Ordeal of a Ship

FARLEY MOWAT is a Canadian who likes to track down true stories. His books deal with life in the Arctic, the inland Eskimos, the sea and salvage work, dogs, owls, and an infantry regiment. The following narrative is drawn from his ninth book, THE SERPENT’S COIL, to be published in May by Atlantic-Little, Brown.

The Liberty ship Leicester set out from the Thames River in early September, 1948. She was in ballast and bound across the Atlantic. Two thirds of her way across, she was threatened by the first of a series of fierce hurricanes that whirled through the Atlantic that season, and owing to the failure of her radio, the unfortunate ship steered directly into the storm. Before long, the ballast shifted, giving her a list of 50 degrees, and her captain and crew had no choice but to abandon ship, when through good luck another ship happened by. For days afterward the drifting hulk of the Leicester was the subject of search by a number of ships, including two of the rescue tugs of the Foundation Maritime, Ltd., under the direction of Salvage Master Robert Featherstone. The search was eventually given up, but days afterward the Leicester was sighted again, unbelievably, still afloat, and within hours the race was on to capture this million-dollar prize.

THE low-power-steamer track between North America and the mouth of the Mediterranean is one of the busiest of the North Atlantic routes. Scores of ships may be found along its length on any given day. Because of the heavy traffic, ships following the track do not necessarily adhere exactly to this invisible ocean highway along the 36th parallel of latitude.

The French steamer Gien, westbound from Marseilles for Baltimore, was one of those which chose to parallel the track, but farther north. She was, in fact, running close to the 37th parallel when her master shot the sun at noon on the twenty-first of September and found he was still 1400 miles away from making his American landfall.

It was a warm and sunny day, and the slow pounding of Gien’s engines had a soporific effect upon the crew. Perhaps the lookout was dozing just a little. At any rate, when he finally did see the object looming hard on the starboard bow, it was already close at hand. His astonished shout brought the watch officer to the wing of the bridge with his binoculars. For a long minute he stared; then he called his captain.

Gien woke up in a hurry. Men came scrambling out of the cabins and the forecastle and climbed to points of vantage all over the ship, staring with rank incredulity at the apparition which was suddenly ahead of them. Gien’s course was quickly altered, and she drew slowly up to the monstrosity.

It was a ship, a big ship, lying so far over that she appeared to be floating on her side. Her whole bottom, to below the starboard bilge keel, lay exposed to the gaze of Gien’s people.

Gien circled the silent apparition somewhat warily. It was obvious that she was totally abandoned and derelict. Someone read the name on her stern: LEICESTER — LONDON.

Gien’s people were filled with a mixture of awe and downright cupidity. Her master would have liked nothing better than to put a line on the derelict and tow her into Baltimore so that he could claim salvage on her. But he had his own ship to think about. Baltimore was 1400 miles away, and the morning weather had included the report of a new hurricane — Hurricane VIII —which was even then nearing Key West in Florida, and which could be expected to roar northward across the western approaches during the next few days. There were other things to consider too. One of these was the extreme hazard, if not impossibility, of putting a boarding crew aboard the wreck. A second was the conviction among the men looking at her that no ship with a list as bad as Leicester’s could possibly stay afloat for very long, even in relatively gentle weather.

With a sigh, Gier’s thrifty Breton master reluctantly gave the order to put his ship back on course, and as Leicester grew smaller on the eastern horizon, he dispatched a message to the New York Coast Guard:


When a copy of Gien’s message reached Featherstone, the Foundation Maritime’s salvage master, through the agency of Air/Sea Rescue at 1300 hours on the twenty-first, he strode through Foundation’s offices issuing his orders. Featherstone was in an awkward position. His biggest and best tug, the Josephine, was committed to another job, the Orion. Lillian was still six hours out of Halifax and could not be turned about at sea, since her stores and her supplies of fuel were all but exhausted. She would have to come on to port, refuel, and then go out again — if she was able. Her overworked engines were causing trouble, and she was badly in need of a refit.

The lack of tug equipment was not the only problem. There was Hurricane VIII as well.

Born in the Caribbean a hundred miles south of Jamaica on the eighteenth of September, at first a rather puny cyclone, it had rapidly taken on strength and stature as it curved northward. During the night of September 20-21, it had struck Cuba, doing extensive shore damage, killing several people, and driving three big ships ashore. By noon on the twenty-first, it had reached Key West. There it had blown away the U.S. Weather Bureau’s anemometers after registering a velocity of 120 miles per hour and driving the steamship Ocean Wave ashore.

The pressure of a massive continental high lying over the Atlantic seaboard made it logical to anticipate that the new cyclone would curve northeastward alter leaving Florida. If it should pass anywhere in the vicinity of the Leicester, it could be assumed that it would finish her. Even if it did not go her way, it would certainly pose a substantial hazard to any tugs that might be running east in search of her.

Meanwhile, there was little that Featherstone could actually do, save pace his office and think about Leicester herself. A score of times he checked her position on the chart. Each time he did so he was confronted by a conundrum. Gien’s master had said the derelict was drifting to the northeast. But Featherstone had a long and intimate knowledge of those waters, and he knew that the prevailing winds and currents in Leicester’s vicinity almost invariably set to the southeast. Since it would take nearly three days before one of his tugs could reach the search area, there would be ample time for Leicester to drift an additional 100 to 200 miles, depending on the strength of wind and current. This being the case, it was imperative to direct the tugs along the correct line of drift.

Reason dictated that Featherstone should accept Gien’s statement and plan the tugs’ courses accordingly. But experience and intuition told him differently.

GIEN’s message was received in New York at 1240 hours Atlantic standard time. Half an hour later it was rebroadcast to all ships in the western approaches as a special warning of navigation hazards. By early afternoon hardly a vessel in the western section of the North Atlantic had not heard the news.

One of the vessels which heard it — and with particular interest — was the Dutch tug Zwarte Zee. She was then entering New York Harbor with the dead tow she had brought in from Bermuda. Despite the almost superhuman efforts of her crew, it was not until 1600 hours that the Zwarte Zee could get rid of her tow, refill her tanks with diesel oil, and put back to sea.

Her master guessed that there was a reasonable chance the Leicester would stay afloat until she was found. And, with immense good luck, she might be eased into the nearest port. Allowing for the interval between Gien’s sighting of the derelict and the time Zwarte Zee could expect to reach the scene, the Dutch skipper laid off Leicester’s probable drift — in a northeasterly direction. Then he laid out his own course toward Leicester’s estimated position in sixty hours’ time.

Zwarte Zee cleared Ambrose Light at 1800 hours September 21. She had a thousand miles to go.

She did not sail unnoticed. In the salvage business an efficient intelligence service is vital, and Foundation’s cloak-and-dagger work was excellent. Before Zwarte Zee was out of sight of land, Featherstone received a telephone call from New York and knew that he had a formidable rival in the race to reach the Leicester.

