12["With The Koombana", The Western Mail (Perth, WA), Saturday 10 April 1909, pages 14,27]



(By a Passenger.)

(See Illustrations, Page 27.)

A heavy haze hung over the bay, rendering Dirk Hartog, along which we steamed a parallel course, vague and indistinct. But we pursued our way confidently, resting on the captain's long experience of the coast. Round a buoy we swept and made south-east. The buoys along this channel had a fortnight before been altered by the "Penguin" party, and the second buoy was mistaken for the first buoy by the captain. Shortly after seven (Monday, March 15) the engine-room bell rings, the engines are reversed, but, with a gr-r-r-oot the fine vessel is well up on a sandbank in an average of fourteen feet of water. "Hard astern"--but she will not budge an inch. The passengers gradually come upon deck and learn of the mishap, but are slow to believe she is not at the anchorage, and that the rumour of the stranding is not a huge joke for the diversion of the officers. Before ten a white sail is seen glinting through the haze. It slowly enlarges, becomes more and more distinct, till at last the lighter "Success" (40 tons) is moored alongside. They had left Fresh Water Camp about the time we went aground, and made the anchorage in good time. All eyes strain along the horizon to catch first eight of the new vessel.

"There she is!" cries the water-police officer, as he sees a perpendicular streak of yellow, fitful in the shifting haze. But no one else can make it out. The lighter cruises some miles round the buoy. Again the officer picks out the long funnel. This time, others back him up.

"But she hasn't shifted her position--must be aground."

"If she's piled up on the bloomin' sand, I'm darned sorry fer ol' Cap'n Rees, so I am!" says a broad, stumpy, weather-beaten pearler, with a round, hearty face above a sparse circular-cut grey beard. "Darned sorry!"

Other longer-bearded, kindly faces echo real regrets. "We'd better go 'n' see if we can give the ol' cap'n any help," suggests one.

So away they bear in the direction of the yellow funnel.

As they draw alongside near noon, good-humoured banter passes from lighter to steamer, and from steamer to lighter. A Broome pearler calls down to the hearty-faced Denham pearler, pointing to the spray-damped deck: "Rather dry down there?"

"No bloomin' fear," says the pearler below, stooping and picking up a half-empty whisky bottle; "what d'ye think o' that?"

"Cold tea," says the pearler above.

There ascends an indignant answer, at which there is a feu de joie of noisy laughter along the deck.

Twenty tons of cargo and four or five passengers are taken aboard the lighter, and late in the afternoon, in company with two pearling cutters, a start is made for the shore.

In the evening, in the exquisitely-fitted, tastefully-furnished music room a concert is held, and as is usual in the case of musical evenings organised in the dark, much pleasing talent is brought to light, some not quite so pleasing, but all doing their best to make the time pass merrily and pleasantly. The first officer's sympathetic baritone voice, the second officer's artistic handling of the mandolin, and the chief engineer's "auld Scotch sangs in the braid tongue" were received with special appreciation. The best part of tbe evening was when we gathered round the piano and heartily sang the old-fashioned choruses. We expected to get off that night, but awoke on Tuesday morning to see the Island and Peron Peninsula, the one eight, the other thirteen miles from us, both clearly in view on either side, and below us, through the still water, the bank which held us fast. The passengers, and even the officers, seemed in good spirits and confident of an early move, and so we set ourselves to make enjoyment. Some availed themselves of the fine library of fiction in the music-room, some of the ladies gave themselves to fancy needlework, the men were chiefly found in the smoking-room at cards or draughts. Many of the rest beguiled the hours at the exciting and noisy games of rope quoits and deck billiards, while a favoured few consoled themselves by the time-honoured and strangely fascinating pastime of flirtation. As a relief in the programme of amusements, the sound of the bugle calling us to maxillary warfare was a thrice-welcome sound, for we developed appetites of which our mothers might be proud--but anxious.

Fishing, too, was indulged in, and one fish-fancier hauled in a six-foot shark. He was a tiger, and vigorously objected to leaving his native element. But when a Winchester sent five leaden ideas into his dull head, one per medium of his left eye, one through his nose, and the rest between his grinning jaws, he seemed more prepared to submit to fate. Then a noose was passed over his body, and he was hauled level with the lower deck, where a bright youth extracted half a dozen molars and another hewed off the tail for bait, after which the hook was cut free, the noose loosened, and the remains committed to the deep.

The chief diversion on Wednesday was watching the ineffectual attempts of our oil launch to get to the shore. The wind had freshened, and everywhere sea-horses shook their manes angrily, but through them the launch forced its troubled way, from time to time burying itself in clouds of spray, till the milky way that followed resolved itself into sea green, and we knew that the engine had been swamped. The sail was hoisted, and back they came.

