DISASTER TO SHAMROCK III. The Challenger’s Mast goes by the Board. The Steward Drowned. The sailing trials between the Cup Challenger and SHAMROCK I, were brought to an abrupt termination off Weymouth on Friday by the dismasting of the new vessel just at the commencement of a trial race. Unhappily the accident was attended with loss of life, a steward named William Collier, of Colchester, being knocked off the deck and drowned in sight of his comrades. The accident occurred through one of the eyes of the weather rigging screws breaking when the vessel was hauled over by a heavy squall. The mast at once went by the board, but the hull of the vessel was uninjured. At the time of the disaster, which took place about a mile off the pier, the vessels were being watched by hundreds of people, and the sight of the challenger’s pyramid of canvas toppling bodily over the side of the vessel caused great consternation amongst the spectators on shore.
The sun shone brightly on Friday when Sir Thomas Lipton’s party, consisting of Colonel Sharman Crawford, Colonel Neill, and Mr Ratsey, put off from the Pier at 10.20 to join the yachts. The skippers of the respective boats, having got everything in readiness for what promised to be an interesting and searching test, awaited, with jackyarders aloft, the arrival of the party. Sir Thomas Lipton, Colonel Sharman Crawford,. and Mr Patsey boarded the challenger, and Colonel Neill SHAMROCK I. A course of 40 miles had been arranged, and as it was to be sailed under strict racing conditions, with a time allowance for the old boat and prize money for the winning crew, the match was being eagerly looked forward to. The old boat’s spinnaker boom had been repaired by Messrs Cosens and Co., and sent on board, and everything pointed to a most valuable trial. The yachts came out of the Portland harbour of refuge shortly after 10 o’clock, the challenger leading. Both carried jack-yarders, the fact causing comment among those who watched them from Weymouth. The ERIN, steam yacht, steamed into the bay from Southampton and came to anchor off Weymouth pier, as the yachts worked slowly up in company to receive instructions. After rounding the ERIN, leaving her to port, the vessels were to run to the Shambles light vessel, leaving it to port, beat to Lulworth Cove, and reach home. As soon as the directions had been given the yachts began to work up to windward of the ERIN, in preparation for the start. SHAMROCK III was the further to windward, and after receiving the owner on board, Captain Wringe kept her on the port tack for the far side of the bay. The wind was then coming off the hills in crisp and vigorous squalls, about N.N.E. in direction. In one of those squalls the challenger was put down until her lee rail was awash, but she drew through the hard spot in the wind without mishap, and at 10.45 went over to the starboard tack, sailing parallel with the shore opposite Weymouth Beach and heading about north by west, She was then about 300 to 400 yards to windward of the ERIN, and Captain Wringe began to keep her off to make for the line. At 10.46 with the wind about abeam and the mainsheets slightly started, the yacht was struck by a gust heavier than any yet experienced. Her lee rail became buried to a considerable depth, and the boat was gathering way to work through the squall, when her tall spar, with all its weight of wind-borne canvas, went over the side within the space of two seconds and lay spread on the surface of the sea alongside for some seconds before beginning gradually to sink.
Owing to the angle of heel at which the boat was sailing at the time of the accident nearly all hands including the owner, were clinging to the guard-rail of the weather deck. Sir Thomas Lipton, who had just received a pair of binoculars from Collier, was thrown down the main companion ways, one of the deck hands falling on top of him. The binoculars were smashed, but Sir Thomas luckily escaped with a badly bruised shoulder and a lacerated hand. Collier was thrown overboard to weather, the unfortunate man apparently losing his balance when the yacht canted back to an even keel after the spars and canvas had gone over her side. On deck everything was naturally in confusion, but as soon as the first shock of the disaster was over endeavours were made to render aid to Collier, who could be seen swimming some little distance to windward. Two of the hands on board the challenger, seeing that Collier was in difficulties, jumped into the water to go to his assistance, and the dinghy carried on deck was promptly launched. Before he could be reached, however, the poor fellow sank, and one of his would-be rescuers was nearly drowned. Aboard the yacht it was found that three men were injured and they were taken below. Dr. Nede, the ERIN’s surgeon, was following the yachts in the harbour launch, which had brought off Sir Thomas Lipton, and five minutes after the accident he was put aboard the challenger to attend the injured. One of the men was suffering from a rather severe scalp wound, the second had an injured knee, and the third a badly bruised hip. A few minutes after the accident men were out on the boom and began releasing the foot of the sail from the metallic grip holding it to the boom. As soon as the sail was cut away it sank. The boom was then brought aboard apparently uninjured. With the assistance of a number of mechanics from the shore the work of cutting away the wreckage was taken in hand, but the difficulty of severing the wire rigging and cutting through the bent metal mast made it a long task. Everything was at last freed, and the dismasted challenger, with the injured men on board, was towed back to her moorings in Portland Roads.
As soon as the sad news was received on shore the flags on the pier and esplanade were hoisted half-mast high. The ensign flying from the stern of the ERIN was also half-masted.
The Mayor of Weymouth sent the following letter to Sir Thomas Lipton:-
“Dear Sir Thomas, – The calamity which occurred this morning has cast quite a gloom over our town, and I feel I am unable to adequately express the sympathy of myself and the inhabitants of the town with you. I trust it will be possible to make good the damage to the yacht, but the loss of one of the crew is greatly to be deplored, and must, I am sure, be a source of great sorrow to you. This sorrow, I need hardly assure you, is shared by myself and the towns people generally. – Yours faithfully, Jno Bagg.”
Sir Thomas Lipton, in an interview, said he was more grieved at the loss of life than the loss of gear. The accident came upon them all without a note of warning, Asked as to how it would affect the prospects of the challenger, Sir Thomas said it would mean at least six weeks’ delay, but he should refit her as soon as possible, and had hopes of being able to fulfil his engagement off Sandy Hook by August 20th.
The King sent a message from Malta expressing his Majesty’s deep regret at the accident, similar to that of 2 years ago, his sorrow to hear of the loss of life in connection with the unfortunate affair, and sympathy with the family of the drowned man. The Prince of Wales, telegraphing from Sandringham, says that he is very distressed to hear of the accident, accompanied as it was by loss of life. He hopes that the injured are doing well. Lady Shaftesbury, who performed the naming ceremony at the challenger’s launch, also telegraphed. her sympathy.
Numerous telegrams of sympathy were received from the United States, including members of the syndicate owning the RELIANCE.
SHAMROCK III and SHAMROCK I were dry-docked at Southampton on Tuesday evening. A Glasgow correspondent says the new mast of the challenger is to be fitted inside with angle-iron, which will preclude the possibility of buckling, even under the greatest pressure. This, however, will add to the weight aloft, and will correspondingly increase her displacement As the new mast will be 5 feet longer than the original one, her sail area will be increased to nearly 16,000 square feet, and it is feared the increased sail plan brushes aside the hope of SHAMROCK III receiving time allowance from the RELIANCE.
Times: Saturday, April 18, 1903, Issue 37058 – The America Cup: Sir Thomas Lipton’s yacht Shamrock III was dismasted killing steward William Collier during trials off Weymouth & Portland. MMI. Also: Issue 37059: Ship Incident
Day of Loss: 17
Month of Loss: 4
Year of Loss: 1903