Guest Expressed: “3 Least Heroic Tales of Seamanship Ever”

Today Sam Wright shows us why not all seafaring people are fearless heroes. Enter Sam:

Through the ages the bravest and strongest men and women we had to offer would seek their fortune on the high seas.

As they travelled the waves, these people would embark upon great tales of adventure and heroism.

These… are not those stories.

License: Creative Commons (Image Source)

3. The Collision of the Ann

The ocean is a vast place, and it’s possible to go for days out there without seeing another ship, even today in our age of satellite communication and global commerce.  So quite how the Ann managed to crash right into the Hampton is a subject that may well remain a mystery for the ages.

With a crucial part of the ship damaged, and over 100 passengers on board, the crew of the Ann wasted no time before leaping into action and nailing down all the hold hatches to keep the passengers locked inside.

As the passengers banged on the doors to ask what exactly was going on, the crew made a hop skip and a jump over to the ship they’d just crashed into. This was the sensible option, as some of the passengers on the Ann were escaping, and they were really angry.

Fortunately someone else came along and rescued the passengers (apparently the ocean isn’t as big as we thought), which meant they were all ready to testify when the crew were taken to court.

2. The Hannah Abandons Its Passengers on an Iceberg

Sometimes, in the dark and cold, a boat will have the misfortune to crash into a giant floating block of ice. Some films have been made on the subject. In 1849 this is what happened to the good ship Hannah. The ship had only one dinghy to get anyone to safety, so the Captain and crew took one look at it, thought about old sayings about “The Captain going down with his ship” and decided “To hell with that” and leapt aboard and began rowing for freedom.

The passengers watched their only means of escape rushing off into the horizon, probably swore at it a bit, then realised their boat was still sinking and escaped to the nearest available floating object.

In the absence of life boats, this proved to be an iceberg.  At least 150 people out of the 200 passengers made it to the iceberg and survived long enough to be rescued by a passing boat. Then, because justice does sometimes exist in this world, they made it back to port ahead of the crew who abandoned them.

We like to imagine the passengers were waiting along the shoreline as the lifeboat rowed in…

1. If You Get Caught Abandoning Your Passengers, Try Racism!

So on the sixth of August, 1880, the steamship Jeddah hit bad weather, one of its boilers was knocked loose and the ship suffered all the effects boats usually suffer when giant metal cylinders roll freely about their interior. With power and steering gone,  and water crashing onto the deck of the ship, it was time to get out of there.

The bad news was, the Jeddah had over 900 passengers, mostly Muslim pilgrims on their way to Mecca. The good news was the Jeddah had four full sized life boats, so with a bit of calm and organisation almost everyone should have been able to get out alive.

The captain had just enough time to get the lifeboats prepared for launch. “Prepared” in this sense means loading the boats full of the crew, their families, their guns, their food, their luggage and exactly no Muslim pilgrims.

The pilgrims were understandably not on board with this idea (Get it? “Not on board”? I’m a comedy genius). In the ensuing fracas only the captain’s boat managed to escape, another crashed into the water and the final two were held by the passengers.

Now it takes a special kind of man to try and abandon 900 souls to a watery grave to make way for extra luggage, but it takes a one of a kind to do what that captain did next. Realising that when he got to dry land he would have to explain why all his passengers were, you know, dead, the captain decided to put together a cover story.

Thinking about this, he remembered a single, crucial detail about the 900 people he’d left to die: They were brown. Realising he could say pretty much whatever the hell he liked about brown people and probably be believed, he concocted a story whereby the pilgrims were savage killers, trying to murder the noble white men as the ship sank.

This story started to look a good deal less believable when he and his crew were rescued and got into port to discover the Jeddah being pulled into port by another ship. The captain and crew had a word among themselves, decided that, as white people, they could probably still get away with saying whatever they wanted and stuck to their story about the evil brown people.

It didn’t work entirely according to plan, with the authorities at the time saying: “the action of the pilgrims tends to prove that they never intended to harm the master and his officers had they remained in the Jeddah, that their demeanour is accounted for by the evidence that they had made up their minds that they should not be deserted by the only persons capable of protecting and helping them in the circumstances in which they were placed …”

So next time you see a big appealing looking “Boat For Sale” sign, think about the noble, heroic ranks you’ll be joining.

Sam Wright is a freelance writer who does enjoy going up and down the Norfolk Broads in a boat, because he gets to wear a silly hat and shout orders at people.

And speaking of boats for sale, check out:

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