Thursday, February 9, 2012

Schooner Proteus ~ 19 August 1918

Schooner Proteus
First placed in service in 1900, the luxury liner Proteus was built by the Newport News Shipbuilding Company to a high standard. Schooner rigged, she was considered the most modern in the industry for both passengers and freight at the time. Only steerage passengers bunked inside the hull, 100 of whom lived above the after cargo deck. Above the cramped steerage area was a deck house with 10 bunk rooms for 30 2nd class passengers and 10 double-occupancy 1st class staterooms. Forward of that was a two-level superstructure for the main dining room, the rest of the 73 first class passengers and the pilot house.

The Proteus was capable of making good speed on her trips between New York and New Orleans and served on this run for many years carrying passengers in comfort and freight in her holds for the Southern Pacific Company. Contemporary reports on the vessel's accommodations lauded the fact the staterooms were elegantly appointed; toilets and bath rooms were available for all those aboard and she had spacious round and rectangular portholes to provide excellent ventilation as well as electric lighting throughout. This along with the fact that independent mess facilities existed for the crew members, steerage passengers and the first class made for "passenger arrangements that could not be improved upon".

Proteus Capstan
On August 14, 1918, she left New Orleans for the last time. The liner made an uneventful journey until she encountered fog in the area offshore North Carolina on Sunday, August 19th, causing Captain Boyd to order a reduced speed. The Proteus was also running without her navigation lights illuminated as was recommended during this period of World War I, since German submarines were sinking vessels along the US coast. As the Proteus continued on her course towards the Diamond Shoals Lightship, 34 miles distant, the tanker Cushing appeared. The helm was turned hard to port and the whistle sounded, but the tanker collided with the Proteus, striking her starboard, amidships and creating a gaping wound below the water line.

Immediately after the collision a crew member, who was a fireman, panicked and leaped overboard. He would be the only casualty, besides the liner herself. Captain Harry T. Boyd ordered and coordinated a successful abandoning of the sinking vessel and was the last person to leave the ship. All 12 passengers and 82 crew were aboard the damaged but still afloat Cushing within the hour. The collision occurred around 0200 a.m. and a short while later the Proteus went to the bottom of the ocean in 125 feet of water almost 25 miles south of Hatteras Inlet. 

(District Court, 8. D. New York. June 26, 1920)

Collision—Mutual faults of unlighted vessels meeting at night.

A collision at night, between Capes Lookout and Hatteras, between two steamships sailing without lights pursuant to war regulations and on courses nearly opposite, but on which they would have passed starboard to starboard, held due to faults of both; the north-bound vessel for changing her course to starboard under misapprehension of the other’s course, without flashing her lights or signaling until a minute later, and the south-bound, which could see the other at a greater distance and knew her course, for not showing her lights and signaling and going further to port to allow more room.

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