AT 1732 hours on the twenty-first, Foundation Lillian had Halifax Harbor approach buoy abeam, and her people were beginning to relax. They could already look through the entrance to the harbor and beyond to the wooded ridges with their aura of sunny contentment. Most of the off-duty men had packed their seabags and were discussing how and where they would spend their leave ashore.

At 1900 hours Lillian’s lines were secured to Foundation’s dock, and Captain Crowe rang down to tell Chief Engineer Higgins that he was finished with the engines. Then he picked up his suitcase, walked off the bridge, and came down to the main deck, where the gangplank was being run ashore.

The plank had barely touched the dock before Featherstone started up it. He met Crowe at the rail.

“Leicester’s been sighted,” he said abruptly. “You’ll refuel at once at Imperoyal. Your stores are waiting here in the salvage shed. Zwarte Jee sailed from New York three hours ago. She’s got four or five knots’ speed on you, but she’s got farther to go. I want you cleared and on your way by 10 P.M.”

There is no printable record of the reaction of Lillian’s crew. But they were salvage men.

At 2207 hours September 21, Foundation Lillian let slip her lines, backed into the stream, and headed out to sea. She had been just three hours in home port.

The morning of the twenty-second broke cloudy with light southwest winds as Lillian drove southeast at her best speed, of fourteen knots. Down below, her chief engineer watched the diesels apprehensively. Higgins had much to worry about. Lillian’s engines had been giving trouble almost since the day she joined Foundation’s fleet. They were good enough engines, but too delicate for the hard, sustained labor which was a deepsea salvage vessel’s lot, and they had become increasingly temperamental during the past few months. Higgins kept his fingers crossed and listened intently for the first indication of trouble in the earsplitting hubbub.

Lillian was observing radio silence, and apart from reporting her noon position to Halifax in code, she transmitted no messages that day. This was a routine precaution. It was always possible for a rival tug, using directional antennae, to take a bearing on Lillian’s transmissions, and from a series of such DF bearings deduce the course, and possibly the plans, of the Foundation tug.

Far to the north, out of direct contact with Halifax Radio, Josephine’s people were laboring to save the ancient Orion. As yet they did not know of Leicester’s apparent resurrection from the ocean grave.

Far to the south, Hurricane VIII was behaving in a most unusual manner. For nearly forty hours it had remained almost motionless over the Florida peninsula — motionless in terms of forward movement. There was nothing motionless about its circling winds, which did twelve million dollars’ worth of damage.

In Foundation’s offices at Halifax, every member of the staff held a watching brief. Lights burned until after midnight. Those of the operations people who went to their homes slept lightly, half listening for the ring of the telephone.

At 2300 hours a message from Josephine was delivered to Featherstone:


Half an hour later a coded reply was crackling through the night air from Halifax Radio to Saint John’s Radio, which relayed it on.


“Searching area southeast. . . .” Featherstone had made his decision. He was ignoring the information which Gien’s master had reported concerning Leicester’s drift.

BY NOON on September 23 three salvage tugs were racing toward the last known position of the derelict. Lillian was about 250 miles northwest of Leicester’s position as reported by Gien. Josephine, foaming along at her best speed, of almost seventeen knots, down the west coast of Newfoundland, still had more than 900 miles to go. As for Jwarte Zee, she had remained as silent as the grave. The Foundation tugboat masters, as well as the anxious men in Halifax, could only guess at her location.

No one needed to guess at the location of Hurricane VIII. Late on the twenty-second, the center had begun to move very rapidly toward the eastnortheast. By noon on the twenty-third, it was 300 miles off the Florida coast, heading directly for Bermuda, after having pummeled the British MV Slanhall to the point where she had been forced to head for port in a near-sinking condition.

The twenty-fourth broke gray and stormy over the western approaches. Bucking heavy seas and a Force 5 wind from southerly, Lillian was a tense ship as the morning lengthened. Before noon she was passing Leicester’s position as reported by Gien on the twenty-first. But more than seventy hours had elapsed since then, and Leicester might have gone down or she might have drifted anywhere within an easterly arc of 90 degrees, for a distance of up to 200 miles. The fact that no other vessel had reported her during this long interval made the prospects of her still being alloat seem dim. Even if she was afloat, Lillian’s people knew that Zwarte Zee, a ship of nearly twice Lillian’s displacement and with a turn of speed four or five knots greater, must also have arrived in the search area. And warte Zee had radar; Lillian did not. The odds heavily favored the big Dutch tug.

The suspense was not eased by Higgins’ report to the bridge that he was having trouble with the starboard engine. Lillian’s speed had fallen off to thirteen knots, and Crowe now had the choice of accepting what might be an even greater reduction in speed or of allowing the engines to be stopped entirely while repairs were made. He chose to keep Lillian going, and, obeying Featherstone’s instructions, he began searching a fifty-mile-wide swath of ocean to the southeast.

There was only one bright spot during that morning, the weather report. Hurricane VIII had inexplicably changed course again and was now heading northeastward, well away from the search area. The news cheered Lillian’s people, but it did not cheer Captain Cowley on the Josephine.

At 1720 hours Cowley, then nearly abeam of Sydney, Nova Scotia, received the following from Halifax Radio:


Having made up its mind to go northeast, Hurricane VIII was wasting no time about it. At 32 knots, its predicted path put it on a collision course with Josephine, with the collision due to occur about dawn of the twenty-fifth.

Cowley’s dilemma was not eased by a subsequent message from Featherstone:


That settled it. A trifle grimly, Cowley gave the order to batten down ship for heavy weather, and he held his course.

ABOARD the Lillian, as storm murk shrank the visible world, there was hardly a man of the deck crew whose eyes were not sore and aching from straining to the far horizons for sight of the abandoned ship, but the watchers had seen nothing save the unending seas. They had not glimpsed what they dreaded most — the squat superstructure of Zwarte Zee; nor had they seen so much as a curl of smoke from any merchant ship which might conceivably have had a clue to give.

Sparkie clung to his radio like a man in love, listening to the ship-to-ship chatter of vessels scattered over half of the Atlantic and waiting for some word. At 1800 hours, international code started to clatter out of the speaker over his head. His hand jumped to the message pad.


Within minutes, Crowe had plotted the position on his chart. It was 155 miles southeast of the position given by the Gien. Lillian, which had been following a complicated rectilinear search pattern, was still a little more than 90 miles from the point of the new sighting. Now she turned abruptly on the direct course, like a hound with a hot scent blowing in its nostrils.

In the engine room, Higgins had worked a small miracle by managing to effect partial repairs with the engines still running. In response to the news from the bridge, he ran both engines up to maximum revolutions and held his breath.

Zwarte Zee may perhaps not have heard the original call from the Albisola, but she must certainly have heard a “Notice to Mariners” broadcast from New York three hours later, containing the gist of Albisola’s message. And by 2300 hours she, too, must have been racing toward that intangible point on the ocean’s surface with all the speed her 3000-horsepower engines could provide.

The night drew down, overcast and threatening. Lillian, rolling heavily in the chop which was building with a rising southerly wind, was taking water over her bows, drenching wheelhouse and bridge. No one seemed to notice. On both bridgewings, oilskin-clad figures stared into the murk ahead.

