.... When 3/M on the "S.S Lakemba" we used to routinely sail close to Middleton Reef so that the passengers could have a good look ! ( This was dependent on timing and weather, en route from the West Coast of Canada to Sydney ) .... Middleton Reef is really low lying, and does not show up well, if at all , on Radar. Hopefully, by now with the Runic gone, there's some sort of beacon there ! If my memory serves, even in 1966 or so, there were well over 100 known wrecks on this reef that's virtually in the middle of nowhere ! Quite and eerie experience, as approaching, even after I'd seen it a number of times, it looked at first as if this ship was just approaching one, and up closer, it seemed to rise out of the water ! Always remember the sight of what seemed like hundreds of sharks swimming idly around the Reef ! A good incentive to keep a proper look-out posted ! .... David K.
Hi everybody, this is my first post here. I was attracted to the SN site from a Google note on mv Katea and Runic on Middleton Reef. This refers to Meltech's post. Firstly I sailed with Shaw Savill as a junior engineer from about 1955, sailing on Moreton Bay. (Aberdeen and Commonwealth Line.) In London I worked by on Ceramic whilst waiting for my ship. At that time Gothic had just returned to London after royal tour duties -- she was still painted white and incidentally suffered a major turbine failure whilst in Sydney. The company whipped the appropriate HPO turbine out of Athenic and flew it to Sydney where it was fitted without anyone knowing a thing about it. At the end of my career with the British Merchant navy in 1958, I got a job delivering the newly built mv Katea to her owners in New Zealand. (Union Steamship Company.) She was built by Alexander Stephen & Sons in Glasgow and I managed to see her when she was still at the yard fitting out. Katea was a great little ship. Loaded with railway lines for her maiden voyage she rolled like anything all the way across the Pacific. Thanks for all the comments on the Runic -- I sailed with a couple of blokes who had fond memories of her. Regards, David Mac
Of her original crew of seventy two sixty nine remained on board for more than a month, They were taken of by the Arabic. She was also in trouble previous to this while berthing in Hamburg and went ashore on the Gallions Reach in the Thames. Her sister ships where the Suvic and Persic all three built on the Corinthic class but no passengers.
My father, Leon Middleditch, was the Ship’s Baker on the refrigerated freighter Runic the night that it ran aground on Middleton Reef, 120 miles north of Lord Howe Island. His account of the affair is as follows:
The ship had left from Liverpool and had completed a circuit around Australia consisting of Freemantle-Adelaide-Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane. The next leg was to be across the Tasman Sea to Auckland, New Zealand, to pick up apples and lamb. Upon leaving Brisbane there was heavy cloud cover due to poor weather, which prevented any sun-sighting causing the ship to be off-course, and resulted in the ship hitting the reef at night. The impact occurred in stormy conditions at around 1am throwing men from their bunks, striking the reef bow-on but with the stern still remaining afloat. Lifeboats were prepared with stores in readiness for an evacuation, but were thankfully not needed. At daylight a crew-member checked the superstructure for damage and found that a fresh water tank in the bow section was damaged. Due to the severe stormy conditions and the empty hold, the ballast tanks were filled in order to stabilise the ship and reduce bouncing on the reef.
After two or three days the rescue ships arrived and some crew and passengers were transferred to sister ships. The remaining crew consisted of a few deck officers, engineers to keep the electric generators running, the bosun and deck crew to assist with refloating efforts, and the cook and baker to feed both the crews of the Runic and the rescue tugs.
A severe tropical storm then blew into the area and swung the ship side-on, and about 10m further onto the reef. The rescue tug crews cut holes into the upper superstructure to feed out seven wire cables, which had anchors attached. These were dropped onto the seabed about a kilometre back from the ship, rather than into the soft coral nearby. The cables were attached to the Runic’s winches in preparation for pulling the ship off the reef and into deeper water. At this stage they were able to pull the ship back to being bow-on to the reef, with the cables fanned out to the seabed behind the ship. The tugs stayed on standby, waiting for the next spring tide to use their power and the Runic’s winches to refloat the vessel. Unfortunately a cyclone warning was received, which caused the attempt to be called off – cables were disconnected and the tugs retreated to Lord Howe Island to shelter from the incoming storm.
The cyclone hit the reef with 10-15m waves that broke over the Runic. Portholes were smashed. The gangway was carried over the ship and lost. Lifeboats were ripped off their davits and hurled over the opposite side of the ship. Despite being heavily ballasted, the Runic was lifted and turned side-on to the waves, and was then bounced a further 200m across the reef, leaving behind a wide swath of coral that was crushed into sand. The steel plating on the seaward side of the ship was split open by the massive waves and the engine room was flooded, cutting power and lights. The noise inside the ship as the big waves pounded the vessel was deafening. The cyclone lasted two and half days before calm weather finally returned.
