SAUMAREZ REEF – SHIPWRECK BACKGROUND

How the ship looked in 1964
1964  “Francis Preston Blair” (hull number 1230)  was a WW2 Liberty ship.

1-FPB-01

Showing the explosion hole in the starboard bow below the water line. Legend was a Japanese torpedo hit did this.

Other shell holes in the hull came through target practice by (Royal Australian Air Force) RAAF aircraft. More details elsewhere.

During WW2 USA was supplying UK and Australia via merchant ships. The American shipbuilding effort was incredible, and worth a good documentary being made.

Liberty ships were being constructed at 16 shipyards. A new ship launched every day. At the peak, one ship was built and fitted out in just seven days. The secret was welding the ships together instead of using rivets.

2300 ships were built in 1942-43. The German U-boats could not sink them fast enough. Plenty survived.

Once the keel was laid, sections of the ship fabricated elsewhere would be brought to the site and assembled. The expected life of a liberty ship was five years if not sunk beforehand. Many survived 25 years of service.

These merchant ships were fitted with a 4″ rear deck gun. The anti-aircraft guns were one 12 pounder, 20mm and 40mm Bofors, and PAC rockets.

The Francis Preston Blair wreck was purchased by the Australian government in 1952 for target practice, