We Will Wait
At ten oclock at night, October 23,
1918, the ship the Princess Sophia with over three hundred
passengers on board steamed out of the Skagway Harbor in Alaska on
its way to Seattle. The first part of their journey lay through the
seventy mile long Lynn Canal. Captain Locke, a long time veteran of
shipping in the Northwest Pacific was at the helm.
Most of the passengers were in their berths sleeping, when at
three oclock in the morning there was a screeching of steel, and a
tremendous jolt which sent many of the sleepers reeling out of
their beds and rolling on the floors. The Princess Sophia steaming
along at cruising speed had suddenly run aground on submerged rocks
which make up part of the Vanderbilt Reef. The double plated steel
hull of the ship had become firmly wedged into the space between
two rocks. To the credit of the shipbuilders the ship held together
in the impact, and crew members were relieved to discover the ship
was not breaking up in the water.
Captain Locke sent out a call for help over the ships wireless or radio which had been recently installed. The message asked for all ships in the area to come to their aid. Within a few hours, a couple of nearby vessels had reached the stricken passenger ship. Captain Ledbetter, in the dawns early light, brought his vessel as close as he safely could in the rough seas to the Princess Sophia. On board his ship he had all the ropes necessary to set up a pulley system between the two ships by which they could transfer the passengers one by one. From the pitching deck of his ship he called out through a megaphone, Do you want to transfer the passengers from your ship to mine?
Captain Locke gave the request serious consideration for a minute before
shouting his response back, No we will wait for the weather to get better.
The ships which had come to rescue the passengers off the stricken
ship backed off and began to cruise slowly in a wide circle. For a
day and a night they circled nearby hoping for the weather to
change. It did change. The next day the winds grew so fierce that
the rescue ships had to seek shelter for themselves behind nearby
islands. The weather was so bad that a rescue operation like
Captain Ledbetter suggested was out of the question.