Lillian drove hard all night against a gathering sea and rising wind, and by dawn she was in such heavy weather that she was forced to reduce speed. Nevertheless, by 1100 hours on the morning of the twenty-fifth she had reached the position given by the Albisola. There was nothing to mark the spot and no indication of where Leicester might have gone, except for the wind, which had now shifted a little more westerly. Judging solely by the wind, Leicester should have drifted in a generally easterly or northeasterly direction during the night. But it was not the wind which was determining her drift, it was the ocean current; and the current in this vicinity was running almost due south. Crowe set up a new search pattern, again directed into the southeast.

IT IS difficult to know what happened to Zwarte Jee that day, but since it was her master’s known intention to search northeast of the Ghen’s sighting, it is possible to reconstruct what probably occurred.

Since she had radar, she would have been able to steam straight into the northeast from the Ghen position instead of having to follow a zigzagging visual-search pattern. By the time her master heard the “Notice to Mariners” retailing the Albisola sighting, Zwarte Zee was probably about 200 miles north of the newly reported position of the Leicester, in a portion of the Western Ocean where the current normally sets almost due east. This set, combined with a strong southwesterly wind, would almost certainly have influenced the Dutch captain to lay out an interception course designed to close with Leicester, in about twelve hours, at a point sixty or seventy miles northeast of the position reported by the Albisola.

In any event, Lillian’s crew, who were momentarily expecting to raise Jwarle Zee, saw nothing of the Dutch tug on the twenty-fifth. But, then, they saw nothing of the Leicester either. As one of the salvage gang remarked:

“Talk about looking for a needle in a haystack — that’s nothing to trying to find a ship that may be anywhere on about ten thousand square miles of the Atlantic. Some of the lads even took to climbing the foremast to try and see a little farther. With the visibility we had that day we couldn’t see much more than five or six miles from the bridge. And one of the men damn near got hove clean into the ocean when we took a roll that laid the old girl right over on her side.

“The crew had begun to figure either we were jinxed or the Leicester was another Flying Dutchman. For about the tenth time since the first search started on the seventeenth, we began to think she’d gone down. But every time we’d figured that before, damned if she hadn’t shown up again. Rose [Lillian’s First Officer] claimed she didn’t want anyone to find her — that she liked being on her own and planned to stay that way. I tell you, there were some hard thoughts about her on our boat that day.”

At 1400 hours, one of the lookouts suddenly spotted something off to port. Lillian swung hungrily over to have a look, but it was only a mess of flotsam consisting ol some shattered boards and a rusty iron barrel.

As dusk came down again, effectively blinding Lillian through the long night watches, there was a growing conviction that Leicester must have sunk or that warte Zee must have found her and taken her in tow for land. It seemed incredible that the big Dutch tug, with her radar, could have failed to find the ship if she was still afloat. But on the other hand, there had still been not a single call from Zwarte Zee’s radio, and if she had found the prize and laid a claim to it, she might have been expected to tell the world about it.

THE twenty-fifth was an uneventful day for Lillian’s people, but not so for Josephine’s. During the night of the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth, Josephine held to her chosen course, driving at full speed and refusing to be bluffed into slowing down or altering course by a mere hurricane.

Cowley was banking on the probability that the hurricane would cross his bows far enough in advance so that his tug would miss the center of the storm. But as the night drew on, grew dark as death, and began to thunder to the voice of the rising winds, he was not so sure. By 2200 hours Josie was taking solid water over her high bows, and the state of the yeasty sea was making it quite clear that if it was a fight she wanted, she would get all that she could stomach.

Yielding a little valor to discretion, Cowley slowed her down to three-quarters speed but kept her on her course.

Salvage men seldom use superlatives when they discuss a storm at sea — if, indeed, they can be persuaded to discuss it at all — but many of those aboard the Josephine have lasting memories of this night. One crewman came close to waxing lyrical about it, in a grim sort of way.

“She wasn’t no boat at all by then — she was a bloody airplane what couldn’t quite take off. I never see nothing like it in twenty-seven years at sea. I got into Sparkle’s cabin, and he was going crazy chasing his trunk around the room. Every now and then they’d change sides and the trunk would chase him for a bit. I got up on his bunk, jammed my feet against the deck, and braced my elbows between the bunkboard and the bulkhead. In between laughing my fool head off at Sparkie, 1 began to feel a wee bit peaked, like. Not scared so much as just plain cowardly. My God, she rolled! And pitched! When she come down off a crest she must have been putting her bows right under. I didn’t go on deck to see. I didn’t like it where I was, but I knew I wouldn’t like it any better up on top.”This was a rare outburst from a seaman of the salvage tugs.

By noon of the twenty-fifth, Josephine was clear of the worst of it. Salt-stained to the trucks of her masts, she was plowing through the aftcrswells at a full sixteen knots, but she was still 400 miles short of the Albisold’s position for Leicester.

On the morning of the twenty-sixth, the general atmospheric disturbance kicked up by the passage of the hurricane brought heavy weather and high seas to the whole search area. It brought no pleasure to the gloomy crew of the Lillian, and could hardly have eased the mood of Zwarte Zee’s people either.

In Halifax, even Featherstone was beginning to get edgy. The strain had communicated itself to the head office of the parent company in Montreal, where vice presidents were nervously accosting one another to ask if there was any news. It was no longer simply a matter of a million-dollar salvage operation; the whole Leicester affair had now assumed the stature of a major maritime mystery. But no one in Foundation Maritime had any thought of calling off the search, least of all Featherstone, whose pugnacious lower jaw kept thrusting out farther and farther as the hours passed.

“He’d got to the point,”said one of his associates, “that if Leicester had gone down, he would have wanted to try to raise her from the ocean floor. Getting that boat had become the only thing he thought about. Each time there was a call from Halifax Radio we dreaded to hear the news, for fear Zwarte Zee had made the find. If that had happened, I really believe Feathers would have stolen a destroyer from the navy and gone out and taken Leicester away from the Dutchman by brute force.”

At 1000 hours on the twenty-sixth there was a flurry aboard Lillian when the lookout reported a ship on the horizon to the south. It was soon obvious that it could not be the derelict, for this ship was under way. Crowe veered toward her at full speed anyway. There was always a chance the stranger might have something to report. Lillian bore down upon her, unwilling to use the radio because of the ZWarte and shortly before noon came within hailing distance of the Norwegian steamship Elg. The Elg’s people were amazed by the mid-ocean encounter. Such a little boat, so far at sea. What could she be doing? Crowe soon told them, but they, alas, could tell him nothing in return. They had seen no sign of an abandoned ship.

Reluctantly, Lillian turned back to resume her search pattern. She had a beaten look about her that was reflected in the faces of her people. They had almost given up hope of ever putting their ship in dock at Halifax.

