Report of R.F.A. Studds, H. and G. Engineer, Commanding
Officer, U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey Ship FATHOMER
(From the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey
FIELD ENGINEERS BULLETIN
NO. 10, December 1936, pp. 124-131.)
only a few days left to conclude the season's work on northeast
Luzon, the Ship FATHOMER was forced on Sunday August 9,
to suspend survey operations and seek shelter in Port San
Vicente from an approaching typhoon. This typhoon passed
about 50 miles from the ship's position on Tuesday, August
11. The barometric minimum on the ship was 29.9 inches.
attempt was made on Wednesday, August 12, to return to the working
grounds but confused seas and heavy swell compelled the ship
to return to Port San Vicente. It was planned to sail again
on the following day, but another approaching typhoon made it
advisable to stay in the harbor.
aground after typhoon of August 15, 1936.
Friday, August 14, it was apparent, from plotting the track
of the approaching typhoon, that its effect would be felt in
the vicinity of the ship, and accordingly, preparations were
made for the storm.
the afternoon the ship entered the inner harbor and moored
with one of the two large stock anchors. Awnings were furled
and all gear securely lashed down. The following morning
the track of the typhoon led to the belief that the strongest
wind would be encountered from the north quadrant and the
second large anchor was put down in such a position that
the ship would be moored for a wind from that direction.
scope of 7 to 1 was given the two anchor cables. The scope
was governed by two conditions; first, the small amount
of swinging room, and second, the condition of the port
cable. This cable had been condemned the previous year and
a new one ordered in the fall of 1935 by the Division of
Purchase and Supply. The order was placed in the United
States and the cable was not delivered in Manila until the
first part of August 1936 which was too late for delivery
to the ship at Legaspi. Shots of the condemned cable had
been shifted so that the best shots led outboard.
cable preventers were put on the two cables and additional
anchors were suspended from each rail; a stockless bower
anchor on the port side and a large stock kedge on the starboard
side. These were secured to the largest rope on board, 6"
mooring lines. These anchors were intended for precautionary
measures so that if a sudden shifting of wind occurred they
could be dropped and thus hold the ship's head until the
strain was taken on the larger anchors.
effect of the approaching typhoon on the weather began with
moderate rain squalls about 6 a.m. on August 15. These squalls
increased throughout the day in frequency and intensity.
The sky was heavily overcast from early morning. Observations
were sent every four hours to Manila Observatory until a
message was received sending thanks and requesting more
frequent reports. From then on weather conditions were reported
noon indications were that the ship was in the path of the
typhoon and that the storm would be a severe one. All ports
were well dogged down, watertight doors closed and every
other possible precaution taken. A shelter was erected in
the bow of the ship where a watch could be kept on the anchor
cables; drift leads were put out on both port and starboard
wings of the bridge and the main engine made ready.
5:30 p.m. the wind had increased to hurricane force, blowing
about 90 miles per hour. The Executive Officer stationed
himself in the bow to watch the cables, two men tended each
drift lead, a watch was on deck to see that nothing got
adrift and a watch stood by in the engine room. The wind
continued to blow at about this force for another hour,
the barometer dropping steadily. At 6:30 the wind began
to increase and the spare port bower anchor was dropped.
At 7:00 p.m. the wind began to gain even more rapidly in
velocity and the engine was put at half speed ahead; then
full speed ahead at 7:05. The barometer began to drop as
much as a tenth of an inch per minute. The wind was estimated
to be blowing at 120 to 150 miles per hour. The men tending
drift leads relieved each other every minute or two as it
was impossible to watch the lines properly for a longer
period. The Port San Vicente Lighthouse, a kerosene light,
had been blown out much earlier but visibility was so low
it could not have been seen had it been burning. Rain was
practically solid sheets of water. The wind had a sweep
of only a couple of hundred meters but even in this short
distance seas were about six feet high. The Inner Harbor
of Port San Vicente is landlocked but the hills are low
and did not affect the force of the wind. The estimate of
120 to 150 miles velocity was substantiated by the Director
of the Manila Observatory who, upon seeing the barometric
record, said it was very probable the wind blew that strongly.
