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Calliope's escape from the hurricane.

HMS Calliope's escape from Apia Harbour.

Apia Harbour, Samoa: Saturday, March 16th, 1889. - Forenoon around 0900 hours.

Chart of Apia Bay

Within an hour or two of the fitful dawning of that dreadful Saturday, Calliope had been in collision with Olga to starboard a number of times, and then the dragging Vandalia ahead and to port severing one of Captain Henry Kane's three remaining anchors, and at one point, to avoid a severe collision with the latter vessel, Kane had been forced to back Calliope's screw and they had touched the reef, ripping off some of the carved letters of her name. Somehow her straining engines had pulled them clear, though agonisingly slowly. He couldn't risk it again and was fast becoming hemmed in by ships and reef. His ship was too big to beach in the way Nipsic had done, or to lift onto the reef like Adler, so his only chance was to go out.

By 9 a.m., full steam in the boilers had been achieved under the maximum forced draught ever imposed on the furnaces, and Kane slipped his last anchors. This act was the gamble of life and death: if the screw couldn't make headway against the gale or should his engines fail, then with his anchors on the bottom of the bay he would have nothing to hold him off the reef. Imperceptibly at first, Calliope gained speed against the storm, her sprightly 14 knots under normal draught achieving barely half a knot against the gale. As spellbound onlookers around the bay gasped in horror at the risk and wondered at the courage, determination and desperation which had driven the crew to take the chance, the racing engines pushed the ship gradually towards the bottle-neck of the bay across which, helpless and waiting for her own end, lay USS Trenton, her fires out and rudder smashed.

In an incredible act of seamanship in which instinct was the pilot, Kane led his vessel between the seething maelstrom of the reef to port, and the menacing, lurching Trenton to starboard. Almost they touched, but the ships orchestrated a wave-conducted duet which allowed them to clear each other without fouling. For agonising instants they had both seemed doomed, had they touched it would have meant disaster for all on board the vessels. Calliope's damaged fore-yard, even truncated as it was at the starboard side, still passed over the port quarter of Trenton, so close that it was a miracle the two ships were not disastrously enmeshed. As Calliope cleared and headed for her desperate chance of survival in the open sea, the crew of Trenton - knowing their own chances of saving their ship were long gone - cheered the crew of the British vessel and received the like in reply. Within moments, Trenton - with the rest of Apia - was lost in the sheeting rain, and Calliope was free.

On board, there was no time for relaxation. The engines still thundered hard as Kane had no way of knowing where he was being driven; visibility was restricted to just a few yards around the ship and the whole island of Upolu was surrounded by the reef which had so nearly claimed the ship in Apia. Just as bad, the fury of the storm was still increasing. Virtually all the boats had been carried away by the collisions with Vandalia and Olga and the incessant pounding of the heavy seas. Storm sails were set which gave an immediate calming effect to the ship, but they were repeatedly carried away in shreds by the tempest, which continuously strengthened from the north. During her commissioning trials in the Solent, the engines had been beset by niggling problems with gland seals; should one have given a problem at any time that day, the ship would have been lost. But thanks to the excellent maintainance they had received since commissioning, the engines had performed magnificently for 12 hours non-stop since midnight. Later in the afternoon, a fleeting sight of the sun amongst the clouds confirmed Calliope to be safely to the north of the islands, and the speed of the engines was finally reduced. Men started to clean the ship, water had found its way to the main deck, the only time it was ever to happen in the service life of the vessel. It was bailed up and tossed overboard, and fires were lit to help dry the ship. The many numerous but thankfully on the whole, minor injuries could be tended. Carpenter's Mate Thomas D. John was the most severely injured, a fractured skull would mean a long stay in hospital and eventual invalidity from the service.

HMS Calliope

On Sunday the 17th, in much calmer weather and strong sunshine, sailors hung their clothes and hammocks from the rigging to dry. Hot meals were produced and a service of thanksgiving held. Carpenters attempted to make repairs, and the blacksmith forged reinforcing bands to splice snapped spars together until the ship could reach a dockyard. Calliope's jib-boom had been almost carried away in the collision with Vandalia, though the fore-stays keeping the fore-mast upright fortunately remained taut and sound. Her fore yard, which had been lowered to the deck and lashed across it, had been severely sprung (damaged) fending off Olga and there was considerable damage caused by the German vessel's prow on the starboard side - it was fortunate indeed that Olga was a "swan-neck" prow with no underwater ram, or Calliope would not have survived the collision.

Only one small boat was left, and this the carpenters were busy in repairing. Even with no reliable lifeboat, Kane was determined to stay at sea till he was sure the hurricane had passed. His thoughts must have continually returned to the other ships, and their crews, that he had left behind in Apia; how had they fared?