Paris City (2)

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Launching of the Paris City by Kenneth Wade.

Marine salvage at the best of times, spells hard work, many disappoints and long hours frequently under hazardous conditions. It can also mean a severe test on men's patience as I believe the following episode will portray. I feel that there are two reasons why this story should be told, first
from the point of view that it makes interesting reading to those interested in the sea, and secondly as a small tribute to as gallant a crew as ever my fortune to be shipmates with.
When this particular case occurred I was serving on board the salvage vessel"Hercules”,then based in Gibraltar on a 24 hour salvage call. Her crew consisted of a British master and officers and Spanish seamen and leading hands, some 28 members all told. Quite sometime had passed since we had taken part in a good salvage job, and time had been occupied testing gear, pumps, diving equipment, burning plant etc, as is customary aboard such vessels in port, on stand by.
However on the afternoon of April 24 1951, we dropped everything, and put to sea in answer to a distress call which turned out different from the usual run of casualties. We contacted her by radio and found that she was the British cargo steamer "Paris City" aground some 270 miles along the east Spanish coast, near the small town of Torrevieja. Apparently she was in light condition, aground fore and aft, on a sandy bottom with slight bottom damage. Owing to her light condition she had dragged her anchors and grounded in the very heavy weather which prevailed. The ship had used her engines, hove on her anchors, taken all prudent precautions, but the elements got the better of her.
Indeed the weather was heavy, as we found out when we arrived some 28 hours later and anchored as
close by her as we could , but the heavy breaking seas prevented us from boarding her from seaward.
Nevertheless, having gone through the usual formalities of entering ship, customs etc, I accompanied
the master by road to the place of stranding and we managed to board her after getting thoroughly
soaked in the operation. We made a preliminary examination and the master drew up his plan of
operation. The "Paris City" lay broadside on to the beach, with little or no water on her inshore
side, and on her weather side an angry sea hammering at her with spray everywhere.
We agreed to lay out anchors and warp wires for hauling off gear as soon as we could establish contact with the ship. Owing to the confused sea around her it was difficult to find out just how much water she had outside her, but we commenced forthwith. The blocks, wires and stoppers to form the deck purchase to warp wires were transported in our salvage launch to the jetty in the small harbour. From here we loaded them into a lorry and took them to the stranding place. Assisted by the crew of the stranded vessel we manhandled it all across the beach and so onboard by derrick.
The heavy warp wires (6 in.) we managed to get onboard by first contacting them with a rocket fired messenger from our salvage launch. How well I recall the incident, when complete with rocket gear and small messenger ropes we got as close to her as we dare, for the sea close to the ship was confused, and to handle a 20 h.p. launch in it was difficult. Our "skipper" fired the rocket, and, in
his anxiety to get away from her side as soon as possible , all but missed her, giving rise to ribald
comment which I leave to the imagination. Twenty-four hours later we had the gear layed out, heavy
anchors and a tow connected to the "Hercules" as well.
And so the first of many fruitless attempts was made. We were joined the next day by another sister salvage vessel the "Herakles", and together made further attempts . Full power efforts on all our resources were made, but the "Paris City" refused to move an inch. By this time the weather had begun to case, and with it the water level dropped and no hope of assistance from the tide, which in that area are considered so small as not to merit prediction.
Thus we entered the next stage of the affair, which was a dismantling programme. To lighten her further we stripped her of removal heavy weights which we could lay our hands on, without damaging the vessel at all. All timber , most of her derricks, lifeboats and davits- except one kept for emergency-- and as many steel beams as we dare remove without further impairing her. The launches from the two salvage vessels were busy day and night towing lighters which we had hired locally, back and forth to the salvage vessels and loading all this gear to be safely stored. This completed, we set to again with every hope to see her leave her bed , but no such luck; a month gone by already. The situation had certainly deteriorated, the casualty had run out of fuel and was low on water.
Consequently we reduced her crew to a bare working minimum and the remainder were sent home.
The "Herakles" was called away on another urgent job and hope of bad weather assisting us to
refloat her by accompanying rise in water, was gone until September.
We settled down to what we could now see was going to be a long drawn out job. With the fine weather we were able to make a finer survey of the ground around her. By sounding and diver’s reports we found there was a considerable amount of rock outside her; some with as little as four and a half feet over it and we estimated that she need at least 9ft. 6ins. of water to float. Obviously explosives were needed, and plenty of them. In order to keep the casualty alive as it were, we stripped down two tanks for her, and by carrying them in our salvage launch were able to keep them sufficiently supplied with fuel and water from our own stocks. Food they had, and the 15 remaining crew, though not in love with the idea, settled down to helping with what appeared to be a hopeless task.
Then we headed for Gibraltar, stored and took on all the blasting material we needed
and two days later returned to tackle the job from a new angle. The brunt of this work fell on the
diver, who was well practiced in the use of rock drills and explosives under water. He had one failing,
with his attendant, the carpenter, he would talk far too much, but bolt him into his suit give him tools
and some air- a good days work was the result. We converted one of the casualty's lifeboats into a
divers workboat, and had to rig long lengths of compressed air hose down to the hauling off wires so as to get the drills out to where we wanted to work. Gradually however we overcame our difficulties.
With fine weather the diver worked into the night using underwater lamps, and our frequent explosions became a common topic locally.
Perhaps it would be as well to dwell for a moment on local conditions. Torrevieja was some two miles away, and by June , with the locals and the summer holiday folk, we had become part of the community. We had been accepted as local members of the Casino, and in there, over various
glasses of good Spanish wine the job was discussed. Local seafarers would shake their heads, and say
that while they enjoyed the company of the Englishman , they had better had gone off home, for the
"Paris City" was there to stay. The stage was reached when organised coach trips arrived on the seen to the ship that would not come off. From a nearby farm, fresh milk was exchanged daily for white bread baked onboard, and to cap it all one of our crew got married there. But with the occasional frivolity, wine parties etc., and the tedious work, it was telling. I could see it among the crew, and feel it myself. The monotonous daily round of pumping air to the diver, making up charges, blasting and recovering rock to dump ashore in the scorching sun, with no apparent result, was leading the men into more drinking bouts than was usual. June, July, August and still no visible result. There she lay , in the brilliant sun by day, and by night silhouetted against the plain tress and local small farms.
Eventually in September we exhausted all our stores and blasting material, and steamed back to Gibraltar to re-store, and it was then things began to move. Ironically enough , after all that work a freak storm sprang up in our absence and she showed her first signs of movement. They were slight, but it gave that long for hope. Here again it was visible among the crew; it was like a rejuvenation, they could not wait to get on the job again. The "Herakles"arrived with us and renewed efforts were made. With tows connected up and all warps working, we got some movement out of her. When the sea cleared after that attempt one could see clearly, through the water, the bed she had made for herself.

