Spectator — February 2003
By Tom Fexas
|Part 2: I was also forced to burn the forward part of the deckhouse.|
Apparently, Waite, too, was breaking the news gently, for he subsequently reported to his commander that they would run out of coal at 4:00 p.m. the following day. The commander recalls:
My duty was to get the boat safely into port, then over 300 miles distant, if possible, and I addressed myself at once to the task by collecting all fuel on board, breaking up spare gun carriage and transportation slide and all the other spare articles capable of being converted into fuel, breaking down all heavy bulkheads below, and, in fact, thus disposing of everything available that I thought could best be spared.
You see what is happening here, friends: The commander has started to chop up his vessel for firewood to get her back to port.
As all the material I could thus muster together, however, it was calculated would not suffice to last until midnight, I was forced to look further, and decided to dismount the stern rifle chase gun and break up its carriage and slide... and the poop deck. This I thought would, in connection with the coal on hand, last me until the following day.
That afternoon he flagged down a British brig and took on a big load of oak, hickory, pine, and coal.
Still it did not suffice for our necessities, and I proceeded to send down topmasts and riggings and yards, cut them up, and breaking up the railing of the vessel. In the evening, I sent down the lower rigging and cut it up for fuel... With this I hoped to make a harbor and to come in with my battery almost intact and my vessel not seriously crippled, and would have succeeded but for a three-knot current which set us back 72 miles in 24 hours. In the midwatch of the same night it became evident that further sacrifices were necessary, and no time was to be lost in making them, as steam was running low.... I then broke up the coal bunkers and shaft alley, and finally found myself with no resort but on the main deck, where I was forced to tear up the fighting decks under the guns and reluctantly to begin dismounting the main deck battery and destroying the carriages... The decks upon which the battery worked have been more or less used up for fuel. I was also forced to burn the forward part of the deckhouse.
Downes closes with this statement:
In conclusion I have to request that an investigation may be instituted into the causes, etc., of this unfortunate affair, which has temporarily deprived the Government of the services of a fast and efficient vessel at a time when they were particularly needed, and hazarded the existence of all on board.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant, John Downes, Commander.
As reader Perryman notes: "The advantages of the external combustion engine are readily apparent. As long as you are still afloat and have an ax or a chainsaw, you are never out of fuel." But commander Downes carried things to the extreme. Thus he departed with a fast, efficient, sleek-looking ship of the line and returned with a scow.
The chief engineer should have been hung from the yardarm, but fortunately for him it, too, had been burned for fuel.
Tom Fexas is a marine engineer and designer of powerboats. His Web site is www.tomfexas.com.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.