by John H Marsh


After the formal annexation ceremony on Prince Edward Island a toast to the future of South Africa's new possession was drunk in champagne.

WE RETURNED to the Natal in time for lunch, and as the Gamtoos radioed that a rising north-west wind was making conditions unpleasant at Marion, Dymond decided to remain at anchor where we were for the present. Early in the afternoon the store-ship reported that the wind was working up to gale force and the anchorage in Transvaal Cove was no longer tenable. She was therefore putting to sea. On Natal's report of the fine weather prevailing at Prince Edward, Finlayson announced that he would come over and join us. We were experiencing only a moderate north-westerly breeze.

The Gamtoos came to anchor a few ship-lengths away from us at about six o'clock. She seemed to bring the disturbance with her, for the wind now began to freshen. Dymond went over to the other ship to inquire how the landing operations had progressed and to discuss future plans. He stayed only a short while, but already as the little whaler left the side of the Gamtoos to return gusts of wind were whipping white horses along the sea's surface in the channel between the two ships. Some of the boat's crew were young and inexperienced, and they seemed to be having difficulty in countering the pull of the wind. We saw them drifting down to leeward past the stern of the Gamtoos, their boat frequently soused with spray. Some of us were wondering whether they would be able to make our ship when we saw Dymond slip into the coxswain's place and take the tiller. At once he headed the tiny craft into wind and sea. A long, tough struggle ensued, while their Captain gave the oarsmen their timing, and they bent their backs to

steal headway slowly. They were wet through and exhausted when they secured alongside us.

From a moderate breeze in mid-afternoon it steadily increased until late at night it was blowing at 40 to 55 m.p.h. It continued at this velocity throughout the night and the early part of the following day. At two o'clock in the morning Dymond decided that mobility was more important than comfort in this weather, and he weighed anchor and let the ship drift seaward before the wind. Affer drifting two or three miles he would crawl back into shelter again. He repeated this procedure while the gale lasted, and Finlayson followed suit.

During the following morning the wind velocity mounted inexorably. Shortly before lunch, when peak gusts were registering up to 90 m.p.h., we photographed the Gamtoos struggling past our stern towards the shelter of Prince Edward. She was making very heavy weather of it, and her progress was exceedingly slow. Though her boilers were now under full pressure of steam, Finlayson dared no longer risk drifting away from the shelter of the island. If he went too far out now he would be unable to get back. He therefore closed the land as much as he dared and remained there with full power on his engines while he endeavoured to ride out the hurricane.

I was in the wardroom after lunch, conscious of the dull noise of the gale without, when Sara called me to come up on deck, as the Captain had said that the wind was now blowing in peak gusts of up to 120 m.p.h. I was frankly incredulous, for down there we were snug and comfortable and the ship was almost as steady as if she had been at anchor. I did, however, notice that she had a distinct list.

Only when I ventured out of the alleyway on to the deck did I begin to realise what a tempest was lashing us. A mighty roaring filled my ears. It seemed to come from all around and even below me. I looked down upon a cottonwool sea that was white with

driving spume. The sky above was overcast. We seemed to be in the centre of a great bowl of cloud, light coloured at its rim and dark blue at its base. Visibility was down to about five miles, though, while I watched, rain-squalls intermittently tore by, the range of vision at such times being reduced to about one mile. I knew we were scarcely a mile off Prince Edward, but the only thing visible in that direction was a great greyish-white cloud that stretched like a shroud right down to the water's edge.

Even standing in the shelter of the deckhouse it was difficult to keep one's feet as eddies of wind pulled and thrust at one. When I attempted to peer round the corner of the deckhouse my head was instantly struck back as by an invisible hand. Flying spray cut my face like knives.

Only half our ensign was flying from the staff astern. The wind had unravelled the other half.

I saw our Captain, muffled up in his greatcoat, examining some oil drums that were lashed to the outside of the rails round the after gun platform. Even as I watched, the lashings of two or three carried away and they hurtled over the rails. Dymond dodged out of their way with inches to spare. Then he threw his weight on the remaining couple and held them down until ratings arrived with extra lashings and made them secure.

I climbed to the bridge and found my fellow passengers there. The bridge was open to the sky, but weather shields at the sides broke the direct force of the wind. They did not stop the down draughts, though. We shivered despite our warm clothes. We could speak only by signs. The noise was stupendous. A crescendo of sound filled the air. To us on the bridge it was suggestive of an express train tearing along just a foot or two above our heads throughout the whole time that we stood there. What awed me most, I think, was the failure of the wind to slacken

its speed even for a moment. It seemed completely inexhaustible.

At 5 p.m. it began to moderate, and the sky, which had been overcast since the gale began the previous evening, now started to clear from the west. By midnight the wind had subsided to a breeze.

On our return home we learned that about the time that we experienced ours, the Australians on Heard Island, 1,400 miles to the east, had also reported a visit from a hurricane of 120 m.p.h.

Thus, before they had even secured a foothold, the "Father of Winds" presented himself to those who had come to settle in his domains.

Copyright John H Marsh (1948)

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