|BRAVING THE BREAKERS
DAWN on the third day found everybody up early and all eyes
turned seawards. As the grey light spread over the sea's surface, two
ships could be seen on the distant horizon. One was the Temeraire,
the other the Manchester Division, which had come up during the
night. As soon as it was light enough they gingerly closed the
wreck, taking frequent soundings as they came. They took no risks,
but anchored well out in deep water, the Manchester Division about
two miles west of the wreck, and the Temeraire three miles
south-south-west of it.
The Norwegian ship was a modern vessel and she carried a
stout motorboat. This seemed most suited to tackle the hazardous
task of trying to get the people off the wreck. It was accordingly
arranged between the two rescue ships that the Temeraire's boat
should try to get the crew off the wreck and should bring any she
might succeed in rescuing to the British vessel, where preparations
were made for their reception.
Volunteers were called for from the Temeraire's crew, and there
was an immediate response. The motorboat was soon in the water,
speeding toward the wreck.
A short distance from the wreck the motorboat lay to for a short
while and those in her rapidly reconnoitred. Then, taking her
chance between the swells, she dashed in. With bated breath
watchers on the ships and the shore followed her every movement.
They saw her surge up on the crest of a swell, until she was level
with the bulwarks of the wrecked liner. Next moment she dropped
out of sight in the trough. As she came up again, right alongside
the vessel, a couple of figures were seen to jump from the rail into
the boat. Ready arms canght them and steadied them. Several times
this happened, until ten men had been taken into the lifeboat. Then,
not willing to risk a heavier load in the sea that was running, the
motorboat drew away from the wreck and made seaward. Before
very long she was alongside the Manchester Division and the rescued
men were being transferred, not without considerable difficulty
owing to the rolling of the big ship, and the surging of the lifeboat.
The motorboat returned immediately to the wreck. During the
next couple of hours she was to go alongside several times and to
succeed in getting off every one of the 33 men who were still aboard.
True to tradition, the captain was the last to leave his ship. The launch
made its final trip about eleven o'clock in the morning. The tug, the
Sir Charles Elliott, had turned up half-an-hour previously. She had at
once closed the wreck, to see whether she could assist in the rescue
operations that were going on. She dropped anchor some distance
seaward of the wreck, then, skilfully handled by Captain Brewin,
she paid out chain and dropped down, head to seaward all the time,
towards the liner. In this way she was able to bring her stem within
five or six feet of the liner's starboard side. The after deck of the
wrecked ship was by this time awash, No.5 hold having flooded.
One moment those on the stern of the tug were looking down on
the liner's deck as they topped a swell. The next moment they were
staring up from the trough at the sides of the vessel towering above
them. They shouted to the few men still on the wreck to ask
whether they could help, but before anything could be done the tug's
anchor began to drag and she had hastily to get out of her perilous
position and pull away into more open water.
The Temeraire's motorboat, which had been standing by, then
went in again to take the last of the marooned men off the wreck.
Before leaving his ship the master ordered the radio operators to send
out a last urgent request for aircraft to bring food and water for
his passengers and crew on the beach. At 10.55 a.m. the stricken
liner's radio broadcast its final message. The message ended with
the laconic announcement: "Signing Off".
The motorboat put the rescued men on board the tug, which
with difficulty managed to get alongside the Manchester Division
and transfer them. The captain, the chief engineer, and the senior
second engineer remained on board the tug, to discuss with the
tugmaster the possibilities of salvage and of rescuing the beach party.
The motorboat returned to the Temeraire, having completed its
dangerous mission successfully, at great risk to its crew.
The position of the beach party was now causing great anxiety
aboard the rescue ships. It was obvious that it would be suicide to
attempt to take them off by lifeboat while the surf continued to run
so high. The captain of the Manchester Division decided, in case the
wrecked liner's last messages for aid from the air had gone astray, to
send out an urgent appeal, asking for water and provisions for the
people on the shore. The message went out early in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, those on the tug were wondering what had
happened to the Nerine, the minesweeper that had left Walvis Bay
nearly six hours ahead of them and which was scheduled to reach the
wreck at daybreak that day, well ahead of the tug. But there was no
sign of her.
The experience of the Nerine well illustrates the difficulties
with which navigators have to contend along that coast.
