A winter salvage aboard Foundation Franklin

July/Aug 2001

Farley Mowat’s wonderful book, The Grey Seas Under, was recently reissued by the Lyon’s Press (see page 17). Those not familiar with the story will once again have the opportunity to sail – at least on paper – aboard the salvage tug, Foundation Franklin , and experience the grueling work of salvaging ships in the North Atlantic.

The story took place during the Depression and World War II, and life in the Maritime Provinces was particularly difficult. The men who crewed Franklin , though, were used to hard, dangerous work and low pay – many of them having first gone to sea as handliners, sailing from Newfoundland or Nova Scotia.

The skipper who got the best from Foundation Franklin was one such man. Capt. Irwin Power took command of the Franklin in 1934. At 15 he was aboard a square-rigger rounding the Horn; after that he joined the merchant service working up to second officer. He then went to work for the Canadian government on an icebreaker and then served as chief officer aboard the Lady Laurier, whose chief duty was assisting crippled ships at sea. For five years Power safely guided Franklin through all kinds of conditions.

The rest of the crew that served Franklin was made up of the same type of men, mostly Newfoundlanders: self-reliant, uncomplaining and heroic, though they would have been the last to have ever thought of themselves as such. Franklin had plenty of work in those days, when tramp steamers took the great circle route from Europe to America. Salvage was a good business; ships were without radar and reliable weather forecasting. They sailed the year through, into hurricanes and fog, through one of the most difficult passages in the world. As they closed on land they ran aground, lost rudders in storms, had collisions, and experienced every other kind of trouble that could befall a ship. After the outbreak of WW II, German U-boats added to the ongoing disasters.

The following passage describes an almost typical day that the boat and crew experienced. The quote is from Capt. Power: “This was the kind of storm that a man never could get used to until the day he died. It came on top of one of the biggest seas I’d ever seen, and it got behind them and pushed them up until they weren’t seas at all but water mountains. It gusted up to 90 miles an hour and never fell off below 80 for six hours. It was cold too. The temperature in the wheelhouse stood around freezing point, and on deck it must have been down close to zero. Ice started to form, but luckily for us the seas were so fierce that they kept it swept off before it could get thick enough to make us list.”

We join the crew of Franklin on Nov. 10, as they depart Halifax bound for Gerda Toft, a Norwegian ship that has lost her propeller over Flemish Cap, 400 miles to east of Newfoundland. For the celestial part of this problem the height of eye is 8 feet, the index correction is 2′ on the arc. The only book required for the solutions is the 2001 Nautical Almanac.

A. Foundation Franklin departs Halifax on Nov. 10, bound for Flemish Cap steering 080 degrees True. Variation is 22 degrees West and Deviation for this heading is 003 degrees East. What compass course is required?

B. Capt. Power estimates his speed at 8 knots. How far will they have traveled in 43.5 hours?

C. At that time the skipper places a DR at 45 degrees 45′ N by 54 degrees 40′ W. From this position, what is time of Meridian Passage? Both GMT and LMT required.

D. The skipper gets a noon sight with an Hs of 26 degrees 48.7′. What is the latitude?  

By Ocean Navigator