Captain J. Maitland Thompson, formerly a crew member aboard James Craig, resided in South Australia, was of immense help to the Museum in its research for the restoration of James Craig. Here is a dramatic occurrence from his experiences on James Craig.
In 1920, when I was Able Seaman in the barque James Craig, we were running before a very stiff breeze from the south west on a voyage from Adelaide to Auckland, New Zealand. The yards were not quite square. We were doing at least eight knots with a clear cloudless sky; it was just breaking day.
Steering by compass, I occasionally lifted my eyes to the horizon and suddenly, I noticed a dark patch of cloud rising above the sky line. As it rose it seemed to take the form of a wide band, with a clear sky behind it.
Mr Carver, the mate, was close by, and I drew his attention to it. He walked to the mizzen rigging and stood gazing ahead. After a time he suddenly called for ‘all hands on deck’. The very urgency of his voice prompted immediate response, and all hands came tumbling out over the wash sill of the crew’s deckhouse.
The next order was ‘lee-fore’brace’, with Mr Carver going to the weather braces to slack them away as the lee braces were hauled in; then the main braces, until the yards were close hauled on the starboard tack. We were still headed east with the wind on the starboard quarter.
I was having a very difficult task in keeping the ship on course because of the set of the sails. Now Mr Carver began shortening sail, letting every upper sail fly.
Leaving the crew to clew up as best they could, he came and stood by me and ordered me to ‘down helm’ gently. By now this strange phenomenon was fast approaching and we realised that is was an area of hurricane force wind stretching from horizon to horizon. As it neared us, what had been our fair wind gradually died, and a peculiar ripple took over on the surface of the sea. With a crack that shook the ship from stern to stern, we were struck by this great force with its blinding rain, travelling in the exact opposite direction to our previous fair wind.
Owing to the brilliant seamanship of Mr Carver, we were not caught aback, but were now almost hove-to on the starboard tack. Two of the upper sails which had not been clewed up were torn to shreds.
We lay like this, while this terrific force of wind and rain passed on and beyond us. Nearing its passing it blew lighter, and when it had passed astern altogether, the sea again rippled and quickly settled down, and the wind took up its former direction. The ship was paid off and we again resumed our former steady course.
As quickly as it had approached us, the streak of devastation passed away astern and disappeared beyond the horizon.
When we had settled down, I asked Mr Carver if he had ever before experienced such an extraordinary happening. He replied that he hadn’t, but he had remembered an ‘old salt’ telling him of a similar occurrence which happened in the same area many years before.
As I turned away, he remarked that he was thankful that it had happened in daylight. In the dark, he felt that surely we would have been demasted.
Over the years I have asked a number of meteorologists about it. None has ever heard of such an event, and few believed me.
Captain J. Maitland Thompson