Taking no chances, her commanding officer, Van Rensburg,
kept well out from the coast all the way north. The ship made fairly
good time. Dawn on the third day, when she should have reached
the wreck, found her out of sight of land, with an overcast sky which
prevented her navigator checking his position. The direction finder
with which the minesweeper was equipped was brought into action,
and about nine o'clock the wrecked liner's radio was heard advising
Walvis Bay that the ship was to be abandoned. The direction finder
indicated that the Nerine was abeam of the wreck. Course was at
once altered towards land.
After two hours land was sighted ahead. There was no sign of
the wreck. Unknown to those on board her, the strong current had
been carrying the Nerine northwards all the time, so that she made
her landfall some distance beyond the wreck. Thinking she was
still south of it, her commanding officer turned again and resumed a
northerly course, keeping the coast well in sight. After a further
hour he realised that he must have overshot the wreck, and turned
back on his course. Two hours later the navigator was able to get a
sight which showed that the minesweeper was 19 miles north of the
position.given by the liner.
Pressing on all speed, the Nerine sighted three ships shortly
after 3 p.m. An hour and three-quarters later she was abeam of the
wreck, two miles to seaward of it. She found the Manchester
Division and the Temeraire at anchor, and the Sir Charles Elliott
under way about half-a-mile from the wreck.
Closing the tug, the minesweeper transferred Lieutenant F. J.
Driver to her and asked her to put him aboard the Manchester
Division for a conference with the latter's master to decide what
further action should be taken. The captain and the two engineers
were still aboard the tug.
When the tug tried to come alongside the Manchester Division
the freighter was found to be rolling so heavily in the swell that it
was impossible for the tug to get near without risking serious damage
to herself as well as the big ship. The attempt was therefore
abandoned. Instead, through megaphones, the masters exchanged
messages. The captain of the Manchester Division said that he was
unable to render further assistance but would stand by as long as
possible if he was needed. The Nerine had reported that she had
only sufficient fresh water for a limited stay, and the master of the
British ship offered to attempt to pass water to her through a pipeline
if the swell moderated sufficiently. Unfortunately there was no
hope of finding shelter from the rollers that swept unhindered, in
never-ending succession, out of the broad South Atlantic onto this
Now there was another hitch in the rescue operations. The
chief engineer of the tug, checking his bunkers, found that he was
running short of coal. There was just enough left to get back to
Walvis Bay, with a few tons to spare. The captain of the Manchester
Division offered to supply the tug also with coal, but warned Captain
Brewin that the operation, in that sea, would be very difficult and
risky. In the circumstances, and as there was no hope of her being
able to give salvage assistance, and no immediate likelihood of being
able to help the people on the shore, the tug's master asked the
captain of the Manchester Division to radio Walvis Bay requesting
permission for him to return at once. Meanwhile he took Lieutenant
Driver back to the Nerine, and also transferred to her the captain
and the two engineers of the wrecked ship.
Before long permission came for the tug to return to Walvis
Bay, and also instructions for any other ships that were standing by,
if they could render no further assistance, to resume their voyages.
The Temeraire accordingly weighed anchor and made for sea,
followed soon after by the tug. They left the Manchester Division
and the Nerine to stand by the castaways.
Late in the afternoon the Manchester Division was able to
transmit by heliograph to the people on the abeach an encouraging
message that had reached her from Combined Headquarters at Cape
Town. It told them that aircraft would drop provisions to them and
that a police party would reach them on the following day, or at
latest, in two days' time. They were to keep together meanwhile and
remain in the vicinity of the wreck.
Combined Headquarters also sent a message to the Nerine
suggesting that she float water and food to the marooned people by
means of rafts attached to grasslines. Lieutenant van Rensburg
decided that the surf was too heavy to attempt this at the moment,
but he brought his ship to anchor in 60 feet of water about two
miles west of the wreck, ready for an attempt next day.
The castaways, depressed when they realised that the day was
drawing to a close without any attempt having been made to rescue
them, though their shipmates from the wreck had been succoured,
would have been left on the verge of despair when they saw the
Temeraire and the Sir Charles Elliott leave, had it not been for the
cheering message flashed to them from the Manchester Division.
When darkness had fallen and they were endeavouring to make
themselves as comfortable as possible for the night, a pin-point of
light flashed rapidly again from the direction of the freighter. It
was to tell them that the aircraft would drop food to them the
following morning. It told them also that the police convoy which
was coming overland to help them had started out, but could not
reach them for another five days.