News from 1914 - BIG WAVE SWEEPS OCEANIC'S TOP DECK


Mark Baber

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MAB Note: "Friday," as used in the fourth paragraph, means 6 February 1914. The next day, the eastbound Olympic encountered the same storm; portholes in the dining saloon were broken during lunch, injuring several people including purser Claude Lancaster.

The New York Times, 14 February 1914

BIG WAVE SWEEPS OCEANIC’S TOP DECK
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Carries Passengers Astern, Swimming and Floundering in Four Feet of Water
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The White Star liner Oceanic came in last night fifty hours behind time. Her rigging and decks were covered with ice and showed the effects of a great storm the ship passed through on Thursday. On the bridge the frozen snow was a foot deep. The crow's nest on the foremast looked, like a miniature cottage made of snow and ice which glittered in the electric light when she made fast at her pier.

"It was the worst storm I have ever experienced at sea,” said Capt. Harry Smith, "and the longest passage the Oceanic has ever made since she entered the New York service fourteen years ago. The worst weather was from 4 o'clock yesterday morning until, 5 in the afternoon, when the northwest gale blew at eighty miles with squalls which reached a velocity of 100 miles, accompanied by heavy snow.

"During, those thirteen hours the Oceanic was reduced to five knots. The officers on the bridge could not have stood up against the gale if we had been going faster. The gale commenced at 8 o'clock on Wednesday night, when I went on the bridge, and three hours later the speed had been reduced to eight knots. By 11 o'clock last night the weather had abated and I went below and turned in after thirty-six hours on duty.

"The only damage was done by a big sea which rolled over the starboard bow on Friday afternoon about 3 o'clock the day after leaving Queenstown. It carried away the fore and aft bridge leading from the promenade deck to the foc'sle deck, the athwartships teak rail on the promenade deck, and smashed in three ports on the forward end of the deck house. The glass, which was an inch thick and was protected by thick iron shutters, was smashed by the spring in the iron bulkheads after the sea struck them with such force. Fortunately all the steerage passengers were off the forward deck when the sea rolled onboard or the results might have been serious. What happened was that the Oceanic dipped down into a deep pocket and had not got up when the succeeding sea came over her."

The 245 cabin and 222 steerage passengers from Southampton, via Cherbourg and Queenstown, gave Capt. Smith, who is the senior commander in the White Star Line, a testimonial before leaving the ship, complimenting him upon the skilful manner in which he had navigated the ship through the series of storms. She made the voyage of 2,901 miles in 8 days 5 hours at an average speed of 14.77 knots.

On her first day out from Queenstown, when she shipped the big sea, there was a moderate to fresh gale, rough sea and squally weather, which was followed nest day by a strong gale with very heavy sea. Then came a succession of gales all the way, one after another.

At the time the big sea came over, twelve passengers were sitting in their deck chairs on the starboard side of the promenade deck. They saw the wave tower about ten feet in the air as the bows went under it. Striking the promenade deck, it swept along four feet deep, carrying passengers and their chairs with it. Two of them, Harry Snyder of Boston and Thomas Meredith of Vancouver, B. C., started to swim for the saloon companion, as they were nearest forward and got the full force of the wave.

Meredith called out, "Good-bye, lads, I'm off for Vancouver!" as the sea whirled him along aft to where Paul G. Fourman, agent of the Uranium Steamship Line, was jammed in between two big ventilators. Half of the fore and aft bridge came along the promenade deck astern of the passengers, and the remainder went over with the sea and the teak rail.

C. A. Caslon, a young Englishman suffering from seasickness, was lying down in his berth in Cabin 2 on the saloon deck forward under the bridge, when his two glass ports looking out on deck, covered with iron shutters, were smashed to pieces. The spring from the iron bulkhead caused by the impact with the sea was so great that it also smashed a big mirror in the cabin. Flying pieces of glass gave Mr. Caslon a severe gash on the forehead. Some were imbedded in the wooden bulkhead on the far side of the cabin. Water poured into the cabin from the holes in the iron shutters made to admit day light into the cabin. The sea poured down the companion into the dining saloon and flooded some of the cabins on the saloon deck.

According to Capt. Smith, the weather was so rough during the storm on Thursday that many of the passengers were scared at the mountainous seas, but the ship did not sustain any damage.

The lateness of the Oceanic, which brought more than 3,500 sacks of mails, caused great inconvenience to merchants downtown, many of whom could not get their goods out of the customs warehouses because the bills of lading had not arrived from the other side.

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B

Brent Holt

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It's a shame no one has written a good book on the Oceanic's career. She seems to have been almost forgotten in liner circles. She was a fine and very successful ship with an all-too brief life. White Star could have used her until at least the mid-20s, I expect. She could have filled in during the awkward 1920-1922 period in which Olympic ran a very unbalanced express service until the arrival of Majestic and Homeric.

Brent
 

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