In the matter of a Formal Investigation held at the Institution of Civil Engineers, Great George Street, Westminster, on the 13th, 14th, 15th, 18th and 22nd days of May, 1936, before John Harris, Esq., assisted by Captain A. E. Dodd and Commander J. R. Williams, R.N.R., into the circumstances attending the stranding of the British motor vessel "Winchester Castle" at Portland on February 16th, 1936.
The Court, having carefully inquired into the circumstances attending the above-mentioned shipping casualty, finds, for the reasons stated in the Annex hereto, that the stranding of the M.V. "Winchester Castle" was due to the failure of the master to navigate the vessel with proper and seamanlike care in that he failed to use the means at his command for ascertaining with accuracy the position of his vessel in conditions which made it essential that he should do so before proceeding on his voyage, and proceeded on his voyage without having ascertained his position with accuracy.
The Court finds the master, Captain John Holman Kerbey, in default; but having regard to his long service and excellent record and to the fact that he is now retired on pension the Court does not suspend his certificate. The Court, however, severely censures him and orders him to pay to the Solicitor to the Board of Trade the sum of £50 on account of the expenses of this investigation.
The Court also considers that the chief wireless officer, Mr. Haslam, did not render to the master that assistance which one would have expected from a competent officer of Mr. Haslam's experience.
Dated this 19th day of June, 1936.
We concur in the above Report.
A. E. DODD
J. R. WILLIAMS
Annex to the Report.
This Inquiry was held at the Institution of Civil Engineers, Great George Street, Westminster, on May 13th, 14th, 15th, 18th and 22nd, 1936. Mr. G. St. Clair Pilcher, K.C., and Mr. Owen Bateson appeared as Counsel for the Board of Trade; Mr. Kenneth Carpmael, K.C., and Mr. Charles Stevenson (instructed by Messrs. Parker, Garrett & Co..) appeared for the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co., Ltd., the owners of the vessel; Mr. R. F. Hayward, K.C., and Mr. Vere Hunt (instructed by Messrs. G. F. Hudson Matthews & Co.) appeared for the master, Captain John Holman Kerbey, and for the 3rd officer (Mr. Reginald Frederick Pembry) and for the 4th officer (Mr. Frederick Alfred George Hunter); Mr. Alexander Ross (instructed by Messrs. Russell Jones & Co.) appeared for Mr. Haslam and Mr. Sutton, wireless operators; and Mr. A. H. Armstrong and Mr. C. G. Tanner watched the case on behalf of Mr. Barron, the 4th engineer.
The M.V. "Winchester Castle", official number 162489, was built at Belfast by Messrs. Harland & Wolff for her owners, the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company., Ltd., in 1930. Her tonnage was 20.109 gross, and 12,228 net: her length was 631 feet, beam 75 feet, depth 45 feet. She was fitted with twin Diesel motor engines of 3,370 h.p. nominal. Her registered managers at the time when she stranded were Messrs. Isaac Jabez Newcombe and Arthur Henry Milbourne. Her gross cost, including stores, was £1,080,493. Her book value at the time of the stranding was £821,000, and she was insured for £924,000. She was fully equipped with every modern device for ensuring safety at sea, including a wireless direction finder and an echo sounding machine. Her master was Captain John Holman Kerbey, an officer of great experience who had been over forty years in the service of the Union-Castle Steamship Company, during twenty-one of which he had served as commander of one or other of their vessels.
The vessel left Cape Town for Southampton on the 31st January, 1936, with a crew of 341 all told. There were 336 passengers on board, and she carried a general cargo. Her draught was 23 ft. 10 in. forward and 28 ft. 2 in. aft.
The vessel called at Madeira, which she left on the 13th February. At 9.18 a.m. on Sunday the 16th February, Ushant North West lighthouse was observed on a bearing of S. 880 E. by compass, and course was altered from N. 42° E. to N. 53° E. by compass.
At 9.45 a.m. course was set to N. 60° E. by compass, making N. 50° E. true, and according to all available evidence no further alteration of course was made until 8.20 p.m.
At 10.13 a.m., weather being overcast but visibility good, the position was fixed by Mr. Pembry, the 3rd officer, who was then on watch, by means of cross bearings of Ushant North West lighthouse and Stiff Point lighthouse. Entries in the log book and the bridge note book record this position as latitude 48° 35½' N.., longitude 5° 18' W., Ushant North West lighthouse abeam bearing S. 30° E. by compass, distance 10 miles. The position was marked by Mr. Pembry on a large scale chart. This chart was not before the Court until near the close of the Inquiry, and, as it had been used in the meantime and old markings erased, was of no assistance to the Court when produced. The Ushant position was however transferred by Mr. Pembry to a small scale chart No. 1598 upon which was also marked the vessel's course line from the Ushant position to a point just south and eastward of the Needles. The course line so marked makes no allowance for tidal set, and without such allowance gives an offing to Portland Bill of 17 miles and to Anvil Point of 8 miles. The master was on the bridge when the Ushant position was fixed by Mr. Pembry, and told the Court that he was entirely satisfied at the time with its accuracy. He stated also that in setting his course as laid down on the chart he allowed for a maximum set of 10 miles to the northward and westward of his course line. He should therefore have cleared Portland Bill by at least 7 miles, but would have had to alter course when approaching Anvil Point. Given normal conditions, an allowance of 10 miles for set in the direction mentioned should have been more than sufficient having regard to all known information as to the tidal streams in that part of the Channel through which the vessel's course ran.
It should here be stated that the Court found no reason for doubting the substantial accuracy of the Ushant position as fixed by Mr. Pembry and recorded at the time. Mr. Chandler, the first officer, who was called at a late stage of the Inquiry at the request of the Court, was the only witness to throw any doubt upon its accuracy. He had come on to the bridge when Ushant was abeam, and formed an opinion at the time that the vessel's distance from Ushant North West lighthouse was nearer 12 miles than 10. But as this was necessarily an estimate gained from casual observation only, the Court attached no importance to it.
