I listened for 35 mins. Maybe listen more another time. Rather harrowing to think only 3 survived and maybe not the RO. He was doing a great job. Pity the CG could not have controlled it better. Surprised it took so long to ask for weather conditions on scene. LJKR was definitely on the ball.
Easy in hind sight I suppose.
How horribly, horribly harrowing. I listened to the whole transcript and found it unutterably moving. Especially what turned out to be the final, tragic transmission from the doomed ship, a simple VA, end of traffic, and what signalled, effectively, the end of his own life.
Took me back alright, right back. Grim and chilling reminder of how fragile we all are.
Couldn't help but recall the afternoon, back in 1969 when, as a raw, 18 year old first tripper J/R/O I had to put what I had learned at radio college into practice, something I never really thought I would ever have to do: take control of a distress situation on 500 khz and VHF with the fire and then sinking of the "Marpessa" off the coast of West Africa. Watch that huge 200,000 tonner, fires put out and with a broken back, take three agonising days to finally let go and slip beneath the blue waters of the Atlantic .
You don't forget, nor the lessons learnt. Two crewmen dead and so much trauma to the survivors, who I got to know a little when they took refuge onboard our ship. Realised how easily it could have been me sending that distress call.
So thanks (I think) for bringing that back to light again after all these intervening years. I found an account, written by the Chief Mate, online. How he managed to survive in the freezing water until rescued by the Coastguard. Only he, the 3rd Mate and an AB got home again.
Forget all the other stuff we had to do; that was the real reason we, as R/O's were there.
Thanks GW3OQK for pointing us to the recording of the SOS. I'd quite forgotten the procedure and how SOS was used as a preamble to all subsequent distress traffic.
Of course, I remember that the auto alarm was set off (in theory) by the long dashes but cannot remember whether we were supposed to time the dashes ourselves or whether there was a device to send them automatically.
There was, of course, a device for sending the 12 long dashes, (separated by gaps of 1 second). It was the AKD, or Automatic Keying Device, which not only sent the timed dashes but also (if required) the SOS (3 times) followed by the ship's callsign, again three times.
The only one I ever came across was a Marconi "Autokey", an electro-mechanical device which used rotating notched cams and contacts to send the generated signal to the transmitter. It meant you could, in the event of wanting or having to abandon ship, even without mains power, use the AKD in conjunction with the 24V standby/emergency transmitter until the whole thing was either overwhelmed by water or the batteries ran down. If my memory serves, there was also a long dash, or dashes, sent at the end of the callsigns for purposes of direction finding by searching vessels/coast stations.
The "Autokey" was a very reliable machine. It was housed in a smallish steel box with four coloured lamps on the front panel. Strangely, even to this day I can still recall the cadence of the mechanics as it whirred along and sometimes (I nearly found myself typing 'often'!) find myself whistling the rhythmical sounds.
That is, I realise, a wee bit odd, but these little things tend sometimes to stick with one. You had to do a daily test of the setup, make sure it was still operating O.K. and was keying the transmitter correctly, etc.
Something to do with the mechanics - not sure just how it came to be that way, but the bit where the SOS came on always sounded to me a bit like: dit dit dah dah dah dit dit dit dit, dit dit dah dit...
Now there's something, a piece of overlooked minutiae from the deep past. One of those crazy things which is never forgotten, at least by this somewhat crazy ex R/O.
(On one ship I was on for 18 months - "Laurentic"/GPTE I earned myself the fairly appropriate nickname 'Loon' as I recall. It always sounded quite musical when I was addressed by somebody with a strong Hebridean accent, although my memory doesn't extend as far as recalling who it might have been. Actually, thinking about it, it may not have been Hebridean. Might have been a strong Welsh accent. We had a great Welsh Lecky on there for a while; Taff, of course, who looked a bit like a young Demis Roussos, with long, shoulder length black hair and beard. Never saw him out of a boiler suit. He once intoned the immortal line: "You've done that before, Loon..." as he thoughtfully stood by -well out of the way, I might add - of flying bits of blood and fish tissue as I smashed a bronze whaler shark into unconsciousness with a large steel deck scraper after I'd hauled one aboard when at anchor off New Orleans...)
Now that is a bit off topic!
Nice to see you onboard here and love your thread starters.
A pair of Russian built vessels we 'got' had rather a good addition to the basic autokey I thought. There was a thumbwheel panel on the bridge into which the vessel's position was entered regularly during each watch. This was included in the distress selection of the automatic key.
The later Lodestone DF receivers had an interlock making the DF take a snap bearing of a distressed vessel when the auto alarm was activated. This of course only worked when the DF receiver on the bridge was tuned to 500 kcs and not Radio Bongoland.
Davall made a beautiful clockwork autokey which one wound up with, guess what? a large brass key! Easily confused with the brass round device on the bulkhead which had 4-second marks all around the preiphery.
If I could pull a piece out of time, bring it solid life here on my desk right now, it would be the "Autokey". Just like to see one again, watch all those relay contact levers moving in synchronism, hear that signature tune of clicking and whirring, watch the bright coloured lights on the front panel.
How strange! To find something seemingly so insignificant, boring, even, brought back to life by a thread on Ships Nostalgia!
No, I haven't had a look online for a photo, though I know I could do so. I think there were two selector switches, one to select between main and emergency transmitters and 'test'. Don't know what the other might have been for, though I'm sure the details of that will surface in the coming days.
Marconi always had an eye for design, symmetry in their equipment, as, I suppose did other manufacturers. So there must have been two selector switches. I can almost see them; hard black plastic with a metal pointer. Knurled knobs, nice to grip and a certain stiffness to them. Nice engineering in something seemingly so insignificant.
I think with ref to WSL etc, as they were all commercial owned stations they possibly did not have authority to handle distress traffic. I am racking my brains to think of any instance when I heard one of those/commercial stations handling distress traffic. I was involved in the Carib in a distress which was handled by NMA - if my memory is correct. No intervention from any commercial station at all.
Although UK stations were also commercial we were part of the establishment and regulatory authority.
I was listening to WOOH's distress, and it brought back lots of vivid memories from down the years. I haven't touched a key professionally since 1998, but I could read it like it was yesterday. The R/O on ss Marine Electric/WOOH was Albion (Al) Lane, and to say he did great job is an understatement given what he was going through. Towards the end you can feel the anxiety and fear coming through in the morse. The R/O on LJKR was really on the ball, very professional, good clear precise keywork.
Like you I could remember as clear as day the Marconi 'Autokey' unit which was incorporated into a case along with the 'Alert'. I still remember the feel of the switch, and the noise of the cams. Understandable considering we had to test it coming on watch and signing off watch!
Listening to the beginning of that recording brought home to me how many of those involved did not use the correct distress procedure, especially the USCG stns. (in this and other distress situations I have heard)
Acknowledgement of a distress message is simply C/S x3 de C/S x3 RRR SOS
EVERY subsequent QSO is preceded by SOS sent once.
NMF certainly did not conform.
There was general cacophony which might well have been quelled had the USCG coast stns used SOS -
it is designed to bring attention!
The UKCG have been heard on Ch16 VHF saying "All stations Mayday Relay...."!
I can still remember the precise procedure, W/T & R/T even after fifty years!