- van Gelder, Commander John RAN (Rtd)
- Ship histories and stories
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Queenborough
- March 2003 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
On completion of fuelling we cast off shortly before 0900 and proceeded down Storm Bay whilst awaiting further instructions.
At this point, mention should be made of two interesting, but quite unrelated, matters. The first concerned the rate of fuel consumption in order to successfully complete the operation in hand. The second matter concerns the barograph, located in my cabin, which gives substance to this narrative.
With a round trip of nearly 2,000 nautical miles to Macquarie Island and return to Hobart, fuel consumption would not normally be a problem. However, since the mission was that of a medical evacuation, the requirement to steam at speeds above normal cruising had to be taken into account. Other factors which could affect fuel consumption were the possibility of unknown delays and, of course, the weather. The requirement to return to harbour with 30% fuel remaining as standard operating procedure had to be observed.
A barograph is a rather delicate instrument, encased in a nice glass cabinet, which provides a continuous record, on paper, of the atmospheric pressure for a period of seven days. The instrument in my cabin was mounted on a small shelf such that the stylus arm lay fore and aft, pivoted at the forward end and situated on the port, or outboard, side of the paper roll known as a barogram. In normal sea conditions the stylus produced a fine clear trace, however if the ship was rolling heavily the light spring loading of the stylus arm allowed the arm to move slightly away from the barogram, thus producing quite a heavy ink trace. Subsequent events proved this to be so. In regard to the positioning of the instrument in a ship the Admiralty Manual of Navigation states, in part ‘. . . if possible, the barograph should be secured in an athwartship position, so that the pen is less likely to leave the paper when the ship is rolling.’ Obviously the person responsible for securing the instrument in my cabin had not read the book.
On passage down Storm Bay I considered that I should acquaint myself with the vast area south of Tasmania. To this end I consulted that excellent Book of Reference known as the ‘Southern Ocean Pilot.’ Only one sentence really focussed my attention and this stated that icebergs had been observed up to 45 degrees south at this time of the year. Not a comforting revelation, since we were proceeding down to about 54 degrees south.
Also, whilst steaming down Storm Bay the ship’s company was advised in detail of the forthcoming operation (as if they didn’t already know!). It is a source of great satisfaction to observe how sailors will respond if they believe they are doing something different, particularly if it is helping people or someone in need.
Thus the scene was set. The order to proceed to Macquarie Island was received at about 1430 on Thursday 20th, at which time we were approximately 70 miles south east of Hobart. Ship speed was increased to 18 knots, and a south easterly course shaped for the Island, open throttle steaming on one boiler.
As the atmospheric pressure was increasing slightly at this time I was optimistic enough to think that the cold front we had encountered the previous day would be fast moving and, as a consequence, improving weather might be expected. What a fond hope! In the late afternoon all that could be seen was a complete overcast, a low cloud base with intermittent showers, a noticeably rising south westerly swell, increasing wind strength and discernible horizon. Put simply, it was not very nice weather. That evening my very clever navigator managed to find two stars in a break in the clouds to confirm our position. No SATNAV or inertial navigation in those days.
By midnight my vague optimism concerning the weather was shattered with a noticeably falling barometer and the ship starting to roll quite heavily to port with the swell directly on our starboard beam. With the approach of a new day it became very apparent that our little cruise down south was going to be anything but a pleasure cruise. As we were now making inroads into the Southern Ocean, well clear of any influence from the continental shelf, the south westerly swell seemed to be increasing at the same rate as the barometer was falling. The wind velocity, at this time, was south westerly at about 50 knots. With the ship rolling so heavily, 30 degrees of rudder was constantly being used to maintain course. For this reason the second steering motor was connected.