At 11.32 a.m., with visibility still good under an overcast sky, a single bearing of the "Ile de Vierge" was obtained by Mr. Pembry from which the noon position was subsequently estimated. Mr. Pembry had suggested to the master that a run of 8 miles should be allowed from the line of bearing of the "Ile de Vierge" in estimating the noon position, and the position as marked on the course line on the chart shows that this was done. The position is entered in the log under the heading "dead reckoning" as latitude 48° 54' N., longitude 4° 46' W., and under the heading "observation indirect" as latitude 48' 56' N., longitude 4° 41' W., the former entry being apparently the position obtained by dead reckoning alone from the noon position of the previous day, the latter the position obtained with the help of the "Ile de Vierge" observation-which is that marked on the chart. In the master's opinion, as expressed to the Court, the noon position was accurate within a mile.
From noon until 7.42 p.m. no further attempt was made to ascertain the vessel's position. By that time visibility had lessened considerably, rain having commenced at 6 p.m., when the master who had been in his room came out on to the bridge. It was stated by the witnesses as varying from six to three miles during rain squalls, so that it was doubtful whether the Portland or Shambles lights would be sighted. A sounding taken shortly before 7.42 p.m. showed 30 fathoms and the master ordered Mr. Hunter to obtain the vessel's position by dead reckoning, as he said "making no allowance for tide". According to Mr. Hunter's evidence his orders were "to run up a distance on the course line we had been proceeding on from Ushant, allowing 15.5 knots to that particular time", which would imply that some allowance was to be made for the retardatory influence of tide, as the vessel's speed was normally a half to three-quarters of a knot over that figure. However it was obtained, the position was marked on the course line laid on the small chart, and then transferred to a larger chart No. 2450 as a latitude and longitude position giving latitude 50° 14' N. and longitude 2° 19'W. If Mr. Hunter's recollection of his orders is right it would appear that he did not carry them out, as the distance from the Ushant position calculated on the basis of a speed of 15.5 knots during the interval between 10.13 a.m. and 7.42 p.m. works out at a fraction over 147 miles, whereas the distance between the two positions as marked on the chart is by admeasurement 153½ miles. The latter distance coincides almost exactly with that obtainable by taking the log reading from noon entered in the bridge note book at 127 miles, adding the 28 miles from Ushant recorded in the log book and making the necessary correction for the log being 1.7 per cent. fast. It seems likely therefore that the master's recollection of his instructions to Mr. Hunter is the more correct, and that the position was in fact estimated without making any allowance for the retardatory effect of tide. On the other hand, if the orders given were as Mr. Hunter stated them, i.e. to take a speed of 15½ knots between 10.13 a.m. and 7.42 p.m. and the master had that in his mind, the fact that the position marked on the chart was some 6½ miles ahead of that which should have appeared if the calculation had been made on that basis may have encouraged the master to think, as he told the Court several times he did think, that he was further ahead on his course than he expected to be. The sounding of 30 fathoms may have still further encouraged him in this belief, the 30 fathom line running about five miles north of the position marked on the chart. However that may be, the master told the Court that he considered that he was ahead of his distance at this time, and that he had passed, i.e. was eastward of, Portland Bill. In fact he was then almost certainly a little to the westward and about 16 miles to the south of it.
At 8.20 p.m. with the vessel still proceeding full speed ahead, a sounding showed 24 fathoms and the master altered course for the first time after leaving Ushant from N. 60° E. by compass to N. 57° E. by compass, making N. 47° E. true. According to the evidence, visibility at this time was not more than three or four miles and no shore lights had been sighted. The master stated that the sounding of 24 fathoms gave him no anxiety, and it is fair to say that if the vessel's position had been approximately where he believed it to be it need not have done. The actual position of the vessel at this time was in fact about six miles to the southward and westward of Portland Bill. The master's view of his position as stated to the Court was that he was drawing up to St. Alban's Head. In his deposition before the Receiver of Wreck the master said that he estimated his position at 8 p.m. as being about 13 miles south of St. Alban's Head which if true would mean that he thought he was exactly on his course line-in other words, that he had made no allowance on either side of his course line for tidal set. Whether the master formed any such exact estimate of his position at the time may be doubted-but in all probability, having made up his mind that he was ahead of his expected position and that he was more or less on his course line, the sounding of 24 fathoms which he obtained at 8.20 p.m. led him to believe that he was drawing up to St. Alban's Head and that if he continued on his course of N. 50 E. true he would probably miss sighting the Anvil Point light. At any rate, he now altered course 3° to port in order, as he said, to make sure of sighting the Anvil Point light or hearing its fog signal should it be sounding. Although as already mentioned the master assured the Court that he felt no anxiety as to his position at this time, the Court is satisfied that he was, to say the least, very uncertain and indeed anxious about it, and in the opinion of the Court it was at this juncture that the master (for the first time on this particular voyage) resorted to the use of his wireless direction finder. Course having been altered, the chief wireless operator was summoned by telephone from the wireless room abaft the after funnel. There was a conflict of evidence as to the time when the chief wireless operator was sent for but the Court is satisfied that it was subsequent to 8.20 p.m. when the sounding of 24 fathoms was obtained, and it would have taken him two or three minutes to disconnect his wireless aerial and to get to the bridge. On the arrival of Mr. Haslam, the chief wireless operator, on the bridge the master ordered him to "get wireless bearings" and Mr. Haslam went to the wireless direction finder in the chart room. The echo sounding machine was stopped, so as to avoid interference with the wireless direction finder, and Mr. Haslam endeavoured to pick up the beacons at Start Point and the Casquets. signals from which, if they had been obtained, would have made it possible to fix the vessel's position with accuracy. Unfortunately the beacons which send out their signals at 20 minutes and 22 minutes past the hour respectively and then at intervals of 30 minutes, were missed; and after listening for some five or six minutes Mr. Haslam reported to the master that he had been unable "to get the Casquets or the Start". Having regard to the terms of the master's order "get wireless bearings" it is somewhat difficult to appreciate why on the one hand Mr. Haslam made no attempt to get in touch with other available stations such as Niton and Cherbourg, or why on the other hand the master did not insist upon his endeavouring to do so in execution of the orders given. The master told the Court that he was not greatly concerned when Mr. Haslam reported that he had been unable to get the beacons because though he was uncertain of his position and wanted to get a fix he did not think he was in any danger, and only wanted to fix the vessel's position as a precautionary measure. However that maybe the vessel proceeded at full speed ahead with her position unascertained until 8.38 p.m. when the echo sounding machine which had been restarted gave a sounding of 20 fathoms and engines were stopped. The vessel at this time must have been to the westward of Portland not far from Blacknor Point. The sounding of 20 fathoms caused the master no anxiety, because as he told the Court he thought he was over the shoals off St. Alban's Head. If it did cause him any anxiety he must have quickly reassured himself for at 8.40 p.m. engines were again put full speed ahead and the vessel proceeded.
