Jersey City (1)

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My first voyage in the St Just Steamship Company.

Reprinted from the Reardon Smoth Newsletter No. 37. February 1973.

At the end of December 1914 I applied for a Second Officer’s berth and was interviewed by Captain W R Smith, the founder of the Company. He asked me with which firm I had served my time and I informed him “before the mast” in firms such as Morels Ltd., Cardiff; Williams and Mordey, Newport and on the Morocco Coast with James Power and Company’s Line, London—making in all some 5 ½ years. Captain Smith informed me he would have a berth available for me a week or two’s time and would I wait – which I agreed to do. A week or ten days went by when I received a letter to report to the office at Pier Head Chambers, Cardiff Docks. I was interviewed by Mr Willie Smith, eldest son of Captain Smith, who informed me that I was rather young for such a large ship. However, it was agreed I should have the berth at the agreed sum of £12 per month on joining, which would be in a few days time. I also agreed to leave my Discharge Book in care of the Office.

            Three days later, early January 1915, I received instructions to proceed to London to join the s.s. “Santaramo” in Surrey Commercial Dock. The vessel at the time was owned by Furness Withy. I duly arrived onboard, having travelled from Paddington to Surrey Commercial Docks in a hansom cab. The Santaramo was a likely vessel of the three island type, about 9000 tons DW and only six months from the builder’s yard. Having single decks she was unsuitable for Furness Line general cargo run from the United States. Vessel was duly purchased and handed over to St.Just Steamship Co.— Captain Garnett of Furness Line in command. Vessel sailed from London to Port Talbot, where she dry-docked, was overhauled and painted, with Furness Withy funnel markings stripped off and funnel pained red with black top and black “S” on sides, being the Messrs, W.R.Smith & Sons’ funnel mark. The name was changed to “Jersey City” – Bideford. Vessel sailed from Port Talbot for Iqueque via Panama Canal (only newly opened) to load nitrates for the United States.

            When we were four days out from Port Talbot, during the Third Engineer’s a.m. watch, the propeller cast four blades from propeller boss, not a portion of root of blades being visible. In those days there was no wireless on ships; we depended entirely on visible signals, flags, Morse code or semaphore to any passing vessel. Having a N.E wind and approaching the Portuguese Coast, we lashed a derrick athwart the foremast and spread new tarpaulins from derrick to deck hoping to assist down to Lisbon. After drifting like this for about 2 ½ days, a vessel steering north passed nearby in the early hours of the morning. We immediately called her up on the marine lamp. She did not reply and sheered from us with all speed. An hour later and daylight broke, and we set a flag signal for tow, the other vessel then cautiously came towards us and enquired what was our trouble. Satisfied that we were not an enemy vessel, she came fairly close and arrangements were made to tow us into Lisbon. The vessel proved to be the Mamarie of the New Zealand Shipping Line – and the terms agreed – “no cure no pay”. We finally got coupled with tow line, using our starboard cable and the other vessel’s heavy towing wire.

After two days towing, we finally arrived in Lisbon Harbour. We were delayed her a month. We had a spare propeller on board stowed in lower hold aft. Repairs were also carried out to windlass, etc. On completion of repairs we sailed for the Panama Canal. Fairly good weather was encountered on voyage and on 18th day out from Lisbon, a day prior to arriving Panama Canal, and in the afternoon, propeller cast one of its blades. The sea was absolutely clear of any floating objects such as dead-wood or trunks of trees, etc. We arrived Panama Canal (Colon) the next day, and transited the Canal. On passing through the locks, which were guarded by USA soldiers, one of them would hail me with “Hey, Mr Mate, there is a blade missing off your” wheel”. I would reply with “OK Bud”, and give him a waive of the hand as a friendly gesture. We sailed in the evening out of the Pacific side of the canal, and proceeded to Iqueque for orders. We arrive Iqueque 9 days after leaving Panama and, being Saturday, Captain Garnet received no loading port instructions and, I may add, that on ring off the main engines at this port, it was important that the part of the propeller with no blade should not be visible above the water. Captain Garnet was very much afraid that the shipper of the nitrates cargo would object to putting his cargo in a vessel that was probably not seaworthy, having a defective propeller.