Down went the drills, more charges, more excavating and in the course of September, with occasional poor weather we got further promising moves out of her. I shall always remember the sensation of those initial moves; it was like the gift if a new sense, to feel the bumping, and feel her respond slightly to the movement of the seas. It was our first real reward for the work of five months.
The men were happy; they worked with new vigour for they could see now that all their effort had not been in vain. They were even betting on the day that she would be ours, a pleasant thing to witness when one had to work them.

We knew that we could not leave here for a moment, and for the last five weeks that we were there- all shore leave was cancelled. I worked around her during the day, and at night slept in the room which had been occupied by the second male before he was sent home. At nights, I would sit
and yarn with the red-haired Irish mate, who had been a great help to us, and who vowed that when
he was master and unfortunate enough to get ashore, no salvage company would get him off. He would do it himself with all the practice that he have had over recent months. From my bunk I could hear her creaking, feel her gently roll and bump as her bilge keel touched the bottom, and I was happy.
Rats had infested her and were even seen on occasions during the day. Because I was superstitious it was a healthy sign. The first signs of bad weather were manifesting themselves, and each time we took advantage, moving her stem slowly but surly nearer to the deep water. Diving hours were increased and the hands became weary at the pumps, but they had tasted victory and pressed on.
The beginning of final victory came on the night of October 14. It was a Sunday night and with heavy skies and an increasing wind, a swell worked up from the north-east . At 7 p.m. we boarded the "Paris City" with as many hands as we could spare and manned all winches connected to hauling off gear. Both tugs began pulling at 9 p.m. and gradually the weather increased.
Rain set in, but it mattered little to me as I watched the warp wires inch their way aboard and
meanwhile praying that the anchors would not drag. I saw grins on the faces of our men as it became
more apparent that she was to be ours at last. They cared little for the danger that was ever present
around them - that a deck purchase all singing tight, and straining should part a wire.
Dawn broke, and with it came a market increase in the weather, we had been working
almost 12 hours, and I kept watching those wires with my fingers crossed, for if they parted, she could
be thrown back into a worst position than she had been originally. Back and forth she veered,
tightening and slackening the wires, and grinding over the ground we had so meticulously broken up
for her passage out. As she opened up to seaward, so the protection that her inshore side afforded our
launches was lessened. It was decided to send them away to try and make the small harbour for a lee.
This I watched with uneasy mind, for the seas were coming in a series of three big rollers, as the heavy swell from the deep water broke over the shallows.
Our struggling launch made it and escaped into the harbour, but the "Herakles" launch had her tiller smashed, and helplessly she was driven onto the rocks at the top of the beach, her timbers were stove in, propeller damaged, but I heaved a sigh, as out of the wrecked boat Stepped the
coxswain, shaken and drenched, but alive. We managed to get him over the bow of the "Paris
City" by a Jacobs ladder, just as she was leaving the beach. Five minutes later, at 9 am. she was
afloat. It was definitely one of my greatest moments in the salvage game, to feel that vessel roll and
pitch, and to see her in some other position to that we had been gazing at for nearly six months. All
warp wires were cast off and the tugs stood out to sea with her to get her well off the coast, before a sea tow was spread to take her down to Gibraltar for docking.
Due to weather we had to leave our salvage launch behind , as it was impossible to
recover it in that seas. The "Herakles" stayed also to recover all anchors and wires, and to bring our
boat and five men that were left too. When they got back to base about a week after us they told us
how the whole town had come down to the tiny water front to witness the final episode. It was
October 15, 1951, and we had won. Of that gallant crew, of which I think there was none better, I
would like to end by saying, that they were, every mother's son a sailor.

The red haired Chief Officer was Commodore Mark Higgins, who we are sure will remember this
unfortunate occasion. The master of the "Paris City" was Captain Duffy, and the Chief Engineer
was Trevor Griffiths. The "Paris City"continued service with R.S.L. until 1954 when she was sold.
The vessel was scrapped in 1962. This article first appeared in Shipmates issue No.5.

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