At 8.42 p.m. shore lights were sighted and engines were stopped. According to the lookout in the crow's nest the lights first appeared to him half a point on the starboard bow as a cluster of white lights, and later when they were 3 points on the port bow a red light showed about over the centre of the white lights. On sighting them he at once reported them and their position by buzzer, his signal being acknowledged, and on seeing the red light reported that also, and received an acknowledgment. By whom these signals were acknowledged did not appear. The master and Mr. Pembry (who had returned to the bridge at 8 p.m.) apparently saw the lights simultaneously. On sighting them the master at once put his helm hard a starboard and engines were stopped, thus bringing the vessel on to a S.S.W. heading, and at 8.45 p.m., according to Mr. Pembry who telegraphed the order, engines were put full astern. According to Mr. Barron, the 4th engineer, whose evidence was confirmed by a contemporaneous entry in the engine room records, the order he received and carried out was port engine full astern, starboard engine dead slow astern. The Court prefers the evidence of Mr. Barron, confirmed as. it is by the engine room records, but the matter does not seem to be of any great importance. The effect of the action taken, whatever it was precisely, was to take way off the vessel, and at 8.46½ p.m. she was stopped in a position which was in fact a safe one. What else followed immediately after the lights were sighted is not too clear. One would have expected some consultation-apparently there was none-between the master and his subordinates then on the bridge. They were the chief officer, whom the Court did not see, Mr. Pembry the 3rd officer, and Mr. Hunter the 4th officer, who was not on watch but bad remained in the chart room after going off watch at 8 p.m. Mr. Chandler, the 1st officer, also came up on to the bridge when engines were put astern and remained there for some ten minutes or so but he did not go into the chart room or have any conversation with the master. According to Mr. Pembry the master's only remark was "Where the hell are we?", made when the lights were sighted and addressed to no-one in particular, and no discussion followed. Mr. Pembry himself told the Court that he thought the lights were those of some village near Anvil Point "as we were expecting to make Anvil Point round about this time". but he had not seen the red light. He could not recall expressing this view at the time but in the opinion of the Court he probably did so. Mr. Hunter appears to have gone hack to the chart room to look at the chart and the light list and whilst he was so engaged the master came in for the same purpose. Mr. Hunter apparently adventured the suggestion to the master that the red light might be that at the Wrestover Skating Rink at Bournemouth-a suggestion which lie himself immediately recognised as a thoughtless one; but the fact that it was made indicates that he too as well as the master and Mr. Pembry thought that the vessel was well ahead of her distance. Neither the master nor Mr. Hunter thought of casting their eyes over the chart westward from Anvil Point as far as Portland in their search for a possible red light. This is perhaps understandable up to a point, as there had certainly been nothing to indicate and no reason to expect that the vessel was then so far out of her course as in fact she was. None the less, the master was, as he admitted to the Court and his remark made at the time suggests, entirely ignorant as to his true position, and in the circumstances one would have thought that his inspection of the chart and that made by Mr. Hunter would have been more thorough than it was. The inspection was short, Mr. Hunter suggested, because the master was in a hurry to return to the bridge and get a fix. and this may be the explanation. The white lights seen were in fact lights in the vicinity of Chesilton, probably street lamps on the road which runs along the neck joining Portland to the mainland. The red light showing above them was, in the opinion of the Court, one of the lights on the breakwaters of Portland Harbour. Their distance as seen from the vessel was variously estimated by the witnesses as from 4 to 2 miles.
Having failed to identify the lights by reference to the chart and the light list the master now returns to the bridge and orders the chief wireless operator to "get a bearing of Niton". Mr. Ross the quartermaster, who passed the order to the wireless room by telephone, stated that the master ordered a bearing to be got of Niton "and some other station" the name of which he failed to catch, and that he passed the order on as "get a bearing of Niton and some other station". The Court does not accept Mr. Ross's evidence on this point. It was obviously an afterthought and even if it were true the fact remains that a single bearing only of Niton was obtained and acted upon. No one but Mr. Ross suggested that the order was otherwise than as stated here.
At 8.51 p.m. ship's time, when according to the Niton records the vessel's call was received, the vessel was stationary or practically so on her S.S.W. heading. The echo sounding machine had been stopped to avoid interference with the wireless direction finder. The bearing of Niton obtained was 0820 and acting upon it the master at 8.56 p.m. ordered course to be set at S. 88° E. by compass to make N. 82° E. true, and engines were ordered half speed ahead. This bearing of Niton which gave the master his latitude only and not his longitude was in fact inaccurate owing to the high land of Portland intervening between the wireless station and the vessel, but the master of course was not to know this, and believing, as in the opinion of the Court he undoubtedly did still believe, that he was somewhere off Anvil Point, considered that having got his latitude he could safely proceed. The echo sounding machine, which as already stated had been stopped while the Niton bearing was taken, was now restarted, and from 9.3 p.m. onwards Mr. Hunter called out the readings to the master at minute intervals. In the meantime, coastguards at Fortune's Well and at the Bill had been flashing danger signals to the vessel with their electric flash lamps, but the signals were unobserved from the vessel doubtless owing to the bad visibility which prevailed at this time. At 9.3 p.m. Mr. Hunter called a sounding of 18 fathoms, at 9.4 p.m. 17 fathoms, and at 9.5 p.m. 14 fathoms. At 9.5½ p.m. he called 10 fathoms. At the same moment "Breakers ahead" were reported by the lookouts in the crow's nest and on the stern head and were also seen from the bridge. Helm was at once ordered hard a starboard and engines full speed astern but the vessel grounded almost immediately. She had stranded on the west coast of Portland about 3 cables south of Blacknor Point-some twenty miles out of her course.