When this typhoon reached Hongkong several days later and
probably had decreased slightly in intensity, a velocity
was measured of 131 miles per hour.
7:15 the drift leads showed evidence of dragging. The port
lead carried away. A second lead was bent on the line and
this, too, carried away. A third lead was bent on and as
it was heaved over, a sounding of 8 feet was obtained. At
the same time, the ship's stern was felt bumping lightly.
The engine was immediately stopped to avoid damaging the
propeller and tail shaft. About the time the drift leads
indicated dragging, the Executive Officer noticed the anchor
cables pulling together. He made his way aft to report dragging
but before he reached the bridge, the ship was aground.
This was about 7:25 p.m.
was ordered to don a life belt, the bilges were sounded
and a check made on all ports and watertight doors. As the
ship was in communication with R.C.A., sending weather observations,
an informal message was sent advising them that the ship
was aground but it was not known whether assistance was
wind, blowing with unabated force, caught the ship on the
port bow and swung it around. As it struck further forward
on the keel, the ship listed heavily to starboard, filling
the starboard boats. The boats were ordered cut adrift,
which was done with difficulty, and were made fast to stanchions
along the starboard rail. The ship then righted to some
extent but as the wind was still on the port side, everyone
was ordered to seek safety on the weather side, using such
shelter as they could find.
8:10 to 8:15 p.m. the wind decreased rapidly from maximum
velocity to a force of 3 as the vortex of the typhoon approached.
The vortical calm, which lasted until 8:35, was not absolute
as a wind of force 3 continued to blow and shifted during
this period from north-northeast to east. The barometer
during this time was at its lowest reading and remained
stationary. First and second magnitude stars were apparent
overhead, with a thin veil of cirrus clouds obscuring the
less bright stars. This opening in the clouds, at 8:25,
extended in a circular manner for a radius of 20 degrees
from the zenith. At the edge of the clear sky overhead,
the cloud formation was very heavy with sheet lightning
flashing completely around the opening. This lightning was
not particularly brilliant and must have been well above
the lower level of the clouds.
the twenty minute period of relative calm, a careful appraisal
of the situation was made. A roster was called and no one
found missing. The starboard boats were riding alongside
in the lee of the ship although filled with water. Bilges
were sounded and found to be dry. A door in the chart room
which had been blown open was nailed up. Although not much
hope was placed on it, the starboard kedge was dropped so
that if the wind shifted to the starboard side of the ship
after the vortex passed, and the ship was blown off the
reef the kedge might hold the ship's head until the anchors
took the strain. Soundings were taken around the ship and
the latter found to be afloat except at the after end where
the depth was 8 feet.
seriousness of the situation was fully realized. From the
direction of the wind our approximate position was known,
but little could be seen beyond the ship. No one entertained
the least thought of abandoning the ship.
window on the port side of the radio room had blown partly
open and the rain drove through this window and the house,
grounding the main transmitter. The emergency set was put
in operation and the following distress message sent to
R.C.A. in Manila.
aground in Port San Vicente center of typhoon now passing
safe at present not leaking but do not know what will happen
when wind resumes."
of the crew had started to remove their life belts but they
were quickly advised that the danger was by no means over
and were ordered to keep their life belts on and seek shelter
8:35 the wind began to increase in force and in five minutes
was blowing at least as strongly as before. The wind began
blowing from the east and as the ship's head during the
calm was southeast, it struck the ship again on the port
side, swinging the bow around until the heading was southwest
and the ship was broadside to the reef and gradually listed
over until the starboard boatdeck rail was under water.
The galley range and rice boiler broke adrift and tore off
a ventilator to the forecastle, flooding the latter. The
starboard side of the engine room house was under water
and the engine and boiler rooms flooded. As the water mounted
in the boiler room, fires were hauled and steam allowed
to escape, the engine room forces escaping on the port side.
