26["A Skipper's Observations", The West Australian, Thursday 28 March 1912, page 7]



Than Captain Richardson, master of the W.A.S.N. liner Paroo, which has been for many years a regular trader between Fremantle and Singapore, and is now in port, few master mariners have had a longer experience on the north-west coast of this State, and it is generally conceded that he has little to learn of the vagaries of the weather and tidal conditions up north. Yesterday afternoon Captain Richardson was interviewed by a representative of this journal, and in answer to queries he stated that he had been for over a quarter of a century on the coast in sail and steam. In 1885 he was chief officer, and was made full captain in 1890. During his trip down the coast this time he narrowly missed the cyclone which proved so disastrous to the Bullarra and other craft. "I left Port Hedland last Monday week" he said, "and called in at Balla Balla, where I took I took a lot of witnesses aboard for Cossack. We left Cossack on Tuesday afternoon, and had to anchor in the passage outside Onslow overnight, and did not make that port until the next day. When we were anchored in the passage there was a heavy swell coming in from the N.E., and I could tell there was some dirty weather about--in fact, it was apparently so near that I was seriously thinking of clearing round the Monte Bello Islands and leaving Onslow out of the itinerary altogether. However, I called in during the following morning, and got through without mishap. I have been lucky with several of these blows, in being either a day or so ahead or astern of some of them."

In connection with the cyclonic disturbances in the North-West Captain Richardson said that, with the "willy-willies" there was no hard-and-fast rule to govern their movements. They generally commenced, however, anywhere between S.E. and E., freshening from the E. to N.E., blowing hard from the latter point, which was practically the centre of the storm. "Occasionally," he continued, "they will work in the same direction as the hands of a watch-that is to say, they will come in from the N.W. hard, and swing round to die away in the S.W. At other times they will work from the N.E. back to the S., and into .the S.W. that is what the recent one did, so far as I can gather. But, as I say, there is no hard-and-fast rule It is a pretty sure indication that something untoward is on the [?cards] when the glass is low, and the wind is dilly-dallying between the S. and E. If it goes to N.E., that is the most treacherous wind you can get at this time of the year. I don't think the cyclones are getting any worse than they have been in the past they are all bad."

Asked for his opinion as to what has happened to the missing liner Koombana, he said: "There are two things that Captain Allen would do--in fact, what any master would do under the circumstances. I take it that he was between Port Hedland and Bedout Island when he began to feel the cyclone, which, it would seem, was not at its worst at Hedland, and the wind would then be about E.N.E. That is. to all intents and purposes practically in his course for Broome. Is he going to go with the wind on his starboard bow and plug through it, or run to the N.W. with it on his quarter? The latter plan is scouted, by reason of the fact that we have not heard of him. If he tried to plug through it with the wind on his starboard bow, he would be steering to the N.E., and would have to look out for the Rowley Shoals, which are about 120 miles outside Port Hedland. With the wind anywhere between N. and E. he would make a frightful amount of leeway in addition to which the fearfully strong tides about Bedout Island would help him to sag away. It has to be taken into consideration that, leaving Port Hedland on a spring tide, by the time he got to Bedout he would be under the influence of the full ebb tide, which would carry him N. to N.W., all tending to make the leeway greater. No, I reckon that any search for the Koombana should be made, first, at the Shoals, as I understand full provision has been made for, and then along the Ninety-mile Beach. The only way he could get on to the beach would be for the machinery to break down when the wind was N.E. I think myself that, provided the vessel is not absolutely lost, she may be on the Shoals. If he got on there, it is impossible to say what might happen, but, unless something exceptional occurred, there would seem to be no hope for either ship or passengers. The Shoals are surrounded by coral reefs, with deep water outside. If the vessel was not battered to pieces, Captain Allen should have had time now to send a party ashore. It is hardly possible that everything was smashed up and all the boats rendered useless during the cyclone. Five days ought to be enough for them to make the coast somehow. In any case, it is sincerely to be hoped that some hopeful news will be received shortly."

Captain Richardson stated that the worst part masters of coastal boats had to traverse was between Onslow and Port Hedland where the treacherous nature of the tides and the absence of proper lighting made matters worse. He instanced the tide at Depuch Anchorage, which ran ordinarily at three or four knots an hour, and left to the imagination what it would be like in the recent blow.

AB notes:

Captain Richardson reveals near-total ignorance of the behaviour of circular storms. In particular, he declares the shift in the direction of the wind to be a characteristic of the storm. It is not; it relates only to the observer's position in relation to the passing storm.