The Court is satisfied that all proper measures were at once taken to meet the emergency, and within 3½ hours the vessel was successfully refloated and taken on to Southampton without assistance.
Such is the narrative of the events which preceded the stranding of this fine vessel, as the Court finds them. Before drawing deductions there from as to the master's conduct of his vessel from the time she left Ushant until the stranding, it seems necessary to make some attempt to answer a question which obtruded itself at every stage of the Investigation, namely, How did the "Winchester Castle" get so far out of her course as to be found to the westward of Portland? The question was exhaustively discussed at the Inquiry and it has been exhaustively considered by the Court since the Inquiry was closed. The answer to it, if answer can be found, must obviously qualify any judgment passed upon the master's conduct of his vessel.
Four possible theories were put forward and examined. They were as follows:-
(1) The Ushant position was wrong and a wrong point of departure taken.
(2) There was an abnormal set to the north-ward and westward in the Channel on the 16th February, 1936.
(3) The vessel's compasses were out of order.
(4) The course set was not steered.
(1) As regards the first of these theories the Court was and remains completely satisfied that the Ushant position as fixed by Mr. Pembry and recorded at the time was substantially accurate in spite of the doubt thrown upon it by Mr. Chandler already referred to. In any case an error of two miles, which was all that Mr. Chandler suggested, would have been quite insufficient to account for so large a deviation as must have occurred.
(2) As regards the second theory, which was that put forward by the master himself, the difficulties in the way of accepting it seem overwhelming. Tides were neap and, according to all experience, the master's allowance of a maximum set of 10 miles to the northward and westward should have been ample. Assuming no alteration in the predicted direction of tidal currents, as shown in the Admiralty tables, a vessel with the speed of the "Winchester Castle" steering on the course laid down by the master should not have been set more than 5 or at the most 6 miles to the westward of her course line in the time occupied on the run from Ushant. Had there been an abnormal set to anything like the extent necessary to take the vessel so far out of her course as she was ultimately found to be, it is incredible that no report of it was received from any other vessel navigating in these well frequented waters of the English Channel. There was nothing abnormal either in the way of sea, wind or weather conditions. The master was driven in support of this theory of an abnormal set to suggest that a series of easterly gales in the North Sea had banked up the waters of the Channel at the Straits of Dover and that this in turn had led to a return flow of unusual strength. The Court accepted the evidence of Commander Kirkpatrick of the Hydrographic Department of the Admiralty that, assuming the occurrence of such a phenomenon, the effect upon the force or direction of the tidal streams in that part of the Channel in which the vessel was would be negligible, while the meteorological records placed before the Court greatly impugned if they did not entirely destroy the premises upon which the master's conclusion was based. The Court is satisfied that there was no abnormal set on the 16th February, 1936.
(3) There was no evidence before the Court to support an inference that the compasses had been in any way tampered with-no-one suggested that-or that they had been affected by magnetic influence from any source except the fact that the vessel was off her course. in a well found vessel like the "Winchester Castle" there is little likelihood of any accidental movement of a mass of metal in the vicinity of the compass at sea which would be likely to affect the deviation. A suggestion by one of the witnesses that there might have been some temporary local attraction from the shore the Court regards as fantastic. Some colour seemed to be lent to the theory that the compasses were out of order by the fact that when the vessel reached Southampton, a deviation of 7° west was found in the standard compass as against a normal deviation of about 3° east. But in the opinion of the Court this was plainly the result of the stranding, which caused a heavy displacement of steel in the vessel's hull. An earlier deviation on a previous voyage was accounted for by the movement of a derrick and was so noted in the deviation book, while examination of the deviation book itself covering a period of four years showed that the normal deviations remained practically constant on the various courses steered in particular localities. The Court does not consider that the compasses were out of order, having regard to the evidence before it.
(4) There remains for consideration the question whether the course steered was the course that had been set. A finding to the contrary would involve serious reflections not only upon the helmsmen who took their trick at the wheel but also upon the officers whose duty it was to check the course steered from time to time. Not all the helmsmen who steered the vessel on her run across Channel were before the Court, nor all the officers who were on watch during the period of the run. But those who were all swore that they had carried out their duty, and the Court saw no reason to disbelieve them. Here again apart from the fact that the vessel was found off her course there was really no evidence before the Court to support the theory; indeed, all the evidence was to the contrary. At the same time, with all the other suggested explanations ruled out, the Court, while unable to give any finding, inclines to the view that a supposition that the course set was not steered provides the most likely key to what must otherwise remain a complete mystery.
It is now necessary to indicate the considerations underlying the Answers given by the Court to Questions 38 and 41.
It seems to the Court beyond controversy that the disaster would never in all human probability have occurred-
(a) if the position of the vessel had been verified by means of wireless bearings at or before 7.42 p.m.; or
(b) if the position of the vessel had been ascertained by means of wireless bearings at 8.20 p.m.; or
(c) if when shore lights were sighted a proper cross bearing had been obtained by the use of the wireless direction finder and acted upon instead of the single bearing from Niton.
Accepting this proposition, the Court has now to ask itself whether the master's failure to ascertain his position by means of his wireless direction finder at the times stated was conduct inconsistent with the exercise of that reasonable care to be expected from a reasonably prudent navigator, and to submit to the same test the measures taken when shore lights were sighted.
