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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Submitted by T. D. DAVIES, Caernarvonshire - Reprinted from Sea Breezes June, 1936. Thomas David Davies, author of the 1936 Sea Breezes story, was born in the Welsh town of Nefyn, in Caernarvonshire, home to many sea captains including his father and grandfather, as well as Richard Owens, the longest serving Master of Islamount from October 1905 to April 1916.

The Islamount was a steel 3-masted, stump topgallant yarder. Built by A.Rodgerson & Co, Port Glasgow, in 1896, named Glenlee, for Messrs Ferguson & Co; registered at Dundee, later Liverpool. Length 245.5, breadth 37.5, depth 22.5, gross tons 1,620, under deck net 1,515- 1,488.
I joined the Islamount at New York, going over as a passenger on the White Star liner Baltic. My indentures were signed for Messrs R Thomas & Co, 26: Chapel Street, Liverpool, on the 10th December, 1917. Shortly after leaving New York, she was taken over by the Ministry of Shipping, managed by Messrs J Stewart & Co, London. Her crew were as follows:
Master, David George, Dinas Cross, Pembrokeshire.
First Mate, Mr Sleggs, Liverpool.
Second Mate, Mr Lanstrom, Sweden.
Steward, E Jones, Borthy-Gest, Caernarvonshire.
Sail maker, Alex Clarke, Australian.
Apprentices, T Hodgson, Maryport. A A Lewis, New Milton. E M Anderson, London. R C Mitchell, Liverpool.
The remainder of the men hailed from Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with one Russian, one Australian, the carpenter from Chile, and a Scotch cook. It would be difficult to find a nicer crowd of young men to sail with.
We loaded case oil at New York bound for Sydney, NSW. We had the usual passage, all going well until the 23rd May, when we experienced exceptionally heavy weather in the vicinity of Cape Leeuwin, Australia. We were under lower topsails, as the weather had been pretty bad. About 5.30pm the wind suddenly increased to a hurricane force, our topsails were blown from their bolt ropes, the vessel heeled over, the port lifeboat floating over her davits, the cargo shifted, and thus she remained on her beams ends. All hands were hanging on to the poop, where we remained for the rest of the night, in a very miserable plight, with the roaring wind, and wet through with the lashing rain, awaiting every moment for the old Islamount to go down, as she was completely out of control, at the mercy of the high and terrific seas.
At one time during the night it was feared that the fore hatch had been stove in; luckily for us this was not the case, though much water had got in. The pressure of water sustained on her deck throughout the night was enormous. In the morning the storm abated, and while some were detailed to go down the hold through the lazaret to trim the cargo, the rest of us cleared up the mess around the deck, and manned the pump. We eventually reached Sydney with a big list to port.
From Sydney we proceeded to Capetown with a cargo of grain, via Cape Horn. We had the usual weather on this passage, and sighted the Horn while the weather at the time was very moderate. We arrived at Table Bay in the early morning of November 11th, 1918, when we heard the good news that Armistice was expected to be declared; the official news coming through about 2pm. Unfortunately we were unable to go ashore to rejoice.

You never quite know where a love affair with a ship and the sea may take you. When, during 2010 in Truro, I opened the Cornwall County Archives’ deck logs of Chief Officer Charles Sleggs, written on the final voyage of the barque Islamount (1916- 1919) I re-lived every page of the eventful, very nearly disastrous journey. When the ‘Beast from the East’ came earlier this year, confined indoors by ice and snow, I looked into the lives of the apprentices who served on the same voyage and a 100-yearold story re-emerged, and which had been graphically illustrated thanks to Sea Breezes.

Islamount, a three-masted barque, was launched on 3rd December 1896 in Port Glasgow as Glenlee, 1,613 grt. Built by Anderson Rodger & Co Ltd for Archibald Sterling & Co Ltd, she spent her next 23 years carrying merchandise as varied as grain, guano, and sugar. In all, Islamount made 15 trading voyages round the world, including 4 circumnavigations and 15 passages round Cape Horn. She was – and remains – a classic vessel of her time.

In 1916, Islamount left Liverpool for the longest voyage of her life: 1,269 days from 18th March 1916 until 20th October 1919, a voyage that was chronicled years later by one of its young apprentices, Thomas David Davies, and published in Sea Breezes in June 1936. From 1905, Islamount was owned by Robert Thomas & Co Ltd of Liverpool, but the company had already suffered numerous losses of vessels and, in 1918, she was managed by John Stewart & Co Ltd in London for the Shipping Controller under the provisions of a war situation.

During the first part of this historic, extended voyage Islamount went to New York, Melbourne, Bordeaux, and then back to New York where she arrived on 13th December 1917.

The voyage was not without incident. The ship left Melbourne under tow, fully loaded with grain. A near “mishap” occurred in the haste to pass through the notorious “Rip” that characterises the ebb in the narrows at Port Phillip Heads. An earlier Sea Breezes article in February 1936, by Capt Hartley Robert Watson, pilot of the tug James Paterson (a Glasgow-built vessel), recounts that Islamount was very nearly lost when the tug’s hawser parted company during the tow he carried out in March 1917.

The ship was left drifting helplessly towards the rocks on Point Nepean. Three attempts were needed to get a new line across to the ship. While Islamount shipped huge amounts of water, the tug suffered bent stanchions and a torn dodge. It could have been fatal for both tug and Islamount but, undeterred, Master David George and crew sailed on.

Islamount arrived finally in Bordeaux with her wheat cargo in July 1917 and remained there awaiting a suitable convoy for a North Atlantic crossing until the end of October 1917, thereby avoiding the danger of U-boat attacks. She continued to sail under the Red Ensign until November 1919; a British cargo ship carrying vital goods through dangerous times before being sold firstly to an Italian firm, and then to the Royal Spanish Navy as a sail training vessel in 1922. She was returned from Spain to Glasgow in 1993.

My research had uncovered a small number of historic photos of the ship, but only two of anyone who sailed on her when under the British Ensign – until now.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - October 2018 Issue
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