Huge waves crashing down on the deck as hail, steamers burning through their coal just to stay in place against the wind, ships being thrashed by the storm and everything, and everyone, frozen and encrusted in ice. These are the stories that the Brooklyn Eagle told of three iron cargo ships that made it through the blizzard to the shelter of Atlantic Basin in mid February of 1895.
One of these ships was the Black Prince of the Prince line, who arrived in port with her bow smashed apart and patched together with cement and waste material. One of her officers is quoted as saying:
The cold was so intense and the storm so fierce and driving that it was impossible to stay on deck over a few minutes at a time. We were boarded by sea after sea, until there was not a man who was not wet to the skin. Every time we went below we would change our clothing, which was frozen stiff. While I was below for a moment I heard a deafening crash and a ripping, tearing noise, as thought the ship were being wrenched apart.
The story was no better for the tramp steamer Matthew Bedlington:
One huge wave washed over us and tore away bodily two of the boats; another followed quickly, smashing a third boat to fragments, throwing a portion of it against the wheel, carrying half of it away and badly damaging the steering gear” reported her captain.
Coffee was one of the major commodities that passed through Red Hooks ports and that was what the steamship Olberg, of the Lamport and Holt line, was carrying when she finally made it to Atlantic Basin. Of the voyage through the storm, one of her crew is said to say:
"I never had such a rough experience in my life, and I don't believe there is a man aboard who has not either a frost bitten foot, hand, ear or nose to remind him of this trip. ...At times we had to stretch life lines to keep our feet on the icy deck, and cold! I never experienced anything, half so cold; and it was not much warmer in the forecastle than outside, excepting that we were free from the wind.
All of these ships were many days over due, as was the passenger ship French liner Gascogne, which more than the cargo ships, caught the attention of the newspaper reading public.
The tugs and ships that sought refuge in the protective waters of Erie Basin were frozen in place by the storm as were the more than 500 canal boats and their resident families who wintered over there. As the paper described it:
“Then came the snow piling drift upon drift, upon the ice up against the sides of boats, in between and over them, until in places they were entirely hidden from sight and the inmates were compelled to dig themselves out. ...In other places the floating ice had been jammed under the sterns of canal boats, lifting them high in the water, and depressing the bows until they were at an angle of nearly 45 degrees.”
In addition to the harrowing tales, the lingering economic hardship for shipowners, sailors and dockworkers caused by the storm was laid out in The Brooklyn Eagle article. Aside from repairs to the ships, there was the cost of delayed deliveries, storage costs. Idle ships also meant idle seamen and longshoremen, most of whom were day laborers.
Here is the complete text of the February 17, 1895, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle article:
SHIPS IN THE BIG STORM. TERRIBLE HARDSHIPS THE SAILORS HAD TO ENDURE
The Large Liners Monopolize Public Attention, While the Small Graft Breast the Hurricanes—Experiences Recited Along the Water Front—The Losses.
While pubic interest was centered upon the big French liner Gascogne, so long overdue and so anxiously watched for and when at last she did arrive pages of. the newspapers were devoted to every little detail of the trip, to interviewing officers and crew, passengers and friends, and while columns have been devoted to the controversy as to which tug first sighted her and which representative first spoke her, the fate of the hundreds of small steamships which were on the mighty deep during the storm was entirely overlooked and they come straggling into port, some wrecked, some smashed and battered up, some loaded down with ice and snow and each with a tale of disaster and hardship to relate which dwarfs into insignificance the hardships suffered on board the big liners, built as they, are for the comfort of passengers and no expense being spared to make them seaworthy and able to ride out any gale.
The small steamships of the minor lines, the freighters and the trumps, built for cheapness rather than for comfort, having ridden out the gale only after the most heroic efforts of both officers and men, slip into port one by one and are almost instantly swallowed up in the great mass of shipping along the Brooklyn water front, unnoticed by-the press, or if noticed at all only by a paragraph or two. The Brooklyn water front is alive with this class of vessels now, and they will probably continue to arrive daily for a month to come. Three of them are now lying at the Atlantic basin, each of which has a history to tell well worthy of passing attention.
