary matters.- It took an hour to persuade him to stand with the other officers for their
photographs._




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