Real Tales from the Pacific Islands pre 1900

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The Star 23 August 1897 page 3
27 days in an open boat.

The Fiji Government despatch steamer Clyde, Captain Callaghan, a small Auckland built vessel, returned to Suva, Fiji, from a trip up to Funifuti, Ellice Group, in the Central Pacific, and had on board a shipwrecked crew, 13, which they had picked up at Sophia Island, after a period of over ten months castaway on the island. After arriving at Fiji the shipwrecked crew left Suva for Sydney in the barque Ellen

The vessel wrecked was the Seladon, a Norwegian wooden barque of 1066 tons register, 1102 tons gross register, and was owned by G. Gunderson, of Stavanger, Norway. She was built in 1877. and she was wrecked on August 7 of last year, at Starbuck Island, a guano depot formerly worked by Mr J. T. Arundel. The island is low, and is not visible over seven miles away. It is deserted. Lies 5.38 south of the equator, and is 155.55 west longitude. It is surrounded by a narrow steep reef nearly a mile off shore. The crew made a voyage of two thousand miles in an open boat to Sophia Island, where they lived until they were picked up. Olaris Ladi, second mate. The Scaldon left Newcastle, NSW, on July 13, 1896, for Honolulu, with a full cargo of coal. On the night of August 7 struck Starbuck Island while running at a speed of seven knots per hour. About fifteen minutes after we struck there were four feet of water in the hold. Two boats launched, contained eight men each. Had a chart and a compass. Misses Malden Island and Christmas Island. On the 18 August, eleven days from leaving the ship, the gig we were towing capsized. We picked up all in her except Christian Nielson (Kristian Nielson) , chief mate, whom we never saw again. At daylight we cast off the capsized boat and set sail again. On August 24 Captain Actolf Jaeger died. He had been ill for a long time previous to leaving Newcastle. Our provisions finished on August 30, 23 days out. Fourteen men shared the last tin of meat (5lb), which lasted three days. We were reduced to skeletons and very weak. We sailed for six more days and sighted Sophia Island, a small wooded island two to three miles in circuit, lies 10.46 south latitude and 179.31 E. longitude. We drove straight on to the reef and were cast ashore, our boat smashed to pieces. We lay on the beach unable to stand until assisted by some natives. The natives consisted of two Rotuma men and four native women. On the seventh day after landing, the carpenter Tollah Olsen died, never recovering from the effects of exposure. We subsisted on cocoanuts, sea-birds and turtle. On Oct. 25 one of the Rotuma men died. Survivors: 
Lars Tonneresen, steward
Peder Time, sailmaker
Marrslies Aske, A.B.
Abram Halrsen, A.B.
Gabriel Jonson, A.B.
Inglebert Hognestad, O.S.
Johannes Kundson, O.S.
Andrew Jakhodson, O.S.
Hans Tollefsen, boy
Tommes Perensen, boy.
In all there were sixteen crew from Stavanger, Norway. We left Stavanger and joined the Seladon in London. From there we went to the Baltic to load lumber, with which we proceeded to Algoa Bay. From Algoa Bay we went to Newcastle, NSW. We have now been away from home for two years.

A notable wreck which occurred on Starbuck some years ago was that of the British steel ship Garston, laden with Newcastle coal for America. The crew made a terribly severe voyage of six weeks in an open boat to Wallis Island, where they were picked up by the Auckland schooner Olive and came on to Auckland in the Wainui. 


Otago Witness September 19 1889  page 9
The Wreck of the Garston

Auckland, Sept. 16
The Wainui from Samoa brings as passengers portion of the shipwrecked crew of the ship Garston, comprising of Captain Pye (the master), Bruce (second mate), Annesley (third mate), and six seamen.  The Garston was wrecked at Starbuck Island on the 17th July, and the crew, numbering 28, left in two boats. Captain Pye's boat reached Wallis Island, west of Samoa, on August '9. All the provisions they had were 3lb of salt meat and 20 lb biscuits and the occupants were then in a very weak condition after a 23 days' passage. They had very little water on board, but rain fell frequently, which they saved in their oilskin coats.  They sailed 1600 miles in an open boat. The mate's boat has not been heard of....On the boat's voyage it was alleged some of the men in the captain's boat talked of "casting lots" amongst themselves to furnish food when all the provisions were gone. 

