Steamers Collide

06 Dec





Government Inspectors Begin to

Probe Steamer Collision


Brief Session Held at Custom House.

Adjourned at Request of Counsel

on Both Sides Until July 10th

Only Two Witnesses Examined –

Capt. Harper and Mr. Skinner , Who

Were Aboard the Wilmington, Testify –

Plenty More Witnesses.

The investigation into the collision down the river last Wednesday between the steamers Wilmington and Sea Gate commenced this morning, but only half a day session was held, during the course of which two witnesses were examined. At the end of this the inquiry adjourned until Monday, July 10th, as the counsel in the investigation have important matters to attend to in the United States Court and Superior Court now in session in Wilmington. The investigation is being conducted by Government Inspectors Fred B. Rice and J. T. Border and a record is being made of the evidence by an expert stenographer who accompanied the inspectors here from Charleston. The two witnesses examined this morning were Capt. John W. Harper, of the Wilmington, and Mr. L. H. Skinner, who was in the pilot house of the Wilmington when the collision occurred. There are still many witnesses to be examined.

The owners of the Sea Gate are being represented by George Rountree, Esq., and ex-Judge e. K. Bryan, and Herbert McClammy, Esq., and Hon. John D. Bellamy represent Capt. Harper, though Mr. Bellamy was not present this morning, being engaged in a trial in the United States Court.

The First Witness.

Captain John W. Harper, owner and master of the steamer, Wilmington, {not sure if there is missing text here} was the first witness. It was admitted that he was a licensed pilot and master. His direct testimony was as follows:

“The steamer Wilmington was at the Carolina Beach pier when the steamer Sea Gate passed. When the Wilmington came out of the cut at the beach she was fifteen minutes late and the Sea Gate was about a quarter of a mile ahead at that time. We did not drive our boat but we were in a hurry to get to Wilmington. We overtook the Sea Gate, but when the Wilmington got within a thousand feet of her I blew a blast (this generally means that vessel intends to go to the (starboard). The Sea Gate answered promptly with one blast (this generally signifies acquiescence). The Sea Gate didn’t change her course and kept so near the east side of the channel that the Wilmington was compelled to go eastward or starboard of buoy. Wilmington pressed the Sea Gate and was half a length ahead when the Sea Gate took the Wilmington’s suction. The Sea Gate came up alongside not ten feet away from Wilmington. Then she dropped back and came up again. This was repeated several times. The second time it occurred the Wilmington blew four blasts followed by a sharp blast. This the Sea Gate answered with two sharp blasts. Wilmington repeated her signal, but the Sea Gate did not answer. As we were in the angle and in the narrow channel just above Big Island I shouted to the pilot of the Sea Gate that if he didn’t stop crowding I would report him. When Wilmington was about Stake Light No. 7 Sea Gate struck the Wilmington just forward of midships on the port side. The collision occurred not thirty feet from buoy on east side. The Wilmington was never to the westward of the channel. Mr. L. H. Skinner was in the pilot house at my request and remained there all the time. The Sea Gate crowded the Wilmington so that the latter felt suction from the east bank. The fireman and engineer were at their posts.”

On cross-examination Captain Harper stated that when he warned the pilot house, but did not go to the boat railing. He left Mr. Skinner at the wheel, but had one hand on the wheel at the time himself.

Mr. Skinner on the Stand.

The next witness was Mr. L. H. Skinner, who testified as follows:

“After the Sea Gate passed Carolina Beach pier it was two or three minutes before the Wilmington left the pier. When the Wilmington got in the channel the Sea Gate was about a fourth of a mile ahead. The Wilmington gained rapidly on the Sea Gate and before Keg Island was reached the former blew one blast to pass. The Sea Gate answered by one blast. The boats continued up the river and the Sea Gate went close to {don’t know if extra text here} east side of channel at lower end of cut. This was near 16 ¼ buoy and it was necessary for Captain Harper to choose whether he was going to the east or west. He selected the east and went right of buoy and the Sea Gate went to the left. The Wilmington went abreast of the Sea Gate at the lower end of Big Island. The Sea Gate appeared to be in Wilmington’s suction. The Sea Gate forged up to about the forward gangway two or three times but fell back each time. She would fall back a midships, only to come up again. Harper blew four blasts of whistle and then one sharp blast. The boats continued in the same position and I think Capt. Craig blew two blasts. Capt. Harper replied with four or five blasts. He then stepped out of the pilot house to the rail and cried: ‘You are crowding me and if you don’t stop I’ll report you.’ He then returned and took the wheel. In about a minute and a half the Sea Gate took a sheer and came in just aft of the forward end of the boiler. We had just passed lightstake No. 7. When the Sea Gate took a sheer and Capt. Harper saw her coming in he said to me you see the marks (meaning channel marks) but I was so busy watching the Sea Gate I did not see them. After the collision the Sea Gate dropped astern and I saw her bow bent slightly.”

Responding to question asked by Mr. McClammy he said:

“The Sea Gate never displayed a signal of distress. It was about ten minutes after the Wilmington blew the signal to pass before she overhauled the Sea Gate. Capt. Harper went on the starboard side. I have traveled up and down the river much and am familiar with the channel. I am not a pilot but I believe could pilot a vessel of light draft to Carolina Beach. Harper was not out of pilot house over four or five seconds and I had the wheel at that time. Wilmington did not change her course. Capt. Harper had the wheel when collision occurred. The Wilmington was 75 or 80 feet east of Sea Gate when she attempted to pass. Wilmington only got half length ahead when Sea Gate took suction.”

On Cross Examination.

On cross examination conducted by both Mr. Rountree and ex-Judge Bryan Mr. Skinner stated:

“I don’t know that there is considerable rivalry between the Wilmington and the Sea Gate. I didn’t hear Capt. Harper say that he was determined to pass the Sea Gate, though I did hear him say when he blew the whistle that he guessed he would pass her. Think passengers generally regarded it as a race. The stern of the Wilmington never passed the Sea Gate until after the collision. When Capt. Harper was out of pilot house he didn’t have his hand on the wheel. He wasn’t out more than five seconds and I don’t think boat changed her course. When the Wilmington’s bow came abreast of Sea Gate’s stern there was a difference between 75 and 80 feet between them. Capt. Harper blew four blasts, signifying danger, and then one blast, indicating that he wanted to go to the right, but don’t think he went to the right. The last time he blew four sharp blasts, in my opinion, he was about center of the channel. When Sea Gate blew her two blasts, in my opinion, Wilmington was in the center of channel. After the collision Capt. Harper didn’t go below until the Wilmington was about one-fourth a mile ahead. When boats got in suction their bows have a tendency to go apart.”

On the Re-Direct.

On the re-direct examination, conducted by Mr. McClammy, the witness stated that when the Sea Gate would come up to the Wilmington, after the latter had gotten partly ahead, that some of the passengers on the Sea Gate would cheer; that dense volumes of smoke came from Sea Gate’s stack, indicating that she had on all steam; that he also noticed the high steam pressure by the escape valves. In his opinion, the witness stated, that when a boat is in the suction of another boat the master would, in his opinion, have lost control of the rudder.”

[Wilmington Dispatch – June 27, 1905]


NOTE: Louis Hill Skinner was the son of Capt. Samuel W. Skinner and Emily J. Erambert.

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