The generator stopped about 9:00 p.m., and the ship was
in darkness. The radio operator, who had been trying to
keep in communication with R.C.A. was forced to leave the
set as the radio house was working and in danger of being
carried away. He escaped through the port window.
demeanor of the crew throughout this entire period was remarkable.
At no time was there any sign of panic and although they
must have been frightened they continued to perform all
duties until no hope was left to do anything but save life.
majority of the officers and crew were sheltered along the
port alleyway between the bulwark and the engine room house,
and although this was well above water, seas were washing
completely over them. These seas which were much higher
than had been experienced before dragging, were due either
to the greater sweep of the wind when blowing from the east,
or from breakers piling up on the reef south and southeast
of the ship's position.
about 10:00 p.m. the wind began to moderate and at 10:30
it was possible to move about deck, the wind then blowing
with a force of 8. Flashlights were brought into use and
a roll call was made of all hands. Everyone was found to
be aboard with no serious injuries. About five men had minor
cuts incurred by being hurled against metal projections.
Everyone was bruised and suffering from exhaustion and exposure.
Fortunately the sick bay was on the port side, enabling
first aid to be administered. Two quarts of brandy, stored
in the sick bay, were rationed out to all hands, and undoubtedly
resulted in no one developing a severe cold or pneumonia.
were taken amidships, revealing a depth of 5 feet on the
starboard side and 6 feet on the port side. The starboard
boats which, with the exception of the dinghy, had ridden
the worst of the storm in the lee of the ship, were caught
under the overhanging davits. They were cleared and bailed
out, and although damaged were still serviceable. The dinghy,
apparently, had swamped and crushed as the ship listed over.
emergency radio transmitter was now grounded and the ship
was without means of communication.
further was done until daylight, except to make the crew
as comfortable as possible. At daylight mess supplies and
ship and survey records were salvaged. The icebox door was
under water so that only dry stores could be obtained. The
port whaleboat, dinghy, and skiff were lowered by using
skids and a force sent ashore to prepare breakfast and build
a camp. Meanwhile the radio operator had obtained a spool
of dry wire and began rewiring the emergency transmitter.
site was selected on shore for a camp and sanitation established.
As soon as food supplies and records were safe, instruments,
tents, bedding and personal belongings were taken ashore.
Great precautions were taken against disease. A latrine
was build over salt water and a spring was found about a
quarter of a mile from camp with no habitation above it.
This spring was blocked off to be used for drinking and
cooking water exclusively. Garbage disposal was achieved
by digging a pit and burning the garbage in it each day.
Injuries were dressed as soon as medical supplies were brought
ashore from the ship. Each man was required to take 10 grains
of quinine the first day in camp, and 5 grains thereafter
until he had taken 35 grains. Despite all of these precautions
a moderately severe enteritis developed which affected one
fourth the personnel.
after the storm revealed a desolate sight. Trees that were
not blown down were denuded of all foliage, the few nipa
houses in the vicinity were in ruins and the 60 foot Launch
ISLANDER which had sought shelter in the harbor, was on
a reef, completely out of water. About 8:00 a.m. the lighthouse
keeper at Cape Engano arrived in camp and reported that
his lighthouse and dwelling, both concrete structures that
had withstood typhoons for 50 years, were destroyed. He
also reported experiencing the vortical calm at the lighthouse
which is 4 miles north of the ship's position. Natives from
the surrounding country began drifting into camp for treatment
of injuries sustained during the storm. One odd injury was
caused by a grain of rice driven with such force in the
ear of a native that it pierced the ear drum and could not
1:00 p.m. Sunday, August 16, rewiring of the emergency transmitter
was completed. Although most of the electrolyte had spilled
from the bank of storage batteries, sufficient charge remained
to operate the transmitter. As the range and length of operation
of the transmitter were limited, a message to the Director
of Coast Surveys, Manila, was broadcast as an S.O.S. The
call was almost immediately answered by the English S.S.
