May 29, 2012

Conquering the Atlantic

WHO KNOWS HOW MANY extraordinary ocean voyages have been made in small boats, voyages that achieved no fame for the sailors involved, voyages that never received publicity or recognition in the nautical press, or any other medium for that matter?

Yesterday I stumbled across the little-known story of the Abiel Abbot Low, a 38-foot motor boat that crossed the Atlantic from New York to England in the summer of 1902. She was then the smallest boat ever to cross that ocean on her own bottom under power.

The Abiel Abbot Low was a wooden double-ender. She had high freeboard and a low cabintop. Her cockpit was reasonably small, but completely open. She carried two short masts and enough sail to enable her to make port downwind if necessary.

She was manned by Captain William C. Newman and his 16-year-old son, C. E. Newman. They were 37 days at sea before they spotted England, and what a remarkable passage it was, considering that their single engine in the cabin generated only 10 horsepower, running on kerosene.

With such little power they could not buck headwinds, and had to lie to a sea anchor in the several storms they encountered. She carried 800 gallons of kerosene, but the pounding she suffered in bad weather opened up significant leaks in her fuel tanks, and for much of the voyage her crew was kept busy pumping kerosene back into the tanks.

On the 11th day out, for instance, Capt. Newman noted in the log: “I have five inches of kerosene in my bilge.”  After 23 days, he noted that the tanks were leaking about 10 gallons a day “which causes hard work to put back in tanks.”  On day 25 the log records “the wind changed to northwest and it makes a very rough sea; inside we are swimming in kerosene, the tanks leak so; the man that made them ought to be with me.”  And the next day, still in heavy weather: “We are still laboring in high seas, our clothing is all saturated with kerosene, and we have not tasted food in 30 hours.”

On several occasions the motor was stopped “to pack the pumps,” and 30 days out they worked on the engine for four hours “to clean valves.”

Capt. Newman recorded that they were “well received” in the English ports they visited, and in  London, where the passage ended. In those days, when the technology of marine engines was still in its infancy, this was a marvelous feat.  And, as so often happens, so little of the credit went to the modest, capable captain and his teenage son who caused it all to happen.

Today’s Thought
The life of an adventurer is the practice of the art of the impossible.
— William Bolitho, Twelve Against the Gods

A girl who knows all the answers must have been out with a lot of questionable characters.

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


Jack of all Trades said...

It's terrifying enough when your bilges are filled with water!

I can't even imagine the horror of going below to discover that your entire fuel tank has emptied into the bilge.

Thank you for sharing.

Belinda Del Pesco said...

Wow, amazing story, and worthy of sharing with others who might not have known of it. Thanks so much for posting. I wonder how they spent their years after such a mind-boggling feat - especially the teenaged son.