In the opinion of the Court, when a vessel is equipped with a wireless direction finder it should be used as a matter of routine not only as a valuable aid to navigation but also for checking positions obtained by visual and other observations, in order that confidence may be placed in this instrument when other means for fixing the ship's position are unavailable. It should not be regarded merely as a device to be used only in emergency. At 7.42 p.m., nine and half hours had passed since the vessel's position had been accurately determined, and no attempt had been made to fix it at all since noon, judging by the markings on the chart. Visibility from 6.30 p.m. onwards was bad, and it was extremely unlikely, unless the weather cleared, that Portland or the Shambles light would be sighted, assuming, as the master did assume, that the vessel was keeping course. At 7.42 p.m. there was the sounding of 30 fathoms. Although this sounding cannot be fairly regarded as giving any violent indication that the vessel was off her expected course, it is clear that the master did not like it. Visibility was worse. Moreover, even on the view that the master "knew the road" as it were, and, having set his usual course, had no reason to anticipate that anything untoward had happened to throw the vessel any great distance off her course, the fact remains that he wanted his position. Why then did he not use the means that were ready to his hand for the purpose. and ascertain his position accurately? It may be. as one of the witnesses suggested, that the master was prejudiced against the use of the wireless direction finder. He denied that imputation, but some colour is lent to the suggestion by the fact that it was not used on this occasion, nor had it been used at any time on this particular voyage, nor on the outward voyage to Cape Town. However that may be, the impression left on the mind of the Court by the master's evidence when he was questioned on this point at the Inquiry was that he looked upon his wireless direction finder rather as something to be reserved for an emergency, such as thick fog, than as a safety device to be used as a matter of practice whenever, as in bad visibility. no other means were available to give a good result. In the opinion of the Court the master should have used his wireless direction finder at 7.42 p.m. certainly if not before, and his failure to do so indicates that he did not appreciate his responsibility as captain of his vessel.
At 8.20 p.m. having altered course three degrees to port in order, as he said, to sight the Anvil Point light, the master for the first time on this particular voyage decides to use his wireless direction finder. Was there any emergency? There may not have been, in the master's view-he assured the Court that he felt no anxiety at this time and that he merely desired to fix his position as a precautionary measure. It was a precaution which, as the Court has held, he should have taken earlier; but in the opinion of the Court he was at this time not merely uncertain of his position but anxious about it. For reasons already explained, no bearings were obtained. Instead of insisting on his order being carried out to the letter, as, in the opinion of the Court, the master as captain of his vessel should have done, he is content with the chief wireless operator's report that he had been unable to get the Casquets or the Start beacons, and proceeds on his voyage at full speed for twenty minutes except for the two minutes from 8.38½ p.m. when engines were temporarily stopped. If the master considered it necessary to fix his position accurately at this time, and he obviously desired to do so, the abandonment of his intention seems to call for explanation. But no explanation was forthcoming. One can only suppose that he had somehow reassured himself. The alteration of course to sight the Anvil Point light implies that the master had expected to sight it about this time and he had not done so: there was the 24 fathoms sounding; visibility had by no means improved; and if it was necessary to fix the vessel's position at this time, as one must assume it was, that necessity was no whit diminished when bearings were not obtained and the vessel went on her way at full speed in the conditions which existed. Nothing, so far as could be ascertained at the Inquiry, had occurred to reassure the master or to do away with that necessity. Why then did the master not insist on his orders being carried out?. In the opinion of the Court, he should have done. The Court considers that his failure to do so and his neglect to ascertain his position at this time, and at 7.42 p.m., were omissions not consistent with that degree of reasonable care to be expected from a prudent seaman.
If the situation at 8.20 p.m. was one to cause the master anxiety, that which suddenly developed some twenty minutes later when shore lights were sighted was obviously one of danger. There can be no doubt as to the master's own view of it. His ejaculations at the time, "What the hell are those lights?" and "Where are we?", give a true indication of the situation as it was and as it appeared to him. As Mr. Pilcher put it he was "lost"; he did not know where he was; but apparently harking back to his conviction that he was ahead and more to the eastward of his course than he had expected to be-a conviction that would have been dispelled had he used his wireless direction finder at 7.42 p.m. or earlier, or if he had insisted on bearings being obtained at 8.20 p.m.-he seems to have made up his mind on data which the Court regards as insufficient that he was somewhere off St. Alban's Head or Anvil Point. In the opinion of the Court, it there was any justification for this belief, and the Court does not say there was none at all, the sighting of the shore lights should have dispelled it. A glance at the chart, and the master said he looked at it, should have satisfied him that there was no village in the vicinity of either headland whose lights would be visible from the sea: a closer inspection of it would have shown that there was no red light nearer than Portland Bill. The master's inability to identify the lights can of itself perhaps be pardoned in view of the fact that there was nothing "aliunde" to lead him to suppose for a moment that he was west of Portland as at this time he was; and we know from Mr. Hunter that he was in a hurry to get a fix. But his belief that he was off St. Alban's Head or Anvil Point probably explains why he asked for a single bearing only when in the opinion of the Court it was even more essential than it had been at 7.42 p.m. and 8.20 p.m. that he should ascertain his position with exactness. If it be true that at 8 p.m. he considered that he was on his course line due south of St. Alban's Head-as he stated in his deposition before the Receiver of Wreck was the case-it was easy to assume from his sounding of 20 fathoms taken at 8.36 p.m. that he was still but little off it: but his belief thus formed seems to imply that he had given the go-by to any allowance for set at all commensurate with his estimate for a maximum set of 10 miles. It may be that he was estimating his position roughly at this time by the depths shown on the chart fairly close to his course line which corresponded with the soundings he had obtained. But having somehow convinced himself that he must be somewhere off St. Alban's Head or Anvil Point, he tells the chief wireless operator to get a single bearing of Niton, wanting apparently his latitude to give him his offing of the shore and not his longitude of which he was equally ignorant.