Next day, the Captain and a few of the passengers essayed the journey again, reaching the settlement after a rocky time. On shore they were deluged with queries. The wag of the party was in form. He was asked how we were getting on for provisions.

"Nearly run ont," he said. "Fact is, ma'am, we're eating the poultry consigned to Cossack and other places."

"But," protested the lady, "surely the captain has not the right to kill other people's fowls?"

"What are we to do?" he rejoined; "he can't see us starve. "Anyway, we've nearly run out of the fowls, but there's a donkey aboard, and there is talk of starting on him next."

All Friday morning we watched for signs of the "Winfield," which we heard was on its way from Geraldton to help us off. And when about noon we saw her smoke low down on the horizon near the north end of the island we felt that the end of our sojourn had come. After lunch, she was opposite us, near the channel, lightly touching a sandbank. Back she went again some miles, and then straight in along the track we had come, till, at half-past two she drew alongside amid the excited gratitude of the passengers. The second-class had no reserve, but warmly cheered Capt. Hayman as the bridge passed them. As she was mooring, some of us saw a snake in the water. We judged it six feet long. A lady or two feared it might get up the side.

"Is it dangerous?" inquired one.

"Dangerous?" answered a gentleman at her side; "they say that if you fell overboard it would swallow you whole."

"No," sail the young lady incredulously, "it isn't wide enough."

"But," said he, "you forget that snakes stretch tremendously. "I knew a lady who killed a two-foot snake, and before she got home it was six feet."

Each night when we hung out a great arc light on the lee side, Water snakes and pike and all manner of fish swam about in full view, but declined to be drawn. One morning, a party of passengers took a dinghy and sailed ten miles to a little island, near which they drew in about sixty schnapper, besides killing three sharks.

The "Winfield" set to work to lighten us, and removed a deal of our cargo, from the mid hatch. Twice next morning attempts were made to get us off, both screws going astern at full speed, but though our boat became much agitated (the excitement, probably) not an inch would she move. On Sunday our rescuer stood off from our stern, almost at right angles, and, getting her anchors out, pulled on them, while the screws of both steamers spun round but, again, not an inch. That day we had church services conducted by a Congregational minister. We passed the day more quietly than other days, and some showed signs of being depressed. We commenced to lose faith in the ability of the "Winfield" to get us off unaided. And when the rumour went round that our rescuer was herself on a bank, our spirits went down below zero. But it was not for long. On Monday and Tuesday, we were still quiet, hoping for something to turn up, efforts being again made without success. The crew worked long hours transferring the cargo from the fore hatch into tho "Winfield," the lighter "Success" helping, as it was feared the large steamer was pushing the "Koombana" more firmly into the sand.

On Wednesday morning, the Captain went ashore again in the oil launch, leaving his instructions with the mate. While he was away the tide rose to the full and a strong effort was made to pull the "Koombana's" nose round. We all watched anxiously, taking points on the mainland ahead. Excitement spread through all the ship when our landmarks slowly moved past, and the steamer slued round, but not without such a list to the deck that many an anxious question was asked as to whether there was danger of capsizing. We had come round four points of the compass. But the stern had turned a little on a pivot of sand, and next tide must be waited for to complete the work. Meanwhile, the lighter took our anchor from the nose, and dropped it to starboard a few hundred yards from us to prevent any slipping back here. Then we waited the return of the captain. We were all sorry the attempt had not been fully successful, chiefly because we had been planning to greet the captain with three-times-three. For to a man the passengers are with Captain Rees, and freely express sympathy with him in this mishap.

During Thursday morning, the "Winfield" moved into position out from our stern, got the steel-wire hawser fixed, and by lunch time everything was in readiness. At a little after two o'clock, the winches drew on the anchor chains, the screws began to revolve, the hawser became taut, the wire rope on our fore anchor strained, and around we swung into deep water, and forged astern till the two steamers were opposite. We were at last out of danger, after ten days seven hours on the sandbank, and after ten attempts of the "Winfield" to get us off. Every face brightened, men slapped each other on the back, some bold spirits broke the ship's rules and stormed the bridge, where the captain was pacing with brisker step. And as his hand was warmly wrung, much of the worn anxious expression left his face.

"This has taken twenty years off my life," he said, sadly. "If those buoys had not been altered, this would never have happened."

Up with the anchor and right about turn! And with a graceful curve round the stern of the "Winfield" we steam some three or four miles and drop anchor in seven fathoms of water. The "Winfield" comes alongside as night falls, and begins the long task of reloading. Everyone has warm congratulations and thanks for Capt. Hayman when he comes aboard, and he takes it all with a smile and a joke. We feel in the humour to shake the hand of everybody we meet who has had any part in getting us off. On everybody's lips there is the same glad words! "We'll be in Carnarvon by Sun- day night."

Behind that, there looms up the vision of homes, and the deferred re-unions become more tender and more earnest by the delay.

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