One of these, the Black Prince of the Prince line, which sailed from St. Michaels on January 21. with a miscellaneous cargo for J. C.. Seager & Co., is now at her pier in the Atlantic basin, with her bow all smashed in and looking as though she had passed through the severest kind of an experience. She was due at this port on January 31, but it was not until February 9 that she made port. One of her officers, in speaking of the experience of the Black Prince in the storm, said:
"For twenty years I have followed the sea, but never in all this time have I encountered such a terrific hurricane. We left St. Michaels on January 21 and at once struck into a westerly gale, which was continuous and was the primary cause of our being overdue. This meant extra work all around, double watches, double deck duty, as there is always more to do on deck during a storm than in clear weather. It was not until we had reached latitude 40 degrees 56 minutes, longitude 60 degrees, however, that we struck the worst of the storm. We were all pretty well tired, out by this time and the extra duty seemed almost impossible to do. The cold was so intense and the storm so fierce and driving that it was impossible to stay on deck over a few minutes at a time. We were boarded by sea after sea, until there was not a man who was not wet to the skin. Every time we went below we would change our clothing, which was frozen stiff. While I was below for a moment I heard a deafening crash and a ripping, tearing noise, as thought the ship were being wrenched apart. I ran on deck and found that a monster wave had dashed over our bow, tearing away the bulwarks and two of the big iron platen on the port side, leaving a gaping hole through which the port hawshole protruded and leaving the forecastle entirely open to view. The next wave which came along flooded the forecastle and gangways, thus making the men more uncomfortable than they had been before. They were compelled to abandon their quarters and for the balance of the trip put up in the engine room or wherever they could find a place."
"It became necessary to patch up the hole in some way, or the entire ship would have been flooded. We got a number of bales of waste with which we plugged up the hole, then cut the bands off and let it expand until the break was filled. Then we took cement and mixed ft with the waste, thus obtaining consistency and holding the waste together. When we arrived in port we were loaded down with ice and I must confess that I was never more delighted to see land than I was when we steamed into the bay. The Prince behaved nobly during the whole trying ordeal and the crew worked liked beavers."
The Lamport and Holt line steamship Olberg, which arrived at her pier from Santos with a cargo of Coffee, on Wednesday last, five days overdue, presented a most picturesque sight as she steamed up the bay. She was one mass of ice from her keel to her truck. Even her deck was a mass of ice, and it was only with the utmost difficulty that her crew made their way about and kept their feet. Her boats were full to tho brim and running over with a solid mass of ice, While the tackles were frozen stiff and completely imbedded in ice. In case an emergency had arisen, requiring the use of her boats, it is very doubtful if she could have used them. One of her crew, in speaking of the experience, said:
"I never had such a rough experience in my life, and I don't believe there is a man aboard who has not either a frost bitten foot, hand, ear or nose to remind him of this trip. When we first ran into the storm we did not think it would amount to much; first it rained, and snowed, then finally froze, until there was not a spot as big as a dollar on the whole ship: that was not frozen over. At times we had to stretch life lines to keep our feet on the icy deck, and cold! I never experienced anything, half so cold; and it was not much warmer in the forecastle than outside, excepting that we were free from the wind. Why, it was so cold that spray as it dashed up from our bow froze in the air and fell on the deck like small hail. Muffle up as we would, the piercing wind would find some way to get us and the only wonder is that we got off with so few frozen toes and ears. And all the while the sea was running mountains high, and we all had to work like slaves to keep things going property. I tell you, though, she was a pretty sight coming, up the bay, with the sun glancing on her dress of ice.”
The tramp steamer Matthew Bedlington is lying, almost a complete wreck at the Atlantic basin breakwater. She left Norfolk on February 6, bound for Glasgow, with a cargo of flour and grain consigned to Funk, Edye & Co., but was compelled to abandon her course and put into New York in distress, arriving on Wednesday, afternoon. "Captain Baxter tells the story of her fight with the storm as follows:
"We left Norfolk, on the 6th and in the teeth of a gale, but it was not until Saturday that we felt the worst of It. We were about three hundred and fifty miles east of New York when we struck the heart of the hurricane. I have weathered a good many storms but none of them compared with this one. Why, at times the weather was so thick, we couldn't see one another, ten feet away. The cold was intense, and we were swept almost continuously by huge waves. There was not a member of the ship's company but what was wet to the skin, and our clothes froze stiff as soon as the water touched them. It was some time Saturday—I have no idea as to the hour—when, we ran into the worst of it. One huge wave washed over us and tore away bodily two of the boats; another followed quickly, smashing a third boat to fragments, throwing a portion of it against the wheel, carrying half of it away and badly damaging the steering gear. Everything movable on the decks, excepting one boat, was swept away. How this escaped will always be a mystery to me. To add to our distress the weakened condition of the wheel made it necessary for us to favor her, so that she, tossed and pitched much worse, than she would have had the steering gear been sound. The bulwarks and rails were torn loose in a number of places, so that the water had the full sweep of the deck. To make matters worse we began to take on water, so that some of our steam pipes were ruined and all our hoisting gear put out of order. We could not even handle our anchors in case of emergency. When, we had ridden out the gale, and we had time to estimate the damage done, I found that it would he madness to continue the voyage, and so I put into New York, for repairs.”
