Confederation Marine Modellers
One of the interesting aspects of modelling a named vessel is that you can usually find reference to its history somewhere. It is not so often that you can find a mention of a meeting between two of the vessels modelled by club members. This is the case with Bill M.'s Foundation Franklin and Roy's Beaverford. The following is an abbreviated extract from Farley Mowat's book, "Grey Seas Under".
During the night of June 16 1935, the 45,000 ton passenger liner Empress of Britain, flagship of the Canadian Pacific Steamship Company, was on her way down-river from Quebec, outward bound for Southampton. As she entered the Gulf of St. Lawrence and laid course for the Cabot Straits the fog, which had been thickening that day, suddenly closed down to blot out all visibility. The Empress reduced her speed, sounded her siren at one-minute intervals, and kept her course to clear the Bird Rocks off the Magdalen Islands. The big liner had a schedule to meet, and she was still carrying considerable headway when, out of the grey murk ahead, there loomed the formless mass of another vessel.
It was too late for either ship to take evasive action, and the sharp prow of the liner sliced into the other vessel just forward of her collision bulkhead. Aboard the collier Kafiristan there had been only a moment’s warning—an insufficient time for a group of men at work on the foredeck to escape. They were cut down where they stood and the bodies of three of them went down in the steel coffin which was Kafiristan's bow, and which was completely sheared away. "
The Empress stopped her engines and her boats put back, guided to the stricken ship by the cries of the injured men who still lay upon her decks. As the boats came alongside they were met by a billowing cloud of acrid smoke, for Kafiristan had taken fire. For an hour the Empress’s boats’ crews and the Kafiristan's survivors fought the blaze, eventually subduing it. By then another Canadian Pacific ship, the freighter Beaverford, had felt her way to the scene and the Empress, in the imperious way of liners, took back her boats and resumed her course for England.
The people remaining aboard Kafiristan now had time to take stock of the damage. They found that the collision bulkhead was still holding, but water was pouring into number one hold and mixing with the cargo of nine thousand tons of slack coal. The bilge pumps were holding it in check, but only just; and they were already showing symptoms of clogging with coal dust. Fortunately the night was calm. At midnight the Beaverford put a Manila line on the stern of the crippled ship and took her in tow for Sydney, the nearest port.
In Halifax Featherstone, [Foundation Maritime's manager] had also heard the news, and he had immediately radioed Kafiristan to offer Franklin's services. Receiving no reply he deduced that the situation might well be more dangerous than the shore stations knew, and with his usual penchant for a gamble he ordered Foundation Franklin to sail anyway. Franklin left Halifax at 3am on June 17.
Meanwhile Beaverford was still trying to get Kafiristan to port; but despite the fact that Beaverford was a big, twin-screw vessel, she was having little success. She herself was cumbersome and hard to maneuver, and Kafiristan, towing stern-first to ease the pressure on the collision bulkhead, sheered heavily from side to side. The resulting strain on the relatively light ropes which Beaverford possessed caused them to part with frustrating frequency. Nevertheless, the tow had made some progress when, towards noon on June 17, the fog blew away and the sky began to darken ominously.
By 1am on June 18 the wind had settled into the northwest and was blowing hard. Beaverford and Kafiristan were then only five miles off the rock-bound coast of Cape North, and as the seas increased it became clear that Beaverford must stop towing or part her last sound line. Once parted she could not have reconnected, for it was by then impossible to stream a buoy and messenger line down to Kafiristan. So both ships stopped. They lay there while the wind and current set them inexorably toward the rocks. Meanwhile the harbor tug Cruizer had put to sea from Sydney, but she had been unable to locate Kafiristan in the darkness of the rain-swept night. Then at 3 A.M., the straining lookouts on the crippled vessel glimpsed first one, then two lights bearing down on them. Foundation Franklin had arrived, with Cruizer in her wake.
