New York, April 17.—[Special]—“The Man on the Bridge,” was the title of an article by Charles Terry De Laney, a veteran transatlantic steamship captain, published in the Atlantic Monthly of May, 1910.
It charges that captains of liners were often overworked, sometimes being on duty for from twenty to seventy hours at a stretch, and always underpaid; that they took chances by running at inordinate speed in the iceberg region, that they made dangerous short cuts away from the prescribed lanes of ocean travel in order to make records and advertise their ships for the owners, that they faked their log books, and were guilty of other bad practices, got a rise out of as many steamship agents and officers that Mr. De Laney had to come back in the August Atlantic of that year with a letter giving more evidence for his former statements.
“Until some fine vessel with a precious cargo is sent to the bottom through collision these things, I believe, will not be rectified,” Capt. De Laney said in his first article. “It is only by good luck that this has not happened already, but luck will change some day. Who will pay the piper then? Not the wornout man on the bridge, I hope.”
Seventy Hours on the Bridge
The British authorities, Capt. De Laney pointed out, demand that a man shall be on the bridge of his vessel at all times during fog.
“I have seen a master of 60 years of age or thereabouts stand on a bridge for over seventy hours with eyes that were useless through strain and hearing impaired by the constant shrieking of the fog whistle,” he wrote. “Is it right to expect such a man to command in case of emergency?
“In justice to the master and the passengers, should not the command be handed over to the chief officer? I have often noticed passengers looking up at the bridge to see if the master is there. If they catch a glimpse of him they go away thinking that all is well. A fallacy.”
De Laney was reminded of a narrow escape he had six years before when in charge of a ship carrying a full passenger list. The ship was in the ice track and De Laney, after standing on the bridge for many hours peering into the fog, decided to call the master and start the whistle.
Barely Misses an Iceberg
“The responsibility was his, not mine,” his story went on. “But before this could be done, almost alongside the ship was an iceberg towering up about 300 feet. The ship passed within twenty feet of it, going at the rate of twenty-one knots. Had there been a submerged trailer attached to the berg the ship’s bottom would have been ripped open.
“Cold as I was at the time, I went colder still, and vowed that I would never again take such risks. Had the whistle been sounded it is possible than warning of the berg’s approach would have been given me by the echo. Needless to say, I called the master after the danger had passed and kept mum over the affair, too.
“But sailors are forgetful creatures. The very next voyage we were going along at the rate of about twenty knots an hour in hazy weather just where the tracks cross. With hardly a moment’s warning the light of another vessel—the Deutschland, twenty-three knots—hove in sight about an eighth of a mile away, dead ahead. There was just time for us both to hard-a-port, swing clear and pass within 100 feet of each other. Fright number 2 completely cured me of any disposition to hang on in the future.”
De Laney said the big boats often go full speed ahead in fogs. He went on:
“But full ahead across the ice track is a different proposition. Under no circumstances is full speed justifiable there. Collision with an iceberg is quite a different matter from a collision with a fisherman. Though it is impossible to state with any degree of accuracy the weight of a berg, yet when one remembers that, according to the laws of specific gravity, only one-ninth of the weight—not height—is above water the results of the collision would be greatly in its favor.”
Chicago Tribune, Thursday, April 18, 1912, p. 4, c. 7