Due to the lack of power and ventilation in the kitchen, the only suitable area for cooking was in the hold, which was converted for cooking barbeque style, using halved oil drums with cargo dunnage for fuel. Since there was no power for the freezers, any frozen food was wrapped in the dining room table cloths to keep it fresh for as long as possible. The crew were able to catch fish on the reef – grouper and shark – for fresh fare. There was no running water so toilets were flushed with sea water, and showers had to be taken using sea water. Fresh water was strictly rationed. Small items that could be salvaged were dismantled, and the ships’s liquor store was unlocked and packed ready for salvage. The tugs returned to try and salvage the anchor cables, and then left for Sydney.
After a number of weeks, a sister ship arrived to take off all remaining crew and any salvageable material, and the ship was finally abandoned. The crew were then housed in the Naval Barracks in Sydney for a few days, before flying back to the UK via Darwin and India. Relief supplies had been stacked in the ship’s bridge for assistance to any shipwrecked mariners who might meet with the same unfortunate fate as the Runic. In 1978, yachtsman Bill Belcher was shipwrecked on the Middleton reef, and it may be that he was able to make use of these supplies during his epic tale of survival, which culminated in a four-week journey in his liferaft before rescue by a freighter off the Queensland coast.
excellent stories and information on "Runic" . I was given a old chart to use, on the back was a hand drawn chart of Middleton reef. On it is marked runic, and 2 other wrecks. Its been great to read what happened to her.
Middleditch, that is a great account of the Runic’s stranding and brings to mind a story that I have posted before about another stranding
There was a mad mariner, a Welshman named Irfon Nicholas who sailed from Europe to Auckland via various ports in a 30 odd foot Ferro-cement yacht that had the charming name of “Sospan Fach”, Welsh for little saucepan and named after a little ditty that the town of Llanelli is famous for.
It is supposed to be the most famous nonsense song sung at Welsh rugby union matches.
Apparently Irfron’s crew left him in Auckland and when it became time to move on to Sydney he advertised in the local paper for new recruits and took on an Australian male and two NZ women all in search of adventure.
I remember the bloke, a reticent sort of character, and his boat, a doubtful example of a sound craft, and the sort of boat that we used to call a floating septic tank.
The skipper left Auckland in 1974 without notifying the local Marine Authorities and getting a certificate of sea worthiness, headed to North Cape before setting a westerly course toward Australia and by this time he had already started to quarrel with his crew. Some time after the drama that follows I remember reading that the crew expressed doubts about his navigational skills and were told that to get to Australia you just sailed to the top of NZ, turned left and sailed to the best weather advantage until you sighted Aussie then coast down to Sydney!!
Needless to say that plan did not work and they finished up going aground on the notorious Middleton Reef, graveyard to many ships, one of the biggest being the “Runic” that went aground during a cyclone in 1961. Luckily for “Sospan Fach” crew they were able to find shelter and food on a nearby Japanese trawler wreck “Fuku Maru” that ran aground in 1963 in high seas. This wreck has been replenished with supplies and used as a food cache for ship wrecked sailors ever since.
They were eventually able to signal a passing ship and get rescued..
I was R/O on the Alaric/GWRQ and we were in Brisbane with the Runic. We heard the news that she had hit Middleton Reef, the 3rd Mate had been 3rd Mate on Alaric then had been transferred to the Crusader Line and then on to Runic to return to the UK for Leave. We on Alaric took on the Salvage Equipment, extra bunkers for the Brisbane tug which had gone out to the Reef and Captain Williams (?) the Salvage expert and went to Middleton Reef where we drifted off for over a week transferring the anchors and salvage gear using our lifeboats for that purpose. I spent a lot of time on the Bridge
with the echo-sounder going and when it started to show shallow water informed Captain Vizer and we would start engines and steam out for a bit. I believe when she hit the engines were rung full astern but only one engine responded and caused her to slew sideways on to the Reef. She was tidal when we got there and as bunkers had been discharged had oil all over the superstructure due to the wind and sea. We remained there until running short on fuel and water then proceeded to Sydney and resumed our normal run to Melbourne Adelaide Fremantle Genoa and London. Two things come to mind
1) That was the first time a Master had been allowed to take his wife on a deepsea voyage, also the Manager of West Australia and wife were on board,
2) The R/O had to dismantle all the Radio Equipment himself and lower it on to lifeboats, Marconi insisted.
3) The aircraft taking the crew home to the UK experienced engine trouble and had to make a forced landing.
Regards Ern Barrett
I worked and then lived on Lord Howe Island for some time and have made several boat and plane trips to Middleton Reef.
I have a large selection of photos showing what the ellements can do to a ship in harsh conditions.
I have photos from 1961 to the end of 2008.
The attached show the Monray Frontier, a 23 mtr Fiberglass boat the joined the Runic on the 29th July,1998.
I hope all interested enjoy the pics. I can post more if there is interest.
Just uploaded some pic's to gallery, given to me by the 3rd Engineer who was on watch when she hit the reef he was checking turbo feed pump bearings and nearly ended in bilges his Name is Bruce (jimmy) Andrews and is now retired and living in Fremantel WA. He was on reef for 6 weeks. Have couple more of the lads on way home in Bombay and what is left of her will post later.