Franklin edged in toward the two stopped vessels which were by then less than two miles offshore. Beaverford was still connected, but by so short a line that her proximity made it impossible for Franklin to maneuver alongside Kafiristan in order to transfer men to her. Featherstone therefore contacted Beaverford's master and asked him to take in his line and steam out of the way. Beaverford’s captain was unwilling. His thoughts may have been on the prospects of a salvage award. At any rate, it was not until another precious hour had elapsed that he could be persuaded to relinquish the sinking ship. By then the wind and waves were considerably higher, and the business of laying Franklin alongside the injured collier had become extremely dangerous.
Nevertheless, Franklin’s temporary master, Captain Benjamin Pope, skillfully maneuvered the tug in close. At the crucial moment when the two ships lay side by side, Featherstone, Tom Nolan, and three other salvage men leaped from their own vessel and caught a net hung over Kafiristan’s side. After clambering up to the casualty’s deck, the five men ran aft and caught a heaving line from Franklin. Helped by Kafiristan's survivors they then hauled the heavy towing wire aboard and made it fast. The whole operation had consumed exactly sixteen minutes. The wire was no sooner fast than Franklin began to take a strain on it and Kafiristan began to draw slowly away from the breaking rocks of the Cape Breton coast. '
Meanwhile Featherstone had gone below with his salvage gang; and the five men were soon sloshing about in the Stygian blackness of number one hold. They found seven feet of water there, and the slack coal was swirling about uneasily. Largely by feel they checked the inner face of the vital collision bulkhead. Their hands encountered a hundred hard jets of cold sea water gushing through sprung seams and loosened rivets. Featherstone realized that the ship would sink before a harbor could be reached unless the inflow could be slowed. He wasted not a moment. Dragooning those members of Kafiristan's crew who could still stand, he set them to fetching lumber from the ship’s stateroom. Tom Nolan and his assistant lowered themselves into the hold, and standing shoulder deep in water, they began building a coffer dam inside the bulkhead; shoring it with timbers as the wooden wall rose slowly upward. When the dam was completed the salvors hung themselves over the jagged outer edges of the deck, and by means of turnbuckles and lengths of chain they tied the torn shell plates of the vessel’s sides together so that they would be held tightly against the edges of the collision bulkhead. Kafiristan followed a little better after that, but she was still filling fast.
As the little flotilla entered Sydney harbor at 9 P.M. on June 19, Kafiristan was so far down by the head that the seas were lapping across her decks, and water was standing twenty feet deep in number one [hold]. But the worst was over. They were in sheltered waters and it was only a matter of half an hour until Franklin could relinquish the tow wire, come alongside, and hoist her big salvage pumps aboard the collier. After that there was only the routine of starting up the pumps, and Kafiristan was safe.
It had been a near thing, but this time Franklin and her people had won the toss. They had not, however, won a total victory. The result of the arbitration of the case was to prove heart-breaking. When the case was heard, Canadian Pacific hired the best lawyers they could get to state the case for the Beaverford and to belittle the work done by Foundation Franklin. These lawyers were ably assisted by the owners of Kafiristan, for it was to the mutual advantage of both these parties to endeavor to squeeze Foundation Maritime’s payments down to the smallest possible figure. It was suspected then, and later officially acknowledged, that the Empress of Britain had been substantially at fault in the collision, and it was therefore thought that the Canadian Pacific Steamship Lines would have to pay not only for Kafiristan’s damages, but also the salvage costs, in part at least. Since Beaverford was a Canadian Pacific vessel, any salvage award given to her owners would be of double value, for the C.P.S. would then be paying itself for the cost of Kafiristan’s salvage, while at the same time it would be cutting down the amount payable to the upstart rivals, Foundation Maritime. The arbitrator was therefore asked to believe that Kafiristan had been in no real danger either of driving ashore or of sinking, that Beaverford could have completed the salvage easily enough, but had been unjustly “dispossessed” by Foundation Franklin, and that Featherstone never did build a coffer dam inside the sinking ship. Unfortunately these arguments were ably put, and the outcome was that Franklin only received about one-third of the award which precedent should have ensured for her.