by Dean C. Allard
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).