            In this event happening, vessel was in a spot as there were no facilities for dry-docking on the West Coast of South America or of casting a new propeller. The only other option open was for vessel to proceed to West Coast USA, San Francisco or Seattle or transit Panama Canal and proceed to New Orleans for dry-docking. This would have incurred serious loss to owners regarding time and money.

            However, on the following Monday, Captain Garnet received orders to proceed to Antofagasta to load Nitrate in bags for Charleston, South Carolina, USA. Vessel proceeded forthwith arriving at loading port the following day. On anchoring in the harbour and in loading berth, a similar procedure was carried out as on arriving Iqueque after ring off the main engines – propeller turned so that part of the propeller boss with no blade was not visible above water. However, loading was commenced and a full and complete cargo was loaded in a period of about ten days. Favourable weather was encountered on passage to Panama and, after transiting the Canal, preceded to Charleston S.C. I might add that a few weeks after the vessel passed through the Canal, a landslide occurred at Culibra Cut, which meant closing the Canal for a month. Vessel duly discharged total cargo at Charleston as per Bill of lading. We then proceeded to New York for orders, fully expecting a new propeller to be fitted there. Vessel lay at anchor off the Statue of Liberty for a couple of days, during which time Captain W.R.Smith, the owner of the vessel, visited the captain and crew. The visit was doubly welcomed when it was learned that Captain W.R.Smith had given all hands an increase in their monthly wages. Vessel was chartered by Compagnie General Transatlantique to load general cargo for Le Havre.

            Vessel loaded a full cargo of general in about nine days and sailed. Twenty-four hours after the vessel sailed from New York, another blade was cast off the propeller, not opposite the already missing blade, but adjacent, thus leaving two blades on one side of the propeller. The main engines, I can assure you, did not have a balanced and rhythmic beat. Mr Wilkie, Chief Engineer, ran engines at best possible speed in order to nurse the two remaining blades and avoid further loss. A speed of about seven knots was maintained until a strong S.E.wind shipped up a nasty sea, and it was decided to stop main engines and let the vessel drift. This lasted for about two days when weather eased up and the sea became smoother and vessel again got underway and proceeded on passage. When off Cherbourg a passing vessel informed us by Morse Lamp that there was an enemy submarine in the vicinity. The Captain and Chief Engineer had a consultation and they decided to take a chance with the propeller and increase revolutions and get best possible speed considering the condition of the propeller, also bearing in mind, wind and tide were favourable and much to our surprise, a speed of ten knots was achieved. Vibrations of main engine were severe. However, we safely arrived at Havre Roads and lay at anchor there for a period of two weeks waiting for a discharge berth in the docks. All hands had visions of proceeding to the UK on completion of discharge of cargo, for dry-docking and the fitting of a new propeller. Unfortunately, our dreams were shattered as when entering the locks, there on the Pier Head was a propeller with “Jersey City” painted on it in white!

            On completion of discharge of cargo, vessel dry-docked under the supervision of Captain R.Compton, Marine Superintendent. Vessel had to find labour to scale and paint vessel’s bottom and topsides. I accompanied the Chief Officer, Mr.Whittle, each morning outside the dry-dock and assisted him in picking up any casual labour, including young lads who were available to carry out the work, and in the evening, we paid each person his daily wage due. Captain Garnet left the s.s.Jersey City at Havre and returned to his usual employers, Furness Withy & Co. He was relieved by one of this company’s masters, Captain J.Storey of Whitby. The ensuing voyage was very pleasant and of short duration; about three months. No propeller trouble with the propeller fitted at Havre. The voyage ended in the UK where I left her on paying off and attended Mr Manson’s Nautical School, Queen Street, Cardiff, in order to sit for my First Mate’s Certificate. Brice Thomas.

Postscript. The Jersey City was torpedoed and sunk of the Flannan Islands on 24th May 1917.

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Jersery City. Page [1]
Memories from RSL staff. Page No. [1]