CITY OF FLORENCE, en route from Iloilo to Japan. This vessel
then not only relayed this message to Manila but kept in
communication with the ship until it was beyond the range
of the latter's transmitter, relaying messages to and from
receipt of knowledge of the FATHOMER's distress and with
the cooperation of the U.S. Army and the Bureau of Public
Works, the Director of Coast Surveys made all arrangements
for relief in an astonishingly brief time. By Tuesday noon,
August 18, the Lighthouse Tender CANLAON left Manila with
complete equipment and personnel and a three weeks' supply
of provisions. Stopping at Aparri, en route, the CANLAON
took the derrick dredge APARRI in tow. The two vessels reached
Port San Vicente at 2:00 p.m. August 20.
operations were begun immediately. A foreman from the Government
Marine Railway and Repair Shops, with salvage experience,
was in charge of the skilled personnel. The Master of the
CANLAON, also an experienced salvager, gave valuable assistance.
Labor was furnished by the crew of the FATHOMER and in general
the salvagers were permitted to proceed in their own way.
It was insisted, though, that the ship be sealed and pumped
out before an attempt was made to right it as it was feared
it would capsize in the greater depth to port if the water
inside was allowed to shift suddenly.
work was supervised by the FATHOMER'S officers and suggestions
were readily accepted and complied with. The ship was first
sealed by the use of lumber, cement, burlap sacks and cotton.
A wrecking hose was led from the CANLAON, which had anchored
nearby, mooring fore and aft, but the distance was too great
for its pumps to be effective. A portable pump was placed
alongside on the derrick dredge, and this was successful
in removing the water.
pile driver was rigged on the derrick barge and a cluster
of piles driven on the reef south of the ship's position.
This piling was backed by three anchors imbedded in the
rope brides were placed completely around the forward and
after parts of the FATHOMER and attached to tackles composed
of triple iron blocks. These tackles were made fast to the
cluster of piles and the hauling parts led to the CANLAON.
A ten inch hawser, secured to a bridle around the launch
davits on the port side, led directly to the CANLAON's stern.
the ship was emptied and all purchases rigged an attempt
was made at high tide to right the FATHOMER and haul it
off the reef. The derrick dredge hove upwards on the starboard
side and the CANLAON's engines were put full speed ahead.
The ship was righted about 10 or 15 degrees but the water
was too shoal on the port side to permit it to move off.
this tide was especially high, it was realized that dredging
would have to be done before the ship could be salvaged.
Divers were sent down and the shoalest spots dynamited.
The loose coral thus dislodged was removed by the dredge.
dynamiting and dredging was completed on the afternoon of
Friday, August 28. As the least water was at the stern of
the FATHOMER, the dredgers secured their hoisting gear at
this point, and at the next high tide, which occurred just
after midnight, began working the stern by rapid pulls and
releases. The CANLAON at the same time went ahead on the
engines, putting a strain on all tackles. At 2:15 a.m.,
August 29, the ship righted and slid into deep water.
was piped to the FATHOMER'S anchor windlass and anchors
hove home. The starboard kedge, which was dropped after
the ship grounded was taken aboard. The mooring line which
had been secured to the port stockless bower anchor was
hove in, and found to have parted. This was expected as
the line could not have withstood the strain of dragging.
The port anchor cable was then hove in and the connecting
link to the swivel on the anchor found to have opened at
was a surprising discovery. The wind had blown with such
terrific force, it had been assumed that steam and ground
tackle were simply inadequate to prevent dragging. The open
link and loss of the large stock anchor now definitely established
the cause of dragging and consequent stranding. As mentioned
previously in this report, the ship withstood a wind of
hurricane force from 5:30 to 7:15 p.m., the time the vessel
began to drag anchors, and withstood a wind of maximum velocity
from 7:00 to 7:15. Another surprise was the fact that the
poorly conditioned port chain held, while the swivel link,
recently installed, failed. With this knowledge the actual
occurrence was assumed to be as follows. When the link opened
and the port anchor was lost, the ship, which was putting
an equal strain on both cables, swung to the starboard cable.