The British tramp steamer Alaska lies just ahead of the Matthew Bedlington, at Atlantic; Basin; where she has been coaling up. She was brought into port Wednesday night by the Morgan liner Excelsior, who found her flying signals of distress about a day's sail from New York. She bad run out of coal in the vain attempt to beat up against the hurricane and when sighted was tossing about helplessly in the trough of the seas with her fires out and a fair subject for salvage. Her Captain tells a tale of hardship which is interesting. When he left port he had a supply of coal fully ample to carry him to his destination under ordinary circumstances. He met the storm, however, and fought it for days, piling on the coal and sometimes barely holding his own against the elements. At last his coal was exhausted and his fires out. Then he tossed about for a whole day before he was picked up by the Excelsior.
One of the most picturesque and imposing sights imaginable was the Erie basin just, after the storm. In this vast bay are ships of all sorts, put up for the winter, many of them with only a caretaker and watchman on board. Here also is a colony of from 500 to 600 canal boats gone into winter quarters. The day before the storm this bay or basin was packed full of floating ice and frozen solid. Then came the snow piling drift upon drift, upon the ice up against the sides of boats, in between and over them, until in places they were entirely hidden from sight and the inmates were compelled to dig themselves out. In other places the snow had drifted in on the ice until it reached to the piers. In other places the floating ice had been jammed under the sterns of canal boats, lifting them high in the water, and depressing the bows until they were at an angle of nearly 45 degrees. Grain elevators and tugs which had put up there for the night were frozen in solid and worked for hours before they extricated themselves. Some of the shipping was so solidly frozen in that even by the aid, of tugs they were not able to get out for some days.
Along the water front the blast in all its fury was first and most keenly felt. The large expanse of water, with nothing to break the force of the gale, makes the shore front much more storm beaten than any other portion of the city. And even after the storm has practically ceased and the sun again showed its face arid the waters resumed their placidity, while all the rest of the world is smiling and congratulating itself upon the beautiful weather it is having and forgetting, in the comforts of the present, the privations and hardships of the past, the shore front is constantly reminded that there has been a disastrous storm by the arrival each day of one or more steam ships or sailing vessels in a crippled, half wrecked, wholly miserable condition. Each vessel which arrives in port has a tale of shipwreck and disaster to relate, which is published in the dally papers and which causes the world at large to ejaculate "Horrible!" after which it immediately proceeds to dismiss the matter from its mind in the contemplation of the present mild and charming weather. Not so with those who frequent the shore and wharves, however. Each tale of disaster means to them tho loss of a friend or an acquaintance, or at the very least, pecuniary loss, either because of some financial interest in the vessel damaged, the paralyzing of navigation,. whereby the owner looses time, which to him is money, and the longshoremen and other day laborers their wages. The effects of a storm such as has just passed over- the country are felt by the country at large probably for a day or two, while along the shore front and among the shipping it is felt for weeks, and in some instances for months.
It would perhaps be impossible to estimate with any degree of accuracy the loss sustained by the one hundred and odd piers and wharves along the Brooklyn shore, incident upon the late storm, to the dozens of steamship lines, to tho scores of lighterage, floating elevators, coal barges, canal boats and other waterfront industries. For three days there were perhaps five hundred craft of various sorts, from the steamship down to the lighter, frozen in at the various piers, unable to go about their business. Averaging the crews of these vessels as six to each craft, there was on board the various vessels alone 8,000 men forced into idleness, or at least into shoveling snow, which is just as unprofitable to the owners. There are probably 5,000 more salaried men along the shore front, whose work during this time represented no profit to tho firms by which they were employed. Eight thousand idle men at an average of $2.50 per day means $60,000 for the three days of enforced idleness, which is a direct loss to the business people along the shore front, for the one item of labor. Add to this the damage done to the various crafts, the loss some will have to sustain by way of salvage, the loss by reason of not reaching a market in time, the extra money paid for the storage of goods, which should be in transit. Where ships are chartered, the loss of time and rent of the ship, and some slight idea of what a storm like that of last week means to the shore front, may be imagined.