In the Court's opinion the master was gravely at fault here. He was in danger, or as he himself put it, "in a tight corner." The lights were unidentified; he had a belief and only a belief as to his position. He did not know it. It was surely vital that he should know it. Quite properly he had manoeuvred his vessel into a position which was perfectly safe if he had stayed there, but everything pointed to the strong necessity that he should fix his position with accuracy before attempting to move her from safety. He could have done so if he had taken cross bearings from two wireless stations or stayed where he was and anchored if bearings had not been immediately obtainable. Instead he chose to rely on a single bearing which could give him no certainty because it gave him no longitude-and proceeded on his voyage. Banking on what was little more than conjecture as to his longitudinal position he took a risk which in the opinion of the Court he should never have taken. Moreover. having got his bearing of Niton the master puts his vessel on a course N.82 E. true which he must have realised, if he had thought about it, would bring his vessel round again to the vicinity in which shore lights were first seen: for when the vessel's head was turned in a S.S.W. direction her position in relation to the shore lights had not changed materially. In the Court's opinion the master's navigation of his vessel after the shore lights were sighted again shows a failure to exercise reasonable care.
In formulating their Answers to Questions 38 and 41 the Court has carefully considered how far the circumstance that the vessel through some unexplained cause had deviated some twenty miles from her course line, and the inaccuracy of the Niton bearing, could be said to be contributory causes of the disaster. In a sense both did contribute to it, but inasmuch as prudent navigation by a proper and sufficient ascertainment of the vessel's position would have avoided any result attributable to these two factors, in the opinion of the Court the real and effective cause of the stranding was the master's failure, as set forth in the Answer to Question 38, to so fix his position before proceeding on his voyage.
Certain subsidiary questions arose at the Inquiry upon which the Court may properly be expected to express an opinion, namely:-
(1) Whether the relative positions of the echo sounding machine and the wireless direction finder impaired the usefulness of the latter.
(2) Whether the distance between the wireless room and the chart room, where the wireless direction finder was installed, and the time occupied in getting from one to the other, had anything to do with the missing of the beacons by the chief wireless operator when a wireless bearing was asked for.
(3) Whether the chief wireless operator rendered to the master all the assistance that could properly have been expected of him.
As regards (1), the Court was satisfied that some interference was caused by the echo sounding machine being in close proximity to the wireless direction finder, if the two machines were working at the same time. But the Court was also satisfied that on each occasion when the wireless direction finder was used the echo sounding machine was stopped. On balance it appeared to the Court that convenience requires that both machines should be in the chart room, but to meet the possibility of the two being required to be used at the same time it is advisable that steps should be taken to prevent interference-which, the Court was informed, could easily be done.
As regards (2) no doubt the distance between the wireless room and the chart room causes some little inconvenience and some delay if the use of the wireless direction finder becomes a matter of urgency. But there is telephonic communication between the wheel house and the wireless room, and it should not require more than two or three minutes for the wireless operator to disconnect his aerial and reach the bridge. If there is real urgency, the Court considers that the proper course would be to stop the vessel until the wireless operator arrives on the bridge. The position of the wireless room seems in all other respects appropriate, and indeed the best from the operator's point of view-while the position of the wireless direction finder in the chart room carries with it the advantage that it affords the navigating officers an opportunity to familiarize themselves with it and if they so desire to learn its use. The inconvenience referred to had no bearing whatever on the events which led to the grounding of the vessel.
As regards (3) the Court was somewhat surprised to find that the chief wireless operator was quite unable to give the precise time, an important matter as it turned out, when he endeavoured to get the beacons; nor had he made himself acquainted, as in the opinion of the Court he should have done, with the difference between ship's time and Greenwich mean time. He did not carry out the master's order to "get wireless bearings", and in the opinion of the Court having failed to get the beacons he should have tried other stations or waited until the beacons were sounding again. At leas he might have asked the master whether he should not do so. Had he carried out his orders or acted as suggested the stranding would in all probability never have occurred.
In conclusion, the Court thinks it right to say that after hearing the evidence as to what took place on the bridge when shore lights were sighted they were left with an uneasy feeling that, for some reason which remains obscure, there was not on the "Winchester Castle", on this voyage at any rate, that real collaboration between the master and his staff usually to be found upon a British vessel of her class. All the officers held master's certificates and the more senior of them were men of considerable experience. Yet. according to the evidence, when emergency arose there was no consultation by the master with the officers then on the bridge, and no one except Mr. Hunter. the youngest officer of all, seems to have ventured to express any opinion upon a matter which was causing anxiety not only to the master but to some at any rate of the members of his staff. The impression, and it must be recognised that it is only an impression, made upon the mind of the Court was that the master was a captain whom it was difficult to approach, and who preferred to rely on himself alone rather than to call on his staff for such assistance as they were qualified to give him.
At the conclusion of the evidence Mr. Pilcher on behalf of the Board of Trade submitted Questions for the opinion of the Court.
The Questions and Answers are as follows:-
1. Q. Who were the owners of the M.V. "Winchester Castle"?.
A. The owners were the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Co. Ltd.
2. Q. What was the cost of the M.V. "Winchester Castle" to her owners? What was her value when she last left Cape Town on the 31st January, 1936? What insurances were effected upon and in connection with the vessel at that time?
A. The cost of the M.V. "Winchester Castle" to her owners was: £1,080,493 Stores and equipment: £31,478 Making a total cost of: £1,111,971
The value of the vessel on the 31st January 1936 was £821,000.
Insurances were effected to the value of £924,000.
3. Q. What number of compasses had the vessel and where were they situated? When and by whom were they last adjusted?
A. There were four compasses-a "Standard Compass" situated over the wheelhouse, a "Bridge Compass" situated on the bridge, a "Steering Compass" in the wheelhouse, and one spirit steering compass on the after docking bridge. The compasses were last adjusted by Mr. Fussell (Smith & Son, Compass Adjusters, Southampton) on the 15th July, 1932.
4. Q. Had the master ascertained the deviation of the compasses by observation from time to time? Had the errors been correctly ascertained and recorded, and did the master know the proper corrections to be applied to the courses steered?
