Hello folks, and welcome back to the good ol’ blog! Today’s tidbit about me is: I’ve recently become aware of an impressively blunt book by Captain John W. Trimmer called “How to Avoid Huge Ships.” And no, I’m not kidding. I don’t even need to say anything about it – instead, I urge you to check out the wildly entertaining book reviews for yourselves, posted HERE!
Some of you might have heard of the recent collision in the Straits of Hormuz between a US Navy warship and an oil tanker. Thankfully no one was injured, but this accident reflects both the busy nature of the straits and the dangers of sailing by night. The Civil War also had its share of navigational problems, and 150 years ago today the steamers George Peabody and West Point highlighted the dangers of nighttime sailing by having a collision of their own.
Here’s what happened: The steamer West Point had departed from Newport News on August 11th as a hospital ship, with 270 people on board. Their number was mostly comprised of wounded soldiers, but here were several officers who were traveling with their wives and children. The West Point was headed for Ragged Point on the Potomac River, where her passengers could be offloaded and treated. Meanwhile, the steamer George Peabody was heading from the upper Potomac River to Fort Monroe. As the West Point entered the narrow waters of the Potomac River she unwittingly put herself in position to pass the George Peabody, which was coming the opposite way. This passing happened just after sunset, so the only sight the George Peabody could see was a single green navigational light – the West Point couldn’t see anything at all. The two ships collided in the middle of the river.
Although both ships captains blamed the other the fact of the matter is that in a matter of seconds, the George Peabody collided with and caved in the bow of the West Point. The George Peabody was partially disabled, but the West Point was badly damaged and started to take on copious amounts of water. Captain Doyle tried to beach his leaking West Point on the Maryland shoreline before it was too late, but sadly that didn’t happen and the steamer sank about a mile and a half from shore in about 25 feet of water. Passing vessels tried to help evacuate passengers before the West Point went down, but the steamer sank quickly and many of those on board could not swim. According to THIS New York Times article describing the sinking, 73 people were considered lost in accounts taken from the captains of the vessels.
Although the Civil War eclipsed this news story in the headlines, it nevertheless serves as a tragic reminder that ship-to-ship collisions have been occurring throughout history, and extra care must be taken when sailing – or steaming – at night. This concludes today’s post folks, so please tune in next time for a continuation of your favorite Civil War blog!