“We figured,” said one of the engineers, “to be out there for twenty-five days; that was our fuel endurance. And then we figured to go on drifting for the rest of time, just like the Leicester. We knew damn well Feathers would never let us come ashore without her!”

As the southing increased, it grew hotter aboard the tug. Men were stripping off the heavy jackets they had worn in northern waters, and sweat was flowing freely from the helmsman’s face.

It was nearly 1300 hours on the twenty-sixth and Crowe was considering whether to go below for a bite to eat when Sparkie burst out of his shack. He took the steps to the charthouse almost at a leap and thrust a scribbled message into the captain’s hand. The message had been transmitted in clear, and every other vessel within hundreds of miles must have received it at the same instant Lillian had.


Hastily, Crowe plotted the position. It was only forty miles away — again to the southeast! Without turning from the chart he yelled the new course to the helmsman even as he was laying it out. At the same instant, Rose jumped to the voice pipe and called Higgins in the engine room.

“She’s been spotted! Barely forty miles away. Oh, Chiefie, if you ever made a boat run fast, you better do it now!”

Lillian turned on her heel, and they say she began to scamper through the long green swells. The drone of her diesels took on a feverish quality, and foam filled her wake.

All hands lined Lillian’s upperworks. Monkey’s Island was so crowded it was hard to find standing room. Every eye peered forward.

The two hours which followed seemed endless. At 1510 a Newfoundlander who had climbed almost to the masthead let out a bellow that could have been heard all the way home to his native island. “I sees her, byes!”

From the bridgewing the mate roared back, “Is she alone?”

“Lonely as an old maid in wintertime!”

“AS WE bore down on her, nobody had a word to say. I guess most of the men never thought we’d find her, and some of us had begun to wonder if she existed at all.

“It wasn’t just the end of the days and days of uncertainty that got us, it was the look of the ship herself. Nobody aboard Lillian had ever seen anything quite like it — and during the war most of us saw plenty of torpedoed derelicts. Torpedoed ships were always low in the water, usually half awash. But this ship stuck up until she looked damn near as big as the Queen Mary, She looked to me to be lying flat on her side, and right on top of the water, like the great-granddaddy of the biggest whale that ever was.

“She seemed so unnatural for a ship that it was indecent. As we closed with her, there wasn’t a man who wasn’t waiting for her to finish her roll and slip away down before our eyes.

“We came up from her starboard side — or maybe I should say from her bottom side, since her bilge keel was a good ten feet out of the water. As we came around her bows so we could see her decks and superstructure, I began to feel as nervous as a kid waiting for the big bang at a fireworks show. We were thinking, what in the name of God is stopping her from going over? She seemed to have about a fifty-degree permanent list, but she was rolling down past seventy degrees. Each time she rolled, the seas ran in over her decks, and some broke clean above the edge of her boat deck. As we came past her port side we could almost look down her funnel.

“When I remembered that this ship had been abandoned at the tag end of a hurricane more than ten days earlier and had drifted derelict about six hundred miles to the southeast through three heavy storms and a lot of ordinary bad weather, I knew I was looking at some kind of seagoing miracle. Not the churchy kind, you understand, but the kind ships sometimes seem to be able to pull off on their own, without any help from men or God. This was a ship that didn’t want to die.”

As Lillian was bearing down on the derelict, her crewmen had been preparing a dory and Rose had been selecting a boarding party. It was to consist of himself, Chief Engineer Higgins, and two Newfoundlanders to handle the boat. Higgins’ job was to check the engine room while Rose took formal possession of the vessel.

Rose never had any trouble remembering that moment:

“We circled her twice, closing to three or four hundred yards so we could examine her and weigh the chances. She didn’t look any better close up than she had at a distance. Darkness was just a couple of hours away, and there was a strong wind, a very heavy sea, and an overcast sky. Not what you’d call regatta weather.

“When I’d seen all I could from Lillian’s bridge I told Crowe I was ready, and he hove to about a mile to windward of the ship. We had the dory on our afterdeck, and eight men picked it up bodily and heaved it over with two seamen in it. The Newfoundlanders held the dory close enough so Higgins and I could make the jump; then we pulled away for Leicester.

“Nobody knows how lonely the ocean can be until he takes a look at it from a sixteen-foot open boat running through seas ten to fifteen feet high. The dory may be the best sea boat ever invented, but it takes faith to believe that when you’re out in one.

“The seas were heavy enough so we only got glimpses of Leicester and Lillian as we went up on the crests. They looked like toys.

“It took us about forty minutes to close with Leicester, and by then we’d discovered we weren’t alone. The sea was lousy with sharks. I suppose they’d been following Leicester since she was abandoned, figuring she was bound to go down and maybe leave some tidbits floating on the surface.

“We had no time to fool around, so we pulled straight in toward Leicester’s lee rail, just abaft her house. It didn’t look good. She’d lift the lee rail fifteen feet clear of the sea; she’d roll back and put it under. As she rolled down, the water spilled off her decks with a swoosh that would have drowned our dory.

“If we were going to get aboard at all, we had to make contact when the lee rail was coming up. There was about twenty seconds for a man to make the jump. Then the dory had to pull like blazes to get clear.

“Higgins went first. He got to the bow of the dory and balanced there while I watched our chance. As the ship began to roll up I gave a yell, and the dorymen ran the boat in until her bow was about three feet from the rail. Higgins never hesitated. He caught the rail, pulled himself over it headfirst, and then went clawing up the deck, taking advantage of the temporary reduction in the list. By the time she began to roll back, he had got hold of a hatch coaming and was clear of the sea.

“I was next. I barely got wet at all. Before she could roll down I scuttled along the lee rail toward the lift of the stern. Then I hauled myself around the stern and up to the high side, going hand over hand along the rail.

“I had two flags stuffed inside my jacket, the Red Ensign and Foundation’s house flag. First thing I did was haul the Red Ensign up on the after ensign mast. Then I worked forward along the high side to the bridge and hoisted the house flag. Whatever happened after that, we’d at least put our mark on Leicester.

“Up to then I’d been too busy to look around. After I got the house flag up, I glanced down the deck toward the lee rail. She was rolling to port then, and her deck was canted steeper than the average church roof. I seemed to be looking nearly fifty feet straight down into the sea. The dory was standing off about a hundred yards away, and I tell you, that little boat looked good to me.

“Higgins appeared about then, and I decided we’d best get off while we could. There were some rope ends dangling down the afterdeck, and we slid down these. Higgins was first off, and when the dory nosed in for him, he made the jump without any trouble.

“The dory pulled back to wait for Leicester to complete her next roll, and I slid down and got up on the rail, hanging onto the stays of the mast.

“Two or three really hefty seas must have come rolling up just then, because when she went down this time she kept on going until the water was away over my head. For all I knew, she meant to go right over. I hung on tight, and I remember saying to myself, ‘What the hell are you doing here anyway?’

“Then she began coming up. I broke the surface, got a gulp of air, and looked around. The dory was standing off about fifty yards away, and I seemed to be looking right down the gullets of the three men aboard of her. If they’d had their mouths open any wider, a shark could have slid right down their windpipes.