A. Yes, to both questions.
5. Q. Was the vessel fitted with an echo sounding machine?-If so, by whom was the machine made and what was its pattern?
A. Yes. The vessel was fitted with an echo sounding machine made by Messrs. Henry Hughes & Sons, Ltd. Pattern-Mark VI, Sonic.
6. Q. Had the vessel any other, and if so what. sounding appliances on board her?
A. Yes. A Kelvite Mark IV motor driven sounding machine was fitted on the poop.
7. Q. Was the vessel fitted with a wireless direction finder? If so, by whom was it made and what was its pattern? Was it in good order?
A. Yes. The vessel was fitted with a wireless direction finder made by the Radio Communication Co., Ltd., direction finder type R.A. 76/77 covering wavebands of 550 to 1,100 metres. It was in good order.
8. Q. Where were the echo sounding machine and the direction finder situated in the vessel?
A. They were situated in the chart room.
9. Q. Was it practicable to use both of these instruments at the same time? If not, why not?
A. No. It was not possible to use the instruments together on account of electrical interference.
10. Q. Was there an efficient means of communication between the bridge and the wireless room?
A. Yes. By telephone.
11. Q. Could the officer in charge on the bridge obtain the presence of the wireless operator in the chart room with adequate promptitude for the purpose of taking a bearing by the direction finder? If not, why not?
A. Yes, within three minutes.
12. Q. What (a) charts; (b) Admiralty Pilots; (c) Lists of Admiralty Lights; (d) volumes of the Admiralty List of wireless signals; (e) books relating to wireless direction finding apparatus, were on board the vessel on the voyage from Cape Town to Southampton?
A. (a) The appropriate charts for the voyage in question, corrected up to date; (b) Channel Pilot. Part I, of 1931, and 1935 Supplement; (c) Admiralty Light List, Part 1, and 1935 Supplement; (d) Admiralty List of Wireless Signals, Volumes 1 and 2; (e) An Introduction to Direction Finding and Navigation, by Bainbridge Bell, A.M.I.E.E.
13. Q. When the vessel left Cape Town for Southampton, was she in good and seaworthy condition?
14. Q. When the vessel left Cape Town for Southampton was she sufficiently manned as to deck manning and engine room manning for the voyage in question?
15. Q. Was the position of the vessel fixed when she was off Ushant on the 16th February, 1936? If so, at what time and how was the position fixed? What was the position and was the fixing accurate?
A. Yes. The position was fixed by the third officer, Mr. Pembry, off Ushant at 10.13 a.m. by taking cross bearings of Ushant N.W. lighthouse and Stiff Point lighthouse. The position so obtained was latitude 48° 35½' N., longitude 5° 18' W. The fixing was accurate.
16. Q. How far was the vessel off Ushant when her position was fixed?
A. 10 miles.
17. Q. What were the conditions of (a) the weather; (b) the wind; (c) the visibility; (d) the tide, when the vessel's position off Ushant was fixed?
A. (a,) Overcast but clear; (b) E.S.E. force 5; (c) Visibility good; (d) Flood tide (neap).
18. Q. On what course and at what speed was the vessel being navigated when her position off Ushant was fixed? Did she continue on that course and at that speed?
A. When the position off Ushant was fixed, the course was N. 60 E. by standard compass, equivalent to N. 50 E. true, and the vessel was being navigated at full speed, which was normally 16 knots. The vessel continued on that course until 8.20 p.m., and at that speed until 8.38 p.m.
19. Q. How far should the course on which the vessel was being navigated have taken her clear of Portland Bill?
A. 17 miles, making no allowance for set of tide. 20. Q. When setting the course from the position off Ushant, was any allowance made for the expected influence of tide? If so, what was this allowance, and was it sufficient?
A. No allowance was made in the course laid down on the chart, but the master stated in evidence that he expected and allowed for a maximum set of 10 miles to N.N.W. of the course laid down on the chart. Such allowance should have been sufficient.
21. Q. When was the first alteration in the course of the vessel made after she fixed her position off Ushant? What was the alteration and why was it made?
A. The first alteration of the vessel's course after she fixed her position off Ushant was made at 8.20 p.m., when course was altered 3° to port to make N. 47° E. true. Course was so altered because the master, thinking that he was farther to the northward and eastward than he expected to be and that he was drawing up to St. Alban's Head, wished to make sure of sighting the light or hearing the fog signal from Anvil Point.
22. Q. Were any, and if so what, alterations made in the speed of the vessel after she fixed her position off Ushant up to the time of the stranding? If so, when and why were they made?
A. Yes-as follows:
8.38½. p.m.: Engines stopped because the master was uncertain of his position.
8.40 p.m.: Engines full speed ahead, apparently because the master had reassured himself.
8.42½ p.m.: Engines stopped, because shore lights had been sighted.
8.45 p.m.: Starboard engine dead slow astern, port engine full astern; probably in order to check the swing of the vessel under a starboard helm and to take way off preparatory to stopping her.
8.46½ p.m.: Engines stopped, because the master considered it dangerous to proceed without fixing his position, and wanted a wireless bearing of Niton before proceeding.
8.56½ p.m.: Engines half speed ahead, because the master was satisfied with his position, as obtained by the bearing of Niton, and considered it safe to proceed.
9.05½ p.m.: Engines stopped and put full astern because breakers ahead had been reported by the lookouts and also sighted from the bridge
9.06 p.m.: The vessel grounded
23. Q. Were any soundings taken from the vessel after she fixed her position off Ushant? If so (a) how many such soundings were taken; (b) when and where were they taken; (c) what depths were recorded by those soundings?
A. Soundings were taken as follows:
At: 7.42 p.m.: 30 fathoms
8.20 p.m.: 24 fathoms.
8.36½ p.m: 20 fathoms.
The Court is unable to say with certainty where these soundings were taken. At 7.42 p.m. the vessel was probably about 16 miles to the southward and westward of Portland Bill. At 8.20 she was probably 6 miles to the southward and westward of Portland Bill. At 8.36½ she was to the west of Portland Bill not far from Blacknor Point. From about 9 p.m. until the vessel struck the echo sounding machine was working and soundings as recorded were reported verbally to the master at minute intervals by the fourth officer as follows:
At: 9.03 p.m.: 18 fathoms.
