The Cape Argus December 14th 1865, published a letter from ‘A Seaman’ referring to an article in the Advertiser & Mail re the stranding of the Dane. In the letter ‘A Seaman’ appears to doubt Captain Waldek’s faith in the use of the hand lead to fix his position with the vessel at speed.
Note by O.G. Keen.
All masters of the mail ship’s were showmen, it was all part of the job. In 1958 when Junior 4th of the Winchester Castle I well recall Captain ‘Logger’ Lloyd’s ‘show’ of, when crossing the bar sailing from Durban he would have a quartermaster in the ‘chains’, a platform under the bridge projecting over the side, with the hand lead line. This line had the first ten fathoms marked, each fathom with a different material. The sailor would swing the lead weight in ever increasing circles, at the appointed spot he would release the line, if he got it right the heavy lead weight carrying it well forward. The principle being that when the line was hanging vertical, having been carried down by the ship’s speed, the weight should just hit the bottom, the sailor would cry up, “by the mark five” or so on. In point of fact this whole ‘show’ required great skill, undoubtedly seamen of Nelson’s day had it but in 1958 (and I suspect in 1865) this skill was long gone.
We used to tell the quartermaster what depth to call! My father used the term ‘swinging the lead’ when referring to somebody pretending to be ill when they were not. I cannot help but suspect that this referred to the practice of ‘pretending’ to swing the lead for the passengers benefit.
Captain Waldek says quite definitely that he was one and a half miles off when rounding Cape Recif. As a cadet on the Tantallon Castle I remember Captain ‘Swiv’ Lloyd having us on the bridge with our sextants, rounding Cape Recif using the ‘vertical’ sextant angle on the light house to determine the distance off. Without the use of radar this is the only practical method but still leaves room for error. It depends upon the given height of the light or, as it would have most likely have been in 1865, a beacon, above the ‘high water springs’ level. Now this is a very difficult thing to judge.
With the ship under sail and steam she may well have been doing say nine knots, with the variable and often strong currents of the area navigation close to shore is to say the least taking a chance. Poor Captain Waldek paid the price, the agent’s telegram already strips him of his courtesy title of Captain. He does not appear again as a Union Line master.