“The sharks were still hanging about. I thought about them and wondered if 1 could make a dash for higher ground before Leicester put me down again. There wasn’t time. Down she went, and once more she buried me right under.

“I’d had about enough of that, and the dorymen must have known it. They took an awful chance and ran right in as she came down for the third time. 1 jumped and somehow landed in the boat. The four of us had to pull like hell to get clear.

“As we came around past her stern, I saw that her log line was still out. We’d lost Lillian”s some time earlier, so 1 decided to salvage this one.

“We rowed aft until I could reach the line and cut it where it ran up to the ship’s stern; then 1 began hauling in the trailing section. It was surprisingly hard work. I hauled and hauled, and finally something broke water a few yards off.

“Caught on the rotator at the end of the log line was a three-legged wooden stool. Don’t ask me where it came from. But a shark had ahold of the stool, and he wasn’t anxious to let go.

“We hauled him in till he was close enough to whack with an oar before he gave it up. I’ve still got that stool, and it still has his tooth marks on it.

“It was nearly dark by now, so we headed back for Lillian. The shark kept us company all the way. I guess he was hoping the bottom would fall out of the dory so he’d get even. I can’t figure yet what in hell he wanted with that stool.”

Leicester was still derelict, but no longer abandoned. As darkness closed in over the gray seas, the Red Ensign and Foundation’s flag blew out on the night wind. Lillian took station to leeward, and her people settled down to await the arrival of Josephine and to hope for some moderation of the weather.

AT 0015 hours on the morning of September twenty-seventh, one of the lookouts aboard Lillian spoke in a low voice. It was almost as if he feared to be overheard.

“Masthead light, bearing 315 degrees.”

Crowe and all his officers clustered on the bridge, staring through their night glasses at the tiny distant light bearing down upon them from the northwest. Was it Josephine? Or was it the Zwarte Zee?

Crowe stepped into the wheelhouse, rang for half speed, and began edging Lillian in closer to the black bulk of Leicester, like a sheep dog placing himself close to the flank of a fat ewe as he scents the approaching wolf.

The wheelhouse was filled with the electric rustle of static from the loudspeaker of the radiotelephone, now turned on at full volume and tuned to the channel used by the Foundation tugs.

The moving star on the horizon brightened until the watchers could make out, through their binoculars, the dim glow of green and red navigation lights. The three lights formed a perfect triangle. The stranger, whoever she might be, was bearing down on a collision course for Lillian.

Then, with such abruptness that even the helmsman jumped, a metallic voice boomed into the confines of the wheelhouse.

“Got you on radar,” it said, without preamble.

The voice was that of Wally Myalls, an officer on the Josephine.

Thirty-five minutes later the two tugs lay side by side, within hailing distance. After exchanging information through megaphones, Josephine switched on her searchlight and slowly circled Leicester. The derelict presented an eerie, almost spectral sight in the blaze of light, and Josephine’s people experienced the same sense of awe that Lillian’s crew had felt the previous evening.

After a time the glaring light went out and the tugs lay to, one on each side of the Leicester, in the heavy swell, their engines stopped, waiting for the dawn.

Leicester’s position was then about 800 miles from Bermuda and from Saint John’s, Newfoundland; 900 from Halifax; and 1100 from New York. These were the four ports from which Cowley, now in full command of the operation, had to select his ultimate destination. The dominating factor was the kind of weather he might anticipate en route to each of the four ports. New York was ruled out by distance. Meanwhile, Robbie Vatcher was instructed to obtain both the current and the long-range forecasts for the Bermuda and Saint John’s routes.

Vatcher immediately began to try to work New York, but there were a good many outgoing messages being transmitted and he had to wait. One of these was addressed to the Zwarte Zee.


Thus, the shadow of Jwarte J^ee, which had hung over the whole operation for so many days, was lifted.

BY DAWN on the twenty-seventh the weather had improved a little, but it was still far from ideal. The risk of boarding remained extreme. Nevertheless, at 0600 hours Josie’s dory was shoved overside, and four men jumped into it. They were Wally Myalls, Ray Squires, and Able Seamen Albert Greene and Thomas Farrell — Newfoundlanders all. Chief Diver and Salvage Foreman Squires remembers every detail:

“Our job was to try to get aboard on the forepart of the ship. While Wally figured out a way to hitch up the tow I was supposed to see whether the ship was in condition to be towed, and to decide if she’d stay afloat once the strain came on her.

“Farrell rowed us over, and it was a scary sight. Leicester looked like she would roll right over on top of us any minute. None of us could swim, and by now there must have been thirty or forty sharks hanging around to watch the show.

“When Leicester was coming down, Farrell stuck the dory’s stern practically right into one of the scupper holes, held it for about a second, and then pulled out to sea. It was just long enough for Greene to jump. He landed in the scuppers in about four feet of water, but when she rolled back up again he was still aboard.

“We stood off and watched him. It was comical. The decks were wet and covered with fuel oil and slanting steeper than a toboggan run. When the ship rolled to starboard and eased the list, he’d manage to scramble a few feet up the deck. Then she’d roll back to port and shoot him down into the scuppers again. The sharks were just as interested as we were, and once I thought a couple of them were going to go aboard and join him.

“We were laughing loud enough for him to hear, and he turned and thumbed his nose at us. After about twenty minutes he got up far enough to catch a hanging rope end and used it to get on the weather coaming of one of the hatches. After that it was no trick to reach the starboard rail. He hung on there until he could sling a rope down to the lee scuppers, and we started in again.

“This time Wally jumped, but Farrell was a wee bit slow pulling away and Leicester snagged the stern of the dory in a scupper hole and started to roll up with it. She lifted the dory right clear of the water before we slipped free and walloped back into the sea. The sharks looked awful disappointed when we stayed afloat.

“The third time in I made the jump, grabbed the rope, and hauled myself up to the weather rail. Wally had already worked his way forward to the anchor winch, and Greene had disappeared somewhere.

“First of all, I decided to go aft. It was easy walking along the weather alleyway, with one foot on the deck and the other on the cabin bulkheads. The whole alleyway looked like a rummage sale. Trousers, coats, shirts, socks, and every darn thing you could think of was strewn along it. There were even half a dozen sextants still in their boxes, along with fifteen or twenty suitcases and sea bags. I could see that Leicester’s crew had figured on traveling light when they abandoned ship.

“I went down into the holds and had a look around. Mind you, I wasn’t all that anxious to go below. But it had to be done. There were small companion hatches between the holds, and I pried the cover off one of them and started down the ladder into Number Three.

“It was pitch dark down there, and the ladder had such a list 1 couldn’t use my feet. I went down like a monkey on a trapeze. I had a small flashlight, and it was just bright enough to show me what had happened.

“The shifting boards had let go right the length of the hold, and two or three hundred tons of ballast had gone over against the port side of the ship. I guess it was the same in all the other holds, but I never went to look. When I got out of Number Three I was so glad to see the sky again I could even forgive Farrell for halfway drowning me.

