Part 2: 1918 -1920

What Eric did through the First World War is not known, but one imagines that he continued to command merchant vessels as an essential part of the war effort, although by 1918 he was engaged in one of his many efforts to carve out a life ashore, on this occasion by running a poultry farm. As the war was drawing to a close, a dramatic event occurred close to home in Cape Town which was to result in one of the best known stories of Eric and Louie's early marriage. A radio message received in Cape Town from a freighter reported a mutiny aboard the sailing vessel "Puako", north of Robben Island. This resulted in the Master, "Hell-Fire Jack" Pedersen, being shipped back to the States in irons and the American barkentine "Puako" needing a new Captain for her onward voyage to Australia and San Francisco. I had always assumed that Eric had merely been appointed the job and they had decided that Louie should accompany him. However, given that he had probably comfortably commanded steamships for years and presumably could have continued to do so, it seems entirely possible that they saw the potential for adventure and pushed to get the ship. Although my mother Lou always maintained that Eric had his Master's Certificate in Steam and Sail I can only find a copy of his Steamship certificate , and certainly it was a copy of this document which was sighted by the authorities in Cape Town when he was given command of "Puako", a four-masted barkentine with no main engine, for it has been endorsed to that effect. (Arthur is under the impression that an Extra Masters Certificate included sail in those days) By 1918 one can imagine that qualified sailing-ship masters were not very thick on the ground and Eric's voyage in "Forget-me-Not" must have carried considerable weight.

In fact, recently acquired information (20/11/05) suggests that "Puako" had gained such a notorious reputation under the command of Pedersen, and experienced sailing ship masters were indeed few and far between,  that the US Consul-General in Cape Town, charged with the job of a appointing someone to the position, had his work cut out to find a qualified Master willing to take the ship at all - it is said that he practically had to beg Eric to take the ship, and Eric struck such a hard bargain that the owners, Hind Rolph, got so steamed up over his terms and conditions that they accused everyone, including the US Government, of trying to cheat them. A recently acquired letter (06/01/06) from the Consul-General to the US Secretary of State gives the whole picture. See also the updated "Hell-Fire Jack" link for more details....

Puako under sail

Whatever the circumstances, Eric took command of "Puako" and on 15th November 1918, four days after the signing of the Armistice in Europe, he accompanied Louie and Lou to the pier head in a horse-drawn cab from whence a motorboat took them to join the ship lying at anchor in Table Bay.


The Puako, named for a place in Hawaii, was a four-masted barkentine of 1084 tons and 1400 M capacity, built at Oakland California by W. A. Boole & Son in 1902. A barkentine (or "barquentine" in English spelling) by definition is a sailing vessel of three or more masts, square-rigged on the foremast and fore-and-aft rigged on the others. She was known as a "skysail yarder", having the very high 6 courses of square sails, and was built for and operated by Hind, Rolph & Co. In May 1921 she was libelled and laid up at Victoria BC and in 1926 was purchased by the Pacific Navigation Company and converted to the log barge Drumwall, her proud sailing days over. In 1941 she was still afloat and being used as a sawdust barge by the Island Tug and Barge Company. Victoria.



Lou was just over three years old and the infant Doris was left in the care of her maternal grandparents in Camps Bay. Louie kept a
diary of their voyage until they reached San Francisco some six months later, and during their subsequent four-week road trip across the United States. The story is that in later years she edited and/or rewrote some of this diary, however I can see little evidence of omissions or insertions. All pages are handwritten on lined Quarto paper with a wide red printed margin and evidently torn from a stapled notebook (presumably subsequently). The diary pages are numbered sequentially and appear to be written with a fountain pen if the consistency of the ink colour is any indication. However there are also pages of accounts of everyday shopping in New York written on the same paper in the same hand in pencil and, similarly, draughts or copies of business letters, recipes, and an unfinished letter to her parents in Cape Town in which she apologises for the paper but explains she did not want to go to the writing room for proper paper as Lou was sleeping. Why would she copy out these all again more than 40 years later? All pages are undoubtedly from the same notebook and the handwriting is consistent throughout - I can see nothing to convince me that Louie wrote some of the pages when she was a fit young woman in her twenties and others when she was in her sixties or seventies with chronic arthritis.

Whenever they were written, I find the diaries compulsive reading, giving, as they do, a first hand impression of life aboard an ocean-going trading sailing vessel with no engine and no radio-transmitter. It is a shame she does not tell us more of her own feelings, but there are also times when the very terseness of her entries speaks volumes. "Puako" made a reasonably fast passage in ballast through the Southern Ocean from the Cape to Sydney, arriving just after Christmas, and Eric was very pleased to have bettered "Hell-Fire Jack's" fastest time for that leg by over six days. At Sydney she went to the quarantine anchorage for a week "owing to the Influenza Epidemic at the Cape" - this in fact must have been the start of the great flu pandemic which killed millions world-wide, and there is a poorly preserved photo taken in Sydney by Louie showing people in the street wearing masks.

Sydney street scene - early 1919

Louie had a cousin from her mother's side, Arthur Heffer, in Sydney and she and Lou spent two weeks staying with him and his family in Manly before moving to the Hotel Metropole for a further fortnight while Puako was working cargo. Puako's cargo for San Francisco comprised 1250 tons of copra, 200 tons of nickel, and 180 pieces of hardwood.

Puako working cargo from a lighter
Sydney 1919

The passage from Sydney to San Francisco did not go as well as the first leg and took 97 days altogether. Puako was becalmed in the doldrums and the Eric's decision to go south to the "roaring forties" produced rain, fog, cold, and misery, but very little wind for weeks. In all it was more than three months before they reached California and Louie's disgust and disappointment at then having to wait a further 48 hours before receiving mail is very evident. Louie's account of the voyage can be found here.

It seems that "Hell-Fire Jack" was still awaiting trial in San Francisco and the story goes that Eric was concerned that he could be subpoenaed to appear (presumably as some sort of expert witness on conditions on the Puako). Being unwilling to get embroiled and unduly delayed in the case, he apparently kept a low profile and left SF as soon as possible. Louie was pregnant with Betty at the time and they must have been anxious to continue their adventures and return to Cape Town in time for the birth. They bought a two-year old Dodge touring car (No 248435) for $775

1917 Dodge touring car of same model used by Eric and Louie to cross USA

and on 30th May 1919 they left the Oakland home of a certain Capt. Helm where they had been staying and embarked on the epic drive of almost 3,500 miles across the continent to New York. Also with them on the trip was "John Chinaman", a Chinese cook who had accompanied Eric on many voyages and was reputed to be able to "make a tasty meal out of an old boot". Louie's account of the journey on the Great Lincoln Highway can be found here.

In 1919 the "Great Lincoln Highway" was much more a concept than an actual interstate road. Conceived as a project in 1913, little progress had been made in construction due to funding arguments and the interruption of the Great War. The reality was a cobbled together route largely consisting of local unmade roads, poorly signposted and maintained. Contemporary guides recommended asking directions from specified "reliable folks" along the way. An excellent account of the road can be found here. 



 They spent a couple of weeks in New York, which, according to a letter she wrote to her parents, Louie found unbelievably expensive, before getting passage back to South Africa on a steamship, apparently from Halifax Nova Scotia. Betty was born soon after they returned to Cape Town.



Next

 

Powered by GoGlobal CMS
Admin     Terms Contact