A Near-Catastrophic Ferry Trip Recalls Past Naval DisastersRoundup
tags: naval history, Shipping
Gary Ostrower is a retired professor of history at Alfred University.
There’s a World War II story that has been forgotten for too long.
In December 1944, just seven weeks after the Battle of Leyte Gulf near the Philippines, the US Navy’s Task Force 38, under Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, got caught in a dreadful typhoon. Winds of over 100 mph eventually led to the capsizing and loss of three destroyers and serious damage to over 12 other ships, including the aircraft carrier Monterrey.
One hundred forty-six aircraft were lost or rendered useless. Nearly 800 sailors lost their lives. It’s a tale of stirring heroism and, sadly, avoidable tragedy. It was the greatest natural disaster in US naval history.
Reading about this storm, called Typhoon Cobra, reminded me of one of the most extraordinary moments in my 52 years of teaching at Alfred University.
For a January 1976 class in British history, I took nine students to the United Kingdom. We first visited England, then sailed to Ireland from Holyhead, Wales, on a 450-foot-long ferry. We spent a wonderful week in the Emerald Isle.
Our return, however, contained some drama. Typical of an Irish winter, it was pouring when we arrived at the ferry terminal in Dublin. We expected a three-and-a-half hour voyage back to Wales. What caught my attention were sizable waves in what is normally a silky-calm harbor. I therefore recommend that we all take Dramamine, an anti-seasickness pill. Five students followed my advice. Four declined. They would soon regret it.
The ferry left port around 8 p.m. What we could not have known was that halfway across the Irish Sea, we would encounter a Force 11 gale (70 mph winds) that British weather authorities labeled “Capella.” We were all located on an indoor deck just below topside. The four students who refused Dramamine became violently seasick and dashed every few minutes to the lavatories. It didn’t help that the deck had become slick with sea water and vomit from over a hundred other passengers.
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