Recollections: Captain Carré

Introduction

This account entitled 'Through Stormy Seas' by Captain Carré was provided by Captain John Cole and originally published on the excellent MerchantNavyOfficers.com website which ceased operation in August 2014 following the sad loss of its creator Fred Waddington. I have re-published them as part of the Benjidog Recollections website with the agreement of Fred Waddington's widow Bobbie to ensure that they are not lost. I have maintained the somewhat quirky headings used by the author.

Captain Carré gives his account of experiences aboard Rohna - a passenger and cargo ship - during a cyclone in Madras in October 1927. He believed that the vessel was saved by Divine Providence.

The vessel later served in WW2 as HMT Rohna and was sunk in the Mediterranean in November 1943 by a Henschel Hs 293 guided glide bomb launched by a Luftwaffe aircraft. More than 1,100 people were killed, most of whom were US troops. Unfortunately, Divine Providence must have been looking elsewhere at the time,

Rohna

Rohna
Rohna - date and location not known. [1]

Captain Carré's Account

How God made my Reputation as a Seaman

It was on Tuesday 1 November 1927 while the British India Company's R.M.S. Rohna, under my command was lying in the port of Madras (which as you know, lies about half way up the East Coast of India) that a cyclone swept over the city and harbour.

I need hardly say that these

Tropical Convulsions of Nature

in which the wind often attains an unbelievable velocity and power, are rightly dreaded and avoided by the sailor, if he can possibly steer clear of their path and give them a wide berth. However, when the approach an exposed harbour such as Madras, there is the choice of putting out to sea with the danger of running across the track of the strorm, or of facing it out behind the breakwaters. In the present case all the ships took the latter course when the Weather Signal, combined with a falling glass and a rising sea, foretold the advance of this unwelcome visitant. As a precautionary measure we laid out our starboard anchor with 60 fathoms of cable, to the N.E. from which quarter the wind might be expected, and with steam up, prepared for whatever might lie before us.

This was on the previous day, that night the weather steadily grew worse, and by morning white a high gale was blowing with a very nasty sea running outside, and continually sweeping over the Eastern breakwater.

As the storm travelled over the port - fortunately for us the deadly centre passed to the north and wrecked the town of Nellore farther up the coast - the wind hauled ot the N.W. and by 7 o'clock a heavy swell was running through the harbour entrance opposite which my ship was moored to her buoy. Our position had now become distinctly dangerous, with the ship at times lifting the 4 ton buoy clean out of the water as she moved about in the sea-way, bridled close up to the buoy as she had to be with another buoy close under our stern.

Soon after 11 a.m., with the squallys coming down with increasing violence, all hands were sent to 'Stations' - that is, the deck-officers went to their respective posts on deck, while with the engines at "Stand-by" our engineering shipmates had all in readiness below. I had just previous to this pointed out to my Chief Officer the likelihood of another nearby vessel sweeping down on top of us, when ten minutes after we had gone to "Stations" there came

A Crash Which Shook the Ship

from stem to stern; we had parted our anchor-cable which held us to the buoy, and there we were adrift in that confined water-space in the cyclone.
Cable
The cable which parted [3]
When I state that the ship was some 475 feet long, and that in her then ballast trim the distance from the top of her lifeboats to the water-line as about 40 feet, you will agree that I was faced with a crisis both as a Christian and a seaman!
Map
Plan showing Madras Harbour - roughly half a mile square - with the ship's track. [3]
And now I would specially address myself to any amoung my readers who are sceptical as to the practicability of religion at sea, as I try to prove to you that God indeed is just what He says He is, "a very present help in trouble!" Psalms 46. 1.

Let me say that God had warned me two months before - in reminding me that the cyclone season on that coast came in the autumn of the year - of some such happening as this, if my ship chanced to be in Madras when one came along. And the fear of it - and I use the word in all its naked meaning, knowing the dread possibilities involved - had put me in the place of power!

Perhaps you ask, "What do you mean by the place of power?". Ah, there is only one such place, and I'm not ashamed to tell you mine. It was on the face before Him to whom all power belongs, pleading for all the nerve, judgment and courage I should need if ever such an occasion as this arose, so I might honour God and He might honour me!

And His answer was unmistakably evident now, in thus preparing me for what He was allowing to come, not to that other ship, but to my own.

To resume my tale, and action, if the ship was to esscape damage in the small water-area available for manoeuvring in, under such weather conditions. The first thing was to get the vessel under way before she drifted against the breakwater or quay-wall, and in 11 minutes we had slipped our starboard cable, and were under steam and steering control.

I then decided that we would be safer outside the harbour than within, but we dare not face the sea running outside until the unshackled port anchor which was hanging at the end of a wire like a 4-ton pendulum, had been secured, and this would take a full 20 minutes at least. To occupy the interval, I found myself taking the ship along the only route available, between two other vessels (see the plan). Meanwhile on shore, and on the other ships, everyone seemed to have gathered, doubtless wondering what would happen next.

The end of the tier between these two ships being reached, the question arose should I try to back the ship down along the way we'd come, or attempt to steam round the other vessel to port. Just as I was pondering what I should do

God Settled the Question

for me. For at that critical moment a strong blast of wind struck our starboard bow, and all I had to do was to use the engines that she came round as prettily as a yacht rounding a buoy. Yet so close did our great bow come to the third ship as we swung round, that the pilot, who had happened to be on board, told me afterwards, "Another three or four feet ahead Captain and you'd have cut us down!".

But all is well, if the Good Pilot is with you, so down the tier we came in safety, the anchor was now secured, so we fought our way out through the entrance, and just as we cleared it one of the pilots in spite of the rain, managed to take a snap of the ship. A permanent souvenir of how God made my reputation at sea. For the event is still recalled although it is now several years since it took place.
Rohna at Madras Harbour
Rohna clearing Madras Harbour in the Cyclone of November 1927 [2]
Well out we went, and 20 miles to the southward we ran into better weather, though at times the wind had risen to hurricane force on our way down the coast.

Next day we returned under a smiling sky, the blow was over; but when we entered the port it was to find that Madras was ringing with what the ship had donw. Many kind enconiums reached me, both from the Company's officials and my friends afloat. but the incident had made

A Noble Opportunity

then, and ever since, of giving the honour to Him to whom alone it is due.

In closing I would ask my seafaring readers to consider what an untold blessing it is to have God as their Helper and Friend in every circumstance of their lonely and testing lives at sea. Then He will lead you on to prove in your own life, the truch of His great promise, "Them that honour Me, I will honour".

And the first, the best, the simplest, and the highest way in which you can honour God, is by honouring the promise He holds out to you through His Son. Here is that life-imparting promise: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved!" (Acts 16, 31).
Captain Carré
Captain Carré on the bridge of Rohna [3]

Image Credits

  1. By courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
  2. By courtesy of Guy Freeman
  3. By courtesy of Captain Carré