TheShipsList-L ArchivesArchiver > TheShipsList > 2009-10 > 1256367971
From: "Don Hazeldine" <>
Subject: [TSL] Collision in New York Harbor 1929
Date: Sat, 24 Oct 2009 08:06:11 +0100
The fogs that blanketed New York Harbor in the 1920's and 1930's were
legendary; waterborne traffic halted; ferries got lost in the fog; maritime
versions of fender-benders abounded; but collisions that resulted in sinkings
were very rare; most liner collisions in New York Harbor occurred in clear weather
but there was only one collision that resulted in the sinking of one liner
by another liner.
On December 18, 1929, the Furness Withy liner Fort Victoria left her West
55th Street Pier at 11:00 a.m. The Fort Victoria had been built by
W.Beardmore & Co in Glasgow in 1913, a year after her running mate, Fort St.
With a gross tonnage of 7,784 tons, she was 412 feet long, with a 57 foot
beam. Her master was A.R. Francis, and she was registered in Hamilton,
Bermuda. On board were 171 cabin passengers, 35 Negro deck passengers, and 165
She proceeded down the Hudson at half speed on account of the heavy fog,
passing Quarantine at 12;56 p.m. At about 4:00 p.m., the Fort Victoria came
to a halt to allow the pilot to disembark to a waiting dory and return to the
pilot boat, Sandy Hook.
At noon on the 18th, the new Algonquin of the luckless Clyde Line left her
pier at the foot of Spring Street, bound for Galveston, Texas via Miami,
Florida. Built at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock, the Algonquin had a
gross tonnage of 5,946 tons, was 388 feet long, and had a beam of 55 feet. On
board were 194 passengers. Like the Fort Victoria, the Algonquin slowly left
steamed downstream, regularly sounding her mournful whistle.
In the minutes leading up to four o'clock that fateful afternoon, the
passengers on the Algonquin had just completed their obligatory lifeboat drill
and were returning to their cabins, or milling about on deck. Those that stayed
on deck quickly became bored with the endless wall of fog that enveloped them
so completely, and sought other entertainment. On board the Fort
Victoria, some of the passengers stayed on deck to watch the pilot disembark;
others settled in for an early dinner in the dining room. The watch on the
Algonquin heard the horn of the fruit boat that they had passed astern of them,
but nothing ahead; or so they claimed afterwards.
Out of the fog, the motionless form of the Fort Victoria appeared less than
fifty yards ahead of the Algonquin. Between 2:48, on leaving Gravesend Bay
and 3:50, the Algonquin came to a complete stop four times. Her Chief
Officer, John H. Ohlund, was on the forecastle, an extra pair of eyes and ears.
He testified later to the Steamship Inspection Service, "I saw a shadow in the
fog and sang out from the watch." On the Algonquin's bridge, master J.W.
McKenzie, and his watch, immediately ordered full speed astern, but it was too
late. The Fort Victoria was too close, and the collision was inevitable.
The passengers on the port side of the Fort Victoria watching the pilot
disembark were shocked to look up and see the bows of another passenger steamer
heading directly towards them. They quickly vacated the area, but not before
the Algonquin rammed the Fort Victoria, resulting in splintered glass
raining down on them, but fortunately injuring no one. One doughty passenger,
Howard Granel, simply grabbed the rail and held on for the ride as the
Algonquin pierced her side and then pulled away.
Another Fort Victoria passenger who enjoyed the whole affair was Andrew
Dunk, who commented "I've had a wonderful time. I was in bed when my wife
spoiled my dreams by telling me that there was a wreck." Even though Dunk
and his wife were separated in the movement to the lifeboats, he afterwards expressed
no worry for her safety. Less sanguine was Mrs. V.G. Curry, who felt the
bump, looked out her porthole and was aghast to see the letters "Algonquin"
sticking out of the side of the Fort Victoria, attached to a large ship.