This sudden increase and change of direction of strain caused
the starboard anchor to start. Once started, it was bound
to pull through the holding ground. The port stockless anchor
was useless, as the strain of dragging was too great for
the line attached to this anchor. The total time of dragging
was recorded as ten minutes, but this could well have been
less, as the activities incidental to the dragging made
it difficult to record exact time.
the starboard anchor was taken aboard, the FATHOMER was
towed to deeper water and at daybreak camp was struck and
all property taken aboard. The CANLAON, with the FATHOMER
in tow, left at 12:50 a.m. August 30 for Manila, arriving
3:00 p.m. September 1.
revealed that the principal damage resulting from the stranding
was in the engine and boiler rooms, caused by the equipment
being immersed in salt water. Some additional damage resulted
after the vessel's arrival in Manila, a report of the meteorological
data of the typhoon was forwarded to the Director of the
Manila Observatory and the ship's barometers compared to
the observatory's mercury barometer. The needles of both
ship's barometers had been well off the scale at the time
of the center of the typhoon but their positions were marked
on the dials and upon comparison gave the barometric minimum
on the ship as 685 mm. or 26.96 inches.
an inspection of the Weather Bureau's Publication "Catalogue
of Typhoons, 1348* to 1934 " published in 1935, only two
typhoons are listed with barometric minima below this. These
minima are 683.17 mm. aboard the S.S. LONG in 1913 and 683.5
at Fuga island in 1922. The barometers recording these pressures
were apparently never compared and as the FATHOMER'S barometers
read, by extending the scale, 680.0 mm. or 26.77 inches
(uncorrected) at the time of the vortical calm, it is very
probable that the FATHOMER's reading is the lowest pressure
ever recorded at sea level in the Philippine islands.
concluding this report, I wish to commend highly the entire
ship's personnel for their seamanship, courage and fortitude.
The following are to be particularly commended:
K. G. Crosby, Executive Officer, for the thoroughness with
which he supervised the securing of all gear and his general
activity and assistance throughout the whole period of the
storm and the subsequent salvage operations. Undoubtedly
the fact that very little gear went adrift during the storm
was responsible to a great extent for the few injuries sustained.
(j.g.) C.A. Schanck, for his presence of mind and efforts
in saving the life of the ship's surgeon, Dr. James W. Wetzel.
When the ship first listed heavily to starboard, Dr. Wetzel
was emerging from the wardroom. He lost his footing and
fell to the starboard rail. This rail was under water and
Dr. Wetzel managed to catch hold of an overhead beam. With
the exception of his hands he was completely submerged.
Lieutenant Schanck, following closely behind Dr. Wetzel,
saw his plight, and made several efforts to reach him. Failing
this, he called to Lieutenant Crosby who tore several curtains
from staterooms and, bending them together, the two officers
were able to haul the surgeon to safety.
Engineer G. W. Hutchinson, for his attention to duty. Throughout
the storm he was in the engine and boiler rooms directing
his men until the mounting water made it imperative to leave.
He then hauled fires and allowed the steam to escape, thus
preventing any explosions. He saw all of his men to safety
and was the last to leave from below.
Roman Rodriguez, for his assistance to Lieutenant Crosby.
Throughout the storm and salvage operations, he did not
spare himself. During the storm he was everywhere that anything
could possibly be done and in the subsequent salvage work
would take no relief, working at times twenty hours without
Operator Ricardo I. Ventura, for his competency and attention
to duty. Despite the fact that the ship was listed badly,
he kept in communication with Manila until both main and
emergency transmitters were grounded. He continued to stand
by until the house began working and then escaped through
the port window. The day after the storm, he rapidly rewired
the emergency transmitter, putting it in operation by l:00
p.m. After the batteries lost their charge he built a 36
meter set in camp which enabled the party to maintain contact
with the Director of Coast Surveys.
to this report is a copy of a section of Chart 4276 showing
the ship's position before and after the storm, and an aerial
photograph taken by the United States Air Corps. This aerial
photograph and others were taken on Tuesday, August 18,
when an amphibian plane flew over the site in order to obtain
a more definite impression of the situation than could be
imparted by radio.