“Wally came back along the weather rail to join me. He figured the only thing to do was to stop off the port anchor, burn through the port anchor chain, and attach our towing wire to it. It was going to be a big operation, on that deck, but we figured we could manage if we had a few more hands and some portable burning gear.

“We had to go back to Josie for the stuff. Before we went, Wally and I figured we should try and close the storm doors along the port alleyway because the water was still coming into the accommodations and running down to the engine room every time she rolled her lee rail under.

“We had quite a time of it. We’d slip along, knee deep in water, to the first door, and then grab hold of the dogs and hang on while she rolled down. The whole alleyway would fill up, and we’d be underwater for a while; then she’d rise and we’d work like mad to get that door closed and the dogs pounded home. Then we’d watch our chance and make a dash for the next one. I kept expecting to find one of the sharks coming in to give us a hand, but I guess the look on Wally’s face scared them off.

“When we got them all shut, and the water mostly out of our lungs, we began to wonder what had happened to Greene. I went back up to the weather side, and all of a sudden I saw something coming along the starboard alleyway. For a couple of seconds my heart almost quit beating. Here was this figure working his way along toward me, dressed up in full officer’s uniform, peaked cap and all. and carrying a sextant.

“He saw me too, and up went his arm in a pretty smart salute. Then he grinned, and I recognized Greene. I don’t put any stock in ghosts, but he sure gave me one bad moment.

“Greene had come aboard in the scruffiest, worn-outest clothes you ever saw, but he went back to Josie looking like something off a training ship.

“Wally and I picked up the sextants and tied a pair to each end of some neckties that were lying on the deck and slung them around our necks. Then we went down to the lee side, sliding on our fannies and hanging onto the rope. Getting back aboard the dory was worse than leaving it, but we finally all got in and headed for Josephine”

Squires reported to Cowley that he thought Leicester would remain afloat, even under tow, now that the accommodation doors were closed, provided she was towed at a slow speed and not subjected to any more heavy weather.

Myalls reported on how the towing wire ought to be made fast. This was to be no simple operation. Josephine’s towing wire was two-inch-diameter steel cable, and four hundred feet of it weighed a ton. Normally, a ship needing to be towed has steam or electric power on her own forward winches; all that is required is to pass her a graduated series of lines, each one of increased diameter, until the last one can be hauled aboard the casualty on her winch and bring the towing cable with it.

Since there was no mechanical power aboard Leicester, the connection had to be made by means of man power alone. This is the way it was done.

The dory returned to Leicester carrying the original four men plus Buck Dassylva — pumpman and general salvage genius — as well as a big iron snatch block and a portable oxyacetylene cutting outfit.

The snatch block, cutting gear, and gas cylinders were hauled up the slanting deck and eased forward to the eyes of the ship. Then two men unrove a length of wire from Leicester’s rigging and wove this back and forth through a link of the port anchor chain, making the ends fast to Leicester’s forward bitts. This was to secure the anchor so that when the chain was cut it would not plunge into the sea.

When the anchor was safely stopped off. Buck got busy with his burning gear and severed the anchor chain.

Meanwhile, another man had made the snatch block fast. Now, a snatch block is simply a pulley set between two sheets of iron, one of which is hinged, so that instead of having to insert an end of rope through the block, you can lift the hinged section and lay the bight, or loop, around the pulley.

When all was ready, Wally stood in the bows and signaled to Cowley. Very gingerly, Cowley backed the big tug toward the casualty’s bows until less than fifty feet separated the two ships. Then a light heaving line was flung up to Wally from Josie’s afterdeck. When this was hauled aboard Leicester, it brought with it a manila mooring line which was made fast to Leicester’s bitts.

The two vessels were now tethered together, and Cowley called Gilmour in the engine room and ordered the propeller to be kept barely turning over so that a gentle strain would be applied to the mooring line. This was to prevent Leicester from surging forward and plunging down on the tug’s stern.

After this first step was completed, another heaving line was thrown aboard Leicester and the salvage crew hauled it in, bringing with it the bight of a three-inch manila rope, both ends of which remained aboard Josephine. Dassylva slipped this bight into the snatch block. One end of the three-inch rope aboard the Josephine was now made fast to a hundred-pound U-shackle on the end of the towing wire. The other end was passed around Josephine’s electric capstan, and very carefully the shackle and towing wire were hauled aboard Leicester.

Even with the help of Josie’s capstan it was all the men aboard Leicester could do to get the immense shackle and the heavy wire into position. When this was finally accomplished, the free end of Leicester’s anchor chain was shackled to the wire, and the connection was complete.

The next step was equally tricky. After passing out of the chain locker, the heavy anchor chain ran over the gypsy end of Leicester’s winch before terminating at the towing shackle. Now it was Myall’s job to ease off the winch brakes by hand and allow Josephine to haul about three hundred feet of chain out of the chain locker.

The mooring line was cast off, and Josephine began to ease ahead, taking a strain upon the wire.

The chain paid out over the winch and through the port fairlead with an ugly roar. At the proper moment, Wally and Dassylva applied the brake, while at the same instant Josephine ceased pulling.

The winches alone could not take the full towing strain, so the chain had to be further secured aboard the Leicester. This was now done by inserting what is called a “devils-claw” into one link of the chain, and by then reeving steel rope back and forth between the bitts, through several other links.

There were three reasons for using the anchor chain instead of making the towing wire fast directly to Leicester’s bitts. In the first place, the use of the winch and devil’s-claw, together with the auxiliary wires to the bitts, provided a threepoint anchorage for the towing wire — a matter of some moment, since Leicester represented a tenthousand-ton deadweight object. In the second place, a length of anchor chain included in the towing complex provides what salvage men refer to as a “spring.” The great weight of the chain tends to sag the towing wire so that there is less likelihood of its being stretched to the breaking point under a sudden stress.

In the third place, the use of a chain passing over the casualty’s bows greatly reduces the “sawing” or chafing effect, which can sever even a two-inch wire in a matter of hours.

While Josephine’s boarding party had been successfully completing the towing connection, a party from Lillian, consisting of Higgins, Rose, and one helper, had again boarded the Leicester in an attempt to free the jammed rudder so that when the tow began the ship would not tend to sheer off to one side of her course. Rose and Higgins descended into the very bowels of the ship to reach the rudder flat, but their efforts proved unavailing and the rudder remained jammed.

Though every man concerned had worked as though his life depended on it, it was 1120 hours before the last of the boarding parties was clear of Leicester and Cowley could give the orders to begin the tow.

He had now decided on his destination. Vatcher had obtained a series of weather messages reporting the eastward movement of a low-pressure area down the Saint Lawrence Valley, with a consequent assurance of bad weather in the vicinity of Newfoundland. But to the south there were no signs of any tropical disturbances in the making, and fair weather with light winds was predicted over Bermuda for the ensuing three days. The choice was obvious.

