Saturday, April 7, 2012

Schooner Sunbeam ~ 17 December 1919

Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-Saving Service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1920.

Two exhibitions of individual bravery, prompted by circumstances of the moment and involving quick action are mentioned in the report made by the commanding officer of the Manning in the case of the Sunbeam. Boatswain Albert Hays and Seaman Jens Krestensen were the men whose conduct was the subject of such notice. Both received, also, the commendation of headquarters.
     While the work of picking up members of the Sunbeam’s hapless company was under way a line with some wreckage attached to it was pulled alongside the cutter. A man lay entangled in the debris, whether alive or dead nobody could say. Hays, at the end of a bowline, was lowered over the ship’s side into the icy cold of the December seas beating incessantly against the cutter and fastened the line about the man’s body. When the two were hauled on board the man was found to be beyond human help, but this circumstances did not detract one whit from the merit of Hays’s performance.
     Seaman Krestensen, going overboard from the cutter’s forecastle, performed an identical service in the case of another man from the Sunbeam, identical except as to results—the man fished out of the sea through his efforts was alive.

THE SINKING OF THE SUNBEAM

On November 27, 1919, the 137-ton Cuban schooner Sunbeam left Habana, Cuba, for New York with a cargo of molasses. She carried a crew of 7 men and had 18 passengers. That a vessel of such small tonnage should have on board so many passengers on a 1,500-mile voyage at sea during the season of storms was unusual in itself, and the circumstance that her passengers were Chinese was calculated to excite question as to the real mission of the vessel, bound as she was to a port in the United States.
     Whatever the actual business of the schooner, she was not destined to complete her northward trip. Having fought her way up the American coast from Jupiter Light, FL, in a succession of heavy gales, she went down off the North Carolina coast in the early morning of December 16, and 2 of her crew and 16 of her passengers perished. That there were any survivors at all was due solely to the fact that in her last hours afloat she was attended by the Coast Guard cutter Manning.
     On the morning of the 14th, when the little vessel was somewhere off North Carolina, she was reported by a passing steamer to be in need of a towing steamer. The vessel reporting her did not offer her any assistance, but sent out a wireless call stating her condition and giving her position. The message was picked up by the Manning at Norfolk, VA.
     The cutter promptly put to sea. A search lasting two days was made for the schooner, but her position was not ascertained by the Manning until mid-afternoon of the 16th, when a message from the steamer Chicomico was picked up stating that that vessel had found her and taken her in tow. The Chicomico gave the Sunbeam’s position and asked the cutter to come and take charge of the craft.
     Three or four hours later the Manning appeared on the scene, shot a line to the schooner, and passed a hawser on board. The Chicomico thereupon went on her way.
     The message sent out by the Chicomico had stated that nothing was wrong with the schooner “except a few sails torn up.” When the cutter appeared the prospect of saving her was still good; more favorable, in fact, than is found in many instances of successful assistance extended by service cutters to vessels disabled at sea. The Sunbeam and her consort had not covered many miles, however, when wind and sea began to rise, compelling the cutter to slow down until her speed was little more than enough to maintain steerage way. The darkness, moreover, added to the difficulties of the cutter’s task. It was so intense that the vessel on the towing hawser could not be seen from the cutter.
     Along toward midnight, as cutter and tow were laboring heavily in a steadily rising sea, a flash of light was seen on the schooner__evidently a signal to slow down. Speed was accordingly still further reduced. Only the one flash was observed.
     Scarcely perceptible headway was maintained for a matter of two or three hours, when, toward morning, a sudden easing up of the strain on the towline told those on board the cutter that the schooner had broken away.
     It was entirely out of the question to pick the vessel up in the darkness and the sea that prevailed. The cutter could do nothing, therefore, but stand by and await the dawn. From time to time during the hours that ensued until daylight, the cutter’s searchlight played upon the schooner as she wallowed helplessly in the trough of the sea. There was nothing in her appearance, however, to suggest that she would not be able to live until the cutter could get another line on her.
     As soon as it was light enough to see the Manning took a position parallel with the vessel and on her starboard side, prepared to put a hawser on board by means of the shoulder gun. Before the cutter had an opportunity to carry out this intention, however, the Sunbeam settled by the head and rolled over to port. A few minutes later she went down.
     A boat with two men in it was seen to leave the schooner shortly before she sank. The boatmen succeeded after a hard fight in pulling in under the cutter’s port quarter and were taken on board.
     The sea was so high that had a boat been sent away from the cutter into the debris from the schooner it would have stood little chance of accomplishing its errand, much less of escaping disaster. There was only one other way in which a rescue could be accomplished, if at all, namely, to back the cutter to windward and allow her to drift down to the men in the water. This course was resorted to, and as the cutter maneuvered in the execution of the plan two life rafts and some life buoys were payed off over her rail.
     By alternately going ahead and backing the Manning succeeded in getting rafts and buoys within reach of some of those who had kept afloat by holding on to wreckage. Five men were taken from the water in this way. A close search of the locality following the rescue of these men failed to disclose any other victims of the night’s tragic occurrence.
     Individual initiative and courage are two important requisites in the profession of life-saving, and the display of these qualities by members of the Coast Guard is taken as a matter of course. Indeed, no man lacking resourcefulness and nerve can long remain in a service whose business carries with it so much of the element of personal hazard. Since a member of the corps is likely to be called upon at any time to risk his life, it follows that he must needs do something quite out of the ordinary to elicit the praise of his commanding officer or to attract departmental attention. Such recognition is sometimes earned by an act of individual bravery inspired by the exigencies of the moment; or it may be won by a cutter or a station crew in the performance of a difficult or dangerous task, deliberately planned.
     Two exhibitions of individual bravery, prompted by circumstances of the moment and involving quick action are mentioned in the report made by the commanding officer of the Manning in the case of the Sunbeam. Boatswain Albert Hays and Seaman Jens Krestensen were the men whose conduct was the subject of such notice. Both received, also, the commendation of headquarters.
     While the work of picking up members of the Sunbeam’s hapless company was under way a line with some wreckage attached to it was pulled alongside the cutter. A man lay entangled in the debris, whether alive or dead nobody could say. Hays, at the end of a bowline, was lowered over the ship’s side into the icy cold of the December seas beating incessantly against the cutter and fastened the line around the man’s body. When the two were hauled on board the man was found to be beyond human help, but this circumstance did not detract one whit from the merit of Hays’s performance.
     Seaman Krestensen, going overboard from the cutter’s forecastle, performed an identical service in the case of another man from the Sunbeam, identical except as to results—the man fished out of the sea through his efforts was alive.

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