Another passenger had a similar experience; Mrs. Gardner Hendrie felt the ship
tremble, and when she looked out her porthole, exclaimed "Goodness, there's
a ship right next to us."
The passengers and crew of the Fort Victoria evacuated the ship in an
orderly manner. The pilot boats Sandy Hook and New York were immediately on
the scene, and embarked the passengers and crew. The lightly damaged Algonquin
anchored nearby. Twelve crew members of the Fort Victoria, led by her
master, Captain A.R. Francis, stayed on board the stricken liner.
The Victoria took a rapid twelve degree list, and by the time the last
passengers were off, the list had increased to 15 degrees. The radio messages
to the shore started almost immediately.
There was a great deal of discussion at the time over whether the Fort
Victoria had sent out a CQ message, Emergency-stand by for my messages, or an
official SOS, at 4:00. The protocol of the time was that in the event of an
SOS, all commercial radios would go silent. It took telephone calls from the
Third Naval District to silence commercial radio. At 4:10, she reported that
she had been in a collision. 4:42, "Ship listing. May have to abandon any
minute now." 4:50, "Crew abandoning ship. Good Bye." 4:55 "Master
and twelve men remain on board. All passengers safely transferred to pilot boat.
Skeleton crew on board. Ship listing to starboard." 5:20 Algonquin to
Fort Victoria, "Coming alongside. We see you now." 6:36 form a police
launch, "Passengers still aboard the pilot boat. SS Algonquin still
standing by, offers to remove passengers. Fort Victoria is waiting for tugs, still
listing to starboard and taking water. Position of the Fort Victoria is
one-quarter to one-half mile south of the Fairway Buoy." 6:40 Fort
Victoria to tug Relief, "One tug towing us from Fairway Buoy to Channel Buoys. We require
your assistance as soon as possible." 6:45 Captain Francis to Furness
All passengers safely transferred. No loss of life. Not even a minor injury
to any one." 8:32 from 3rd Naval District Headquarters, "Fort Victoria
sank at 7:30. Further details not known. Crew believed all saved. " The
radio stations lost between $10,000 and $15,000 in lost revenue for the time they
were off the air.
Although rescue craft brought the Fort Victoria's survivors to shore that
very night, the Algonquin, hampered by the fog more than her damage, stayed
anchored in the Lower Harbor for another day and a half before returning to New
York City. Some passengers transferred to other Clyde Line Ships, others
transferred to trains. The Furness passengers, having lost their clothes,
followed a variety of courses.
Needless to say, both lines averred that their ships were not at fault, but
the amazingly cavalier comments of some officials are incredible. One Clyde
Line functionary told the press, "The accident happened in an unprecedented
fog. It was just one of those things." W'J. Love of Furness said, "There
was no mystery about the sinking of the Fort Victoria. It was simply an
unfortunate catastrophe that can be blamed on the heavy fog."
The water in which the Fort Victoria sank was between 55 and 60 feet deep,
and on the shipping channel. With a beam of 56 feet, she was awash at low
tide, and posed a distinct hazard to navigation. By October 1930, the Army
Corps of Engineers had devised a plan which called for four parallel lines of
dynamite, totalling 24 tons, to blast a hole in the seabed, into which the Fort
Victoria would settle. Killing thousands of fish, the explosion lowered the
Fort Victoria by about 40 feet. Later that month, another explosion
settled her even deeper into the seabed. In January 1931, what remained of her
wreck was flattened with another twenty tons of dynamite. The column of water
flew a thousand feet into the air. Like the October blasts, anxious "
fisherman" waited on the outskirts of the blast area to scoop up the dead
fish. The shockwave wave was felt on Staten Island and miles inland in New Jersey.
The Fort Victoria had finally been removed as a hazard to navigation.
Quotes from various issues of the New York Times.
-John Emery, Cedar Hill, Texas
Posted by Don
|[TSL] Collision in New York Harbor 1929 by "Don Hazeldine" <>|