9.04 p.m.: 17 fathoms.
9.05 p.m.: 14 fathoms.
9.05½ p.m.: 10 fathoms.
24. Q. If soundings were taken, were they proper and sufficient?
A. The soundings were proper and sufficient.
25. Q. After passing Ushant, what was the first order given to the chief wireless operator with regard to the taking of wireless direction finder bearings? When was such order given and by whom?
A. The first order given to the chief wireless operator was given by the master. The order was "get wireless bearings". The evidence as to the time when this order was given was conflicting, but in the view of the Court it was given at 8.22 p.m. or thereabouts.
26. Q. Was such order sufficient and was it carried out? If such order was not carried out, why was it not carried out?
A. Such order was sufficient. It was carried out to the extent that the chief wireless operator endeavoured to get the Casquets and Start Point beacons but failed, as both beacons had finished signalling by the time the chief wireless operator had started to listen in. The order as given by the master was not fully carried out inasmuch as the chief wireless operator made no attempt to get bearings from other stations which were available.
27. Q. Were any wireless direction finder bearings taken by any person other than the chief wireless operator?
28. Q. Was there any, and if so what, change in the conditions of (a) the weather; (b) the wind; (c) the visibility, between the time when the vessel fixed her position off Ushant and the time when she grounded near Portland?
A. (a) The weather was overcast but clear up to about 6 p.m. when rain set in which was not continuous but came in squalls with heavy mist. (b) According to the log at 1 p.m. the wind was still E.S.E. but had increased from force 5 to force 6. This continued until 4 p.m. when the wind veered to S.S.E. At 5 p.m. it had gone to South and at 6 p.m. to S.S.W. at which point it remained until the vessel grounded. According to the log, the force remained constant at 6 from 1 p.m. onwards. These entries do not accord with the records at Portland and the Start Signal stations. According to the records at the Start, at noon the wind was E. force 3; at 3 p.m. E. force 5; at 6 p.m. E. force 5; at 9 p.m. E.S.E. force 4. According to the records at Portland, at 4 p.m. the wind was E. force 4; at 6 p.m. E.S.E. force 4; and at 9 p.m. E.S.E. force 4. (c) Visibility lessened according to the evidence considerably soon after 6.30 p.m. and was reduced to 4 or 5 miles during squalls and in the opinion of the master visibility was not more than 2 or 3 miles when the vessel was off Portland.
29. Q. Were any shore lights seen from the vessel after she fixed her position off Ushant? If such lights were seen, what were they, and when were they seen?
A. Shore lights were seen from the vessel at 8.42k p.m. They were described by the lookout in the crow's nest as a cluster of white lights with a red light showing above them. The white lights were lights in the vicinity of Chesilton and were probably street lamps. The red light was probably one of the lights on the breakwaters of Portland Harbour.
30. Q. If shore lights were seen, what action was taken on board the vessel and when? Was such action proper and sufficient?
A. At 8.42½ p.m., lights having been sighted, the helm was put hard a starboard and engines were stopped on the order of the master. By this means the vessel was hauled off and her head brought round to S.S.W. At 8.45 p.m. engines were put astern as mentioned in Answer to Question 22. At S.46½ p.m. engines were stopped. In the opinion of the Court, the master should have put his engines full astern and the helm hard a starboard as soon as the lights were sighted. The action taken proved sufficient in fact.
31. Q. If shore lights were seen, were any, and if so what, orders thereafter given with regard to the taking of wireless direction-finder bearings? Were such orders sufficient and were they carried out?
A. After sighting the lights orders were given by the master to the chief wireless operator to obtain a bearing of Niton. In view of the master's ignorance of his position and the necessity of obtaining an accurate fix, a single wireless bearing of Niton was not sufficient. The orders were duly carried out.
32. Q. Was any wireless bearing obtained as a result of the orders given? If so, what bearing was obtained and from what station?
A. Yes. The bearing obtained was 082°. It was obtained from Niton at or about 8.53 p.m.
33. Q. On what course was the vessel when the wireless bearing was received? Was any, and if so what, alteration made in her course when it was received?
A. The vessel was stationary and heading in a S.S.W. direction when the wireless bearing was received. At 8.56½ the engines were put half speed ahead and the master ordered course to be altered to S.88° E. to make N.82° E. true.
34. Q. If an alteration in the course of the vessel was then made, was the alteration safe and proper?
35. Q. After the vessel fixed her position off Ushant, was she navigated with proper and seamanlike care?
36. Q. During that period was a good lookout kept on board the vessel?
37. Q. When and where did the vessel strand?
A. At 9.6 p.m. on the 16th February, 1936, on the west coast of Portland about 3 cables south of Blacknor Point.
38. Q. What was the cause of the stranding of the M.V. "Winchester Castle"?
A. The efficient cause of the stranding of the M.V. "Winchester Castle" was the bad seamanship of the master as evidenced by his failure to use the means at his command for ascertaining with accuracy the position of his vessel, in conditions which made it essential that he should do so before proceeding on his voyage, and by his proceeding on his voyage at 8.56½ p.m. without having ascertained his position with certainty and in reliance upon a single bearing which was insufficient and in fact inaccurate.
39. Q. After the M.V. "Winchester Castle" stranded, were all proper steps taken by those on board her to refloat her?
40. Q. Did the stranding of the "Winchester Castle" result in serious damage to the vessel?
41. Q. Were the stranding of the M.V. "Winchester Castle" and the damage which she suffered caused or contributed to by the wrongful act or default of her master, Captain John Holman Kerbey?
A. The stranding of the M.V. "Winchester Castle" and the resultant damage thereto were caused by the wrongful default of her master, Captain John Holman Kerbey.
A. E. DODD
J. R. WILLIAMS
(Issued by the Board of Trade in London on Friday, the 10th day of July, 1936)