Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The encounter of Bencruachan -- been there!

I blogged last year in this post about the cargo ship Bencruachan that encountered a freaque wave off South Africa in 1973. Of all the infomations I can find, there was just no indication of the size of wave they encountered. I commented that I wish "to know how big was the freak wave that hit Bencruachan." I am thrilled to receive the following email from a Mr. Robert Hicklin of U.K. the last weekend:
Bencruachan. I was 2nd Radio Officer on this vessel at the time of the freak wave incident in 1973. If you wish to contact me I may be able to add to any info you may have. With regard to the size of the wave I do recall the officer of the watch commenting later the wave 'cleared over the top of the bridge'. The time was early A.M. if my memory serves me well. Fortunately there was no one on deck. I believe the speed we hit was 19.5 knots.(Service speed was 21 knots). As you will be aware this vessel is 'stern accommodation' so if the officers description is accurate the minimum wave height should be calculable. Of note is we were the first vessel to activate a radio auto alarm system that alerted the Coast Guard and Durban Life Boat. The station had only been commissioned the day before. The tug that came to our assistance was the 'Marjon 3' which was being delivered I believe to the Gulf. It was replaced by another tug several days later, as the harbourmaster would not let the vessel be towed into port as it may sink and block the channel. The Marjon 3 went on to be delivered. When the wave hit it stove in the forward hatch, and had sufficient force to fracture the bulkhead between No.1 and 2 hold. We lost the forward crane and some containers. The bow section folded and perforated. We finished down by the bow, the fore deck being awash. The salvage people were Schmitt’s of Holland, so they should be able to assist you with information. Durban lifeboat came to our assistance. Some of us became friends with two of the lifeboats crew during our subsequent stay. They were Johnnie Hemsley (Engineer - Kiwi), and Dougie Murphy. We stayed with their families occasionally whilst undergoing temporary repairs. Many years later the 'Durban Mercury' furnished me with copies of their pictures and stories, so they may also be able to assist you.
Now my wish has been answered along with many more details about the encounter from one who was really there! The eyewitness account of "the wave 'cleared over the top of the bridge'" is certainly providing a valuable indication of the size of the wave height. Not knowing the measurements of Bencruachan and not a sea-going person in general myself, I am not in position to make an accurate estimate of the wave height. But at any rate from Mr. Hicklin's description I surmise that the wave height is probably around 35 m or more. (Please correct me if I am off base on this guesswork.) That's a big wave for certain, but it should not be surprising especially considering the encounter took place near the renown Agulhas current.


grantcv1 said...

I remember watching her sail into view of Durban after the accident. I was a kid and had just finished with a dental appointment. My dad took me down to the harbor so that I could see her damage close-up. I later built a wooden model of her from the photo's my dad had taken. (Coincidently, those photos are headed my way sometime soon) I gave the model away when I came to the US in 1979 unfortunately.

Malcolm Fuller said...

Details of the Bencruachan at http://www.clydesite.co.uk/clydebuilt/viewship.asp?id=5136
give her length and by scaling the photo the height of her bridge was 33m so you are close. The Bencruachan was scrapped at Kaohsiung, Taiwan, the port where she took on my goods that were on her when she was wrecked.

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