Kona Shipwreck

Photo courtesy State Library SA, B-42107 Wreckage from Kona - Cape St. Albans - 3 February 1917.

Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), Tuesday 6 February 1917, page 5


Full Story of the Disaster. Miraculous Escape of the Crew.

[By a Special Reporter.]

One of the most, sudden and disastrous shipping calamities that has occurred on the South Australian coast took place in Antechamber Bay, Kangaroo Island, on Saturday, when the the four-masted American schooner Kona, timber laden from San Francisco to Port Adelaide, and 73 days out, touched on The Scrapers, about 2½ miles north of the Willoughby Lighthouse, and 200 yards distant from the A.G.A. light at Cape St. Albans, became a total wreck, and within three hours had entirely disappeared.

—Touches The Scrapers.—

The Kona— Kona is the Hawaiian name for a fierce wind which frequently blows across the Sandwich Islands— was an American schooner of 642 tons, and belonged to the Hannerolf Company, of San Francisco. She left that port with a valuable cargo, consisting of 850,000 ft. of sawn redwood and sugar pine, in charge of Capt. P. Hansen. P. Johnson was the first, and J. Thornland the second mateIn addition to a cook and steward, there was a crew of six able seamen. On previous occasions Capt. Hansen has taken his wife and children with, him, but on the present voyage he left them at Portland, Oregon, and, as it turned out, it was as well that he did so. Fine weather prevailed until Cape Otway was rounded, when strong winds and rough seas were encountered, but everything went well until the vessel approached Kangaroo Island, when a violent south-eastern gale was met with. The captain decided to run up St. Vincent's Gulf via Backstairs Passage. Having traversed the same course on a previous occasion, he had no fears in regard to negotiating it again. The chart showed three fathoms at low water on The Scrapers— which are really a shifting sandbar— but, as ill luck would have it, on Saturday the tide (it is stated by local residents) was the lowest on record. In ordinary circumstances the Kona would have cleared this bar, but with the furious gale that was raging on Saturday she no sooner touched it than her doom was sealed.

—Mountainous Waves.—

A tremendous sea was running; indeed, a resident of Antechamber Bay said be did not remember having previously seen such mountainous waves off the coast. The first sea that struck the ship sent one of the two lifeboats about 20 ft. into the air, smashing it to matchwood. About half the cargo was carried on dock, and the timber stacks reached to a height of about 11 ft. 6 in. As the huge waves, some 40 ft. high, pounded on the doomed vessel this deck cargo immediately began to shift, and a floating log knocked a large hole in the remaining lifeboat. Seeing that no time was to be lost, the captain and the mate rushed below and procured a piece of canvas, a hammer and nails, and, despite the tons of water which were pouring on board, succeeded in tacking the canvas over the hole in the boat. At the same time the captain had one of the anchors let go, and this caused the schooner to swing round. Taking advantage of the slight relief thus afforded from the fury of the waves, the crew launched the boat, jumped into her, pushed off, and left the Kona to her fate. They were only just in time, as within five minutes the deck was forced upwards and the stern of the ship broke away in one piece. As an instance of the fierceness of the gale it may be mentioned that the second bump of the Kona on The Scrapers forced the sternpost through the deck, and each succeeding wave assisted in bringing about her speedy destruction. So rapid was the course of events that it was impossible for either the officers or the crew to save a single thing, and they landed on the beach in Antechamber Bay with their boat half full of water, and possessed of only what they stood up in.

—A Miraculous Escape. —

Capt. Hansen had a particularly narrow escape. Having succeeded in patching up the lifeboat, he rushed to the companion way leading to his cabin with the intention of making an attempt to secure his papers. At this moment a mountainous sea swept on board. He jumped for shelter, and as he did so one of the masts 'went by the boards' and fell across the door of the companion way. Had he gone to his cabin he would have been drowned like a rat in a trap, because the door would have been impossible to move with the heavy spar across it. The captain lost all his belongings, consisting of charts, chronometers, barometers, jewellery, valuable pictures, photographs, typewriters, and so forth. He estimates his loss at about £500. The mate lost $150 in gold, and the second mate $20, a gold watch and chain, and a diamond ring. They consider themselves lucky, however, to have escaped with their lives. As an instance of the narrowness of their escape, it may be mentioned that when the boat was a comparatively short distance from the ship the remaining masts fell, and in a few minutes the boiling surf was littered with timber, sails, gear, and all sorts of wreckage. Capt. Hansen says that before leaving San Francisco on this, her last voyage, the Kona, which was valued at £12,000, was thoroughly overhauled and refitted. About £2,000 was expended on the vessel. The Value of the cargo in San Francisco was about £10,000, but landed here it would have been probably worth four times that amount. It was all picked timber, and was of an exceptionally valuable character.

—Kind-hearted —

Kind-hearted Islanders — As soon as the Kona was observed to be m a dangerous position, Mr. R. Clark, of Antechamber Bay, who has charge of the rocket apparatus, hurried to the scene. Six members of his crew also speedily put in an appearance. As the shipwrecked men safely reached the shore in the lifeboat the services of the rocket crew were not required. There is no lifeboat nearer than Victor Harbour, and the rocket apparatus is only of use provided the ship holds together. Strange to say, no wreckage came ashore in Antechamber Bay. The strong current running through Backstairs Passage carried it into St. Vincent's Gulf. For some time this floating wreckage will doubtless prove a menace to shipping, and vessels navigating the gulf will require to keep a sharp lookout. Fortunately the timber is all sawn, and will consequently not be as dangerous as if it were in log form. Having lost all his papers, Capt. Haneen is unable to give particulars regarding the insurances on the ship or the cargo. The members of the crew were treated most hospitably by the residents of Antechamber Bay, who dried their clothes, provided them with hot meals, and did everything in their power to make them comfortable. On Monday they were driven to Hog Bay, where the residents generously took up a collection for them, and before he left for Port Adelaide by the Karatta in the afternoon, the captain was presented with a sum of money, which he feelingly acknowledged. The cause of the mishap will, of course, form the subject of an enquiry. Much sympathy is expressed for Capt. Hansen. who has commanded the Kona for about eight years. His wife is a Melbourne woman. Interviews with members of the ship's company, as well as with residents of Antechamber Bay who witnessed the catastrophe, justify the statement that the escape of the officers and crew of the Kona from a watery grave was little less than miraculous.

THE WRECK OF THE KONA. (1917, February 6). The Register (Adelaide, SA : 1901 - 1929), p. 5. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59892869