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the origins and early history of the steamer albatross, 1880 - 1887
by Dean C. Allard

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picture of ship's cabin
Figure 14. - The cabin.

Tensions between naval crews and ocean scientists that so often appear in the annals of oceanic exploration (the United States Exploring Expedition of 1839–42, commanded by the naval of.cer Charles Wilkes (Stanton, 1975), comes to mind(10)) seem to have been largely absent from the Albatross. Much of the credit for this happy situation needs to go to Lieutenant Commander Zera L. Tanner, who remained in command of the ship from 1882 to 1894. He was admired by the Fish Commission’s staff as a bluff, ruddy-faced skipper who ran a taut but fair ship (Linton, 1915:749; Young, 1922:364–365). Tanner’s fellow naval officer, Seaton Schroeder, the Albatross’s executive officer and navigator from 1882 to 1885, also commented on his captain’s character by describing him as a “consummate seaman” with “a remarkable insight and balanced judgment regarding both men and things, coupled with an iron nerve and decisiveness” (Schroeder, 1922:160).

Tanner’s marine skills were especially required when the ship deployed its large trawl nets in deep waters. During these operations, a constant strain needed to be maintained in order to prevent the trawl’s steel cable from parting during the four or more hours required to complete a deep-water operation (Washburn, 1886:20–21). One Albatross scientist later claimed that Tanner never severed a dredge line (Townsend, 1924:620). But this is an exaggeration since, on at least one occasion in August 1885, the cable did part, resulting in the loss of more than 3,000 fathoms of wire rope plus the entire beam-trawl assemblage. On other occasions, trawl nets came up empty due to the failure of Albatross’s crew to place these devices on the ocean floor(11).

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the captain and his crew had notable operational skills. Tanner, himself, generously gave much credit for this situation to the vessel herself. He once described Albatross as having special strength and seaworthiness; the ability to “lay-to” in heavy seas, while recovering its scientific gear, without shipping water over the bow or stern; and having an “easy motion under all circumstances [that] was necessary to the safety of the steelwire dredge rope” (Tanner, 1895:117; Schroeder, 1922:165–166) (Fig. 20).

At the same time, it must be acknowledged that the Albatross had one major operational problem. Almost from the time of the ship’s commissioning, it became clear that the ship’s boilers were faulty. By 1884, the ship’s engineer, Passed Assistant Engineer George W. Baird, U.S. Navy, reported that metal fatigue was the culprit for the many boiler leaks that required the crew to make almost constant repairs(12).










Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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