Julian Thomas said that after rowing for 36 hours, Captain Pye determined to make southwards in hopes of striking the Hervey or Cook Islands, or falling in with some vessels bound to San Francisco. A oar was used for a mast, a bed quilt or counterpane (put in the gig by the steward) for a sail. Watches were set and relieved every two hours. One man at the lookout forward, one at the helm. Bruce and Annesley, second and third mates, took their turn with the men; Captain Pye navigated the boat and issued rations. Half a gill of water was given to each man. All shared alike, the captain shared his tobacco with the rest. They stood their two alternate hours of duty and fours hours of sleep, or rest, always wet though by the seas which often swamped the boat, always ahungered, always athirst. They bore their lot like men. They had not space to lie down. They were cramped in every movement. The tropical sun beat on them during the day, at night their bones were often racked with cold, yet the warmth of these southern seas saved them. 

On the 14th day the mouldy biscuit was all gone, there was nothing but the meat left. On the second day that a tin was opened the meat would be rotten, but it was eaten with avidity. The rain luckily enabled them to fill their beaker. They got weaker and weaker and the devil of despair entered into them. They chewed the leather from their cap linings, the reeds and pith from the captain's sun helmet. They tried to eat their sea boots, but these were far too tough. Twenty days from the wreck the men became desperate, "Only two tins of meat left! Give it us all, and let us have a meal," they said. "No"; said the captain. "What if we come and take it?" said one; "there are but two of you." Annesley lay too weak to move at the bottom of the boat, and the captain would only have the second mate Bruce to help him. But Captain Pye looks a strong, powerful, determined man. "I will throw it overboard first," said he. "You fools! our only chance is in making this food last as long as possible. If you eat this to-day what will you do to-morrow?" Then said one of the foreigners, letting out the devil that was in himself and others, "There are plenty of two-legged animals in the boat." Lots must be drawn, and one after the other must become a sacrifice to support the lives of the rest. We all laugh when Mr W.S. Gilbert's ballad of the "Nancy, brig" is sung, little reckoning that such experiences have been real ones on the ocean. Captain Pye now says he would have overturned the boat and sent all hands to Davy Jones' locker before he would agree to such a thing. "I had still my wits about me, and we should all have died together." But he would not cast lots. The skipper might be a sacrifice. On the 22nd day there was only a pound and a half of meat left, but when near sundown Wallis Island was sighted, the sailmaker calling out "land." Another hour and they would have changed their course and missed this, passing it in the night as they did the Samoan Isles. They stood off for a time to avoid the reef, but guided by the full light of the moon the castaways landed on Wallis Island at 4 a.m. on the morning of the 9th, the 23rd day after the wreck of the Garston, after sailing 1600 miles in an open boat.


NZPA 11 November 2002
Sailor survives ocean drama after mystery ship sinks yacht.

A shipwrecked Swedish sailor was trembling with cold and probably had only two or three hours to live when he was plucked from his waterlogged liferaft in a dramatic rescue off 3 miles northeast of North Cape yesterday. The sailor's Russian saviour said he had been in the water for two hours after his yacht was run down by a large ship and sank during a storm about (56km) 30 nautical miles north east of North Cape on Saturday night. Alf Jaselius, 52, was sitting up to his waist in freezing water in his liferaft when the Russian merchant ship Mekhanik Kalyozhniy found him in the middle of a storm after being diverted about 26 miles from its course by the National Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Wellington. The ship's master, Captain Mikhail Sladkov, said they found the sailor within half an hour of arriving at the search area, about two hours after his 8.34m yacht Mica (Port of Registry - Gotheburg) had been run down by the mystery ship. He said the tiny liferaft was hard to spot in the pitch black 4m seas. "There was not enough good visibility but maybe in 30 minutes of searching I found the small flashing light which is usually placed on top of the liferaft," that was at 0043 on November. Maritime Safety Authority (MSA) director Russell Kilvington said the dramatic rescue at 0108 was a superb piece of seamanship in the stormy conditions but Capt Sladkov said his crew was highly trained and knew exactly what to do. Capt Sladkov said Mr Jaselius was happy to be rescued but was lucky the Russian ship was so close. He was able to manoeuvre his 21,000 tonne ship around to protect the liferaft from the three to four metre waves as much as possible, allowing his crew to throw a line to the yachtsman.
"His liferaft was completely filled with water and he was sitting in the water. The water temperature was about 60deg. F with stormy winds. "He was trembling, just freezing and I was afraid another three or four hours and he would be in much worse condition, maybe dead," Capt Sladkov said. The rescued sailor was given a long, hot shower on the Russian ship as it continued to Tauranga. The sailor had only time to get off a very quick mayday on his VHF radio on channel 16. He said the sailor was cool and gave a cogent and accurate latitude and longitude position before taking to his liferaft. "It was 'mayday, mayday, mayday. This is the Swedish yacht Mika. I have crashed into a big ship. Water is coming into the boat. I am putting liferaft in the water now.' And that was it." The mayday message was relayed by the MSA Far North radio station and relayed to shipping in the area and within seven minutes, six ships responded. The Russian ship was the closest and was sent to the rescue, he said. One of the vessels that responded was a small yacht, the Free Radical, which was only 16 miles downwind of the distressed sailor but it could not turn around in the stormy conditions.  "We just held them there and tasked the Russian ship." Alf's hand was badly burned by a flare that malfunctioned when he tried to attract the attention of the Russian freighter. Mr Kilvington said the Russian master showed real skill in the rescue. "How the hell the Russians got a large merchant ship alongside and got him out ...? "It was amazing." Mr Kilvington said the MSA was checking all ships that left New Zealand. He said the Russian master advised the MSA he had seen another ship on radar moving away from the area but it was possible the offending ship was unaware of the incident or that the MSA was looking for it. "This is not a witch-hunt. It is very possible in those circumstances - pitch black, a howling gale, a 21ft yacht - you could hit it and the impact would be most unlikely to be noticed." He said the inquiry would also focus on whether there was any radio contact between the ship and the yacht. He said one puzzle was why the ship did not respond to the mayday relay re-broadcast as soon as the mayday signal was heard from the yacht. "In these days of automated alerts and alarms, there is no excuse for it at all." He said it was not known if the yacht carried a radar deflector on its mast. If it was a wooden yacht it would be almost impossible to spot in the storm, he said.


Under the country's Maritime Transport Act, anyone guilty of reckless behavior at sea faces a maximum fine of U.S. $4,950 and up to a year imprisonment. A company can be fined up to U.S. $49,500. In 1995, Californian Judith Sleavin watched her husband Michael, 42, son Benjamin, nine, and 7-year-old daughter Anna drown after their yacht was rammed by a South Korean log ship and sank 30 miles off the same NZ coast. Sleavin spent three days clinging to her sunken yacht's upturned dinghy before she was washed ashore.  The U.S. Coast Guard said the probable cause of that tragedy was the failure of the log ship, Pan Grace, to adhere to international navigation rules.

At 0212 on the morning of Nov. 24, 1995, they were run over in their 47-foot sailboat, Melinda Lee, by a Korean freighter. Benjamin was killed on impact but Judith, Michael and Annie Rose survived the collision in their inflatable dinghy only to witness the following.  At about 0220 Mike said "there is the ship" which rammed them. It was turning starboard. There were no visible navigational light on the vessel, no red or green sidelight, masthead or stern lights. The area around the Melinda Lee had become becalmed by the diesel oil on the surface which had escaped from the vessel's ruptured diesel tank. According to Judith Sleavin, "The ship circled back, the crew staring down at us, we yelled, 'Help us,' but the ship took off into the night." Michael Sleavin and his daughter, Annie, subsequently perished at sea. Judith Sleavin miraculously survived the ordeal after spending 42 hours in the cold water and 20-foot seas, and 20 hours awaiting rescue after she was washed ashore on an uninhabited island. But Judith Sleavin's nightmare had only just begun. After proving the identity of this killer ship she was forced to settle out of court in part because she didn't have the financial resources to take on a foreign shipping company -- but also because of a 1920s U.S. law known as the Death on the High Seas Act (DOHSA). This law, which takes effect three miles offshore and was intended for merchant seamen, basically limits a person's ability to recover damages to "pecuniary" (monetary) losses for a wage earner only. In other words, while her husband's life had a value under DOHSA, the lives of her children and her pain and suffering have no value. Had she died and one of her children lived, her life would have had no value because she was a homemaker. To correct this injustice, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) has been pushing an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration's authorization bill, S. 82, which would eliminate this arbitrary rule for recreational boaters and allow survivors to sue for up to $750,000. Hearing. Interestingly, the victims of airplane crashes, who die offshore, are also subject to the DOHSA limits. Meanwhile, the Pan Ocean Shipping Co., Ltd., the owners of the freighter, the Pan Grace (now the Pan Leader), have denied any wrongdoing and have issued no apology.


Otago Witness Saturday February 9 1861 page 4
Awful massacre of the Crew of the American Whaling Ship Superior.
Map of the Pacific Islands