At 1123 Cowley rang for dead slow ahead. Josephine slowly gathered way. Wally Myalls, who was operating the enormous electric towing winch, paid out wire until the dial indicated that two thousand feet had left the reel. Then he carefully applied the brake, and the strain came on the wire.

It was a tense moment. At one end of the wire was ten thousand tons of dead ship; at the other, a 3200-horsepower tug applying a steadily increasing force. No one was worried that the wire might part — it was built to stand worse stress than this. But every man aboard both tugs was vitally concerned with the possibility that this heavy strain might be enough to alter Leicester’s delicate equilibrium and roll her over.

The wire passing over Josephine’s stern began to draw bar-taut. The angle between the hanging anchor chain and Leicester’s bows began to increase. Then, to the horror of everyone watching, the big ship rolled down farther than they had ever seen her go before; farther and farther, until the water was up to the lee coamings of her hatches.

In Josephine’s engine room the telegraph swung to Full Astern, but even before the order could be obeyed, Leicester began to recover herself. She came slowly back, and the sea water streamed off her decks and ran home through the scuppers in a cataract of foam. Leicester was under way, moving almost imperceptibly. But she was under way.

At 1200 hours Vatcher transmitted the following message:


Two hours later, Josephine sent out the following information to Featherstone:


“She was a sight to make you think you were dreaming,” Wally Myalls remembers. “With her rudder jammed hard a port she was sheering off to port so sharp it looked like she’d decided to go to Florida instead of Bermuda. Sometimes she was nearly broadside to us, and then we’d have to slow Josie down to try and ease the Leicester back on course. When she was broadside like that, the strain on the wire would pull her over so far her port boat deck would be just about submerged. If Squires hadn’t got those accommodation doors dogged shut” — Wally Myalls is a modest man — “she’d have filled and sunk without a doubt.

“Cowley had a real problem. If he pulled too fast, he’d be pretty sure to capsize her. But every hour we stayed at sea was one more hour for her to finish herself off. Josephine could have towed at eight or nine knots — we had the power — but while that rudder was jammed and she was sheering like she was, it would have killed her if we’d tried.

“I tell you, the boys watched that wire like a bunch of sealers watching for the first pan of whilecoats in the spring. Some of the salvage gang were always on watch, with a lighted burning torch beside them. They sat alongside the wire where it ran over the taffrail, and they never took their eyes off Leicester. If she’d started to plunge, they’d have had about a minute to cut the wire and let us get clear.

“Every change of watch we let out a few feet of wire and changed the position of the iron chafing plate that was bolted under the wire where it crossed the rail. That was to make sure the wire didn’t chafe and break. We couldn’t afford the time it would’ve taken to connect up again.

“You might have thought we’d have felt like celebrating with that million-dollar boat behind us, but I tell you, we were a pretty sober lot. Now that we had her at last, the chance of losing her made everybody kind of sick. Bermuda was a long way off.”

Bermuda was almost exactly 800 sea miles away when the tow began. At a towing speed of three or four knots, Josephine could not hope to bring her charge into a safe anchorage in much less than eight days, and that was too long. Following on the preceding period of gales, fair weather had come briefly to this section of the North Atlantic, but no one but a willful optimist could have expected the weather to remain amiable for eight more days. If the weather turned ugly once again, Leicester’s chances of survival under tow would fade away to nothing.

Cowley seldom left his bridge. Using every element of skill which the long years at sea had taught him, he nursed his charge along, always striving to move her just a little faster, but always aware that if he overdid it, he would lose her by his own hand.

Lillian did what she could to help. During the day she kept station a little astern of Leicester, and her people watched the big ship closely, ever alert to radiophone a warning to Cowley if anything untoward developed. At night Lillian steamed abeam of the ship and dangerously close to her, with her searchlight trained upon the derelict.

During the morning of the twenty-eighth, the wind dropped out to almost nothing for a few hours and the swells eased considerably. By noon Cowley had worked the tow up to a full six knots. At this speed Leicester tended to keep station almost abeam the tug’s starboard quarter, without undue sheering. But at 1430 she suddenly seemed to go berserk. She sheered hard to port, bringing such a strain on the wire it was inconceivable that it would not burst. Cowley was forced to slow his tug down until she barely had steerageway, but still Leicester could not be persuaded to hold station. The struggle continued for three hours, and then, for no apparent reason, Leicester gave up the battle and returned to her old position off the starboard quarter.

During this day, the course of the tow followed a section of the great-circle track for low-power steamers going to and from Gulf ports, and “Cowley’s Circus,” which was what Josephine’s crew had named the tow, drew quite an audience. Four passing vessels altered course to take a closer look at the weird cortege making its way toward Bermuda. Vatcher was kept busy answering queries from incredulous onlookers, and Cowley was kept busy trying, by applied telepathy, to persuade the audience to stay to hell and gone out of the way.

Seldom has any vessel been so avid for weather information as was Josephine. When Vatcher was not pestering the shore stations for the most recent prognostications, he was pestering every other ship within three hundred miles for minute details of the weather they were experiencing. Josephine came close to becoming a floating weather laboratory in her own right.

By midnight on the twenty-eighth, a northwest wind of Force 4 strength was blowing and the swell was getting heavier. Nevertheless, the tow had made good nearly 180 miles during the 24-hour period.

IN HALIFAX the onus of responsibility had passed from Featherstone to the managing director of Foundation Maritime, Edward Woollcombe. It was his task to conclude agreements and arrangements with Leicester’s owners and, more vitally, with her insurance underwriters, who had now come into legal possession of the ship. Before turning her over to her owners or to the underwriters, Woollcombe was understandably anxious to ensure that his company’s rights would be safeguarded.

Negotiations were conducted by cable. Woollcombe’s object was threefold: first, to establish the existence of a Lloyd’s open-form contract containing special clauses which took into consideration the vessel’s total abandonment; second, to obtain definite financial commitments from the owners in advance of delivery to a safe port; and third, to persuade the underwriters and the owners that the safe port was to be the one of Foundation Maritime’s own choosing.

The underwriters and the Federal Steam Navigation Company, on their side, were understandably reluctant to make any commitments until they knew their ship was safe. Furthermore, their concept of what consituted a safe harbor was one where Leicester would be secured from all further risks of loss. As far as Bermuda was concerned, this meant Saint George’s Harbor.

Woollcombe was just as anxious as anyone else to see Leicester in a safe port. But careful calculations had shown him that Leicester, with a list of 50 degrees, would be drawing at least 26 feet of water, perhaps considerably more. The Admiralty charts of Bermuda showed the entrance channel to Saint George’s as dredged to only 27 feet. Moreover, the channel was barely 250 feet wide, and a tow as unwieldy and obstreperous as Leicester could be expected to sheer extravagantly enough to risk running ashore on one side or the other, if, indeed, she did not ground in the channel itself.

The alternative was Murray’s Anchorage. This is an almost open roadstead lying at the northern tip of Bermuda, protected from the sea only by an area of submerged coral reefs. Nevertheless, in normal weather it was considered safe enough to be used by units of the British fleet, as well as by many merchant ships. And the channel leading to it was 38 feet deep and nearly 600 feet wide.

Woollcombe was also afraid that any attempt to bring Leicester into Saint George’s (even if such an attempt were feasible) would be met with stifl resistance from the harbor authorities, who would be aware of the dangers of having the big ship turn turtle or go aground and thus deny the harbor to all other traffic. If the authorities proved recalcitrant, the tugs and their charge might have to stay outside for hours, or even days; and every additional hour Leicester remained in deep water was an hour during which she might be irretrievably lost.

On the other hand, once she was moored in Murray’s Anchorage, she would be in calm and shallow water and immediate steps could be taken to begin reducing her dangerous list to a point where she could safely enter Saint George’s.

Woollcombe was a past master of persuasion. After three days of suave, yet pointed, messages to London, he convinced his opponents that Leicester was already as good as saved, and so he got his way, and a draft agreement. The contract was to be considered successfully terminated when Leicester was brought to safe anchorage or moorage in Bermuda, either Murray’s Anchorage or Saint George’s Harbor being considered as safe anchorage. Now the rest was up to Cowley and the tugs.

DURING daylight hours of October 1, the wind remained light, although it did swing into the southwest. The seas were moderate, and Leicester towed well enough, considering. Cowley made use of this continuing period of grace to work Josephine up to a full seven knots.

By noon next day Josephine was within 160 miles of Bermuda, and Cowley dispatched a message to Featherstone in Halifax:


Featherstone was not in Halifax to receive this message. He was airborne at a point not far from Bermuda, and late in the afternoon of October 2 he was in Saint George, busily preparing for the reception of Foundation’s million-dollar tow.

Featherstone liked doing things in a hurry. His first port of call was the harbor master’s office. This amiable gentleman soon found himself being hustled into a hired motorboat and accompanying Featherstone out past Saint Catherine’s Head, so that the salvage master could take a speculative look at the entrance channel to Murray’s Anchorage.

Featherstone looked, grunted a few times, and made some notations in the ten-cent notebook he always carried with him. Once back at the landing stage, the harbor master found himself unceremoniously abandoned.

Featherstone then visited the offices of Foundation’s local agents. Pandemonium followed for half an hour, at the end of which time arrangements had been made for two United States Army tugs and a British Admiralty tug to stand by at Five Fathom Hole, the pilot station, as of 0700 hours the following morning. In addition, a gang of stevedores had been hired to begin shifting Leicester’s ballast as soon as she was moored, and all arrangements had been concluded — some of them amicably — with the port and naval authorities.

Featherstone’s next stop was at the home of the chief pilot. Here he called a battle council at which the pilots and the skippers of the local tugs received their campaign instructions. They were ail a little numb by the time Featherstone departed for his hotel, but they knew exactly what was expected of them the following morning.

The salvage master was not entirely happy about the prospects for the morning. He was well aware of the difficulties of maneuvering a dead ship through a narrow channel, particularly when that ship was listing 50 degrees and had her rudder locked hard to port. Even more disturbing was the risk that, if Leicester touched bottom, the narrow margin of positive buoyancy left to her would be destroyed, and the event which the seas and gales had failed to bring about would come to pass.

The mental picture of Leicester capsized in the center of the busy ship channel north of Saint George’s Island was one to bring a shudder even to such a hardened old campaigner as Featherstone.

THE morning of October 3 broke overcast with a gentle northwest wind to tickle the great ocean swells and wrinkle their long backs. A pilot boat was putting out from Saint George’s. Featherstone, standing beside the wheelsman, might well have passed for some fearsome figurehead on a buccaneering ship of long ago — except for his cigar.

Aboard Josephine, Cowley stood on the bridgewing and raised his binoculars. There, dead ahead, was the blue loom of land. As the light strengthened he could make out the white gleam of buildings in Saint George and the brooding hulk of Sugar Loaf Hill. At exactly 0800 hours the way began to come off Josephine and her crew began to shorten up the tow line. As the little convoy closed with the land, the three harbor tugs, their sirens sounding, came bustling out from the entrance of the narrows. Leading them was the pilot boat, bearing an easily recognizable Featherstone, who was so far forgetting his dignity as to wave both hands high in the air.

It was a magnificent moment even for the blase crews of the rescue tugs, but they had little enough time to savor it.

The pilot boat bumped against Josephine’s bulwarks just long enough for a pilot to leap aboard; then it was off to Leicester. The pause here was a little longer, for Featherstone and the chief pilot both had to be landed on the derelict. Within minutes they had clambered up the canted deck, using the same ropes that had been fixed in place by the salvage men at sea.

The pilot went directly to the bridge and wedged himself on the high starboard wing. Featherstone made a rapid tour of the ship to satisfy himself that all was as he had expected it to be and that his plans would not be upset by some previously unknown factor. Only then did he join the pilot and give the signal for the tow to carry on.

By this time Josephine had shortened up so that there was less than three hundred yards of wire between her and Leicester. The Army tug ST-10 had placed a hawser on Leicester’s stern and was falling back into a position from which she could help to steer the unwieldy hulk. The Admiralty tug Justice had come alongside on the starboard quarter and was ready to assist. Lillian and the second Army tug were standing by.

At 1005 hours Josephine passed between the two buoys marking the entrance to the channel leading to Murray’s Anchorage. At that exact moment Leicester took a sharp sheer to starboard.

Cowley immediately put the tug’s helm hard over, but Leicester’s sheer only grew worse. ST-10 began going full astern, but Leicester still moved implacably toward the coral reefs, which now lay less than a hundred feet away. Justice’s master, sensing the urgency of the moment, did not wait for orders. He cast off his lines and slid his tug forward along Leicester’s exposed bottom until she could put her nose against the big ship’s starboard bow. Then Justice’s screw began to kick the shallowing water into foam.

Slowly, slowly, Leicester’s bow began to swing back into the channel, back behind Josephine.

With the tow straightened out once more, Cowley discovered he was having trouble keeping Leicester moving. Baffled, he called for more power, but the big ship astern continued to hang back as if she were willfully dragging her heels.

Featherstone and the pilot, glancing astern from Leicester’s bridge, saw the clear blue waters going milky white. Leicester indeed was dragging her heels — or, rather, her stern — upon the coral bottom.

There was nothing to be done about it. There was no room to turn in order to head her back to deeper water. The only hope was to continue towing and pray she was only running over a small area of spoil which the dredges had somehow neglected to remove.

At every instant Featherstone expected her to take the ground solidly. If that happened, he was convinced, she would have rolled right over.

The entrance channel to Murray’s Anchorage is two miles long. It took the combined flotilla of tugs just under two hours to ease the Leicester, still sheering erratically, still dragging her stern, through those two miles of torment. She was intractable to the last. As Myalls said afterward, “That was the longest part of the whole damn tow.”

But, at 1340 hours Leicester cleared the inside channel approach, and Josephine swung her down the broad South Channel.

At 1406 hours Leicester lay securely moored to a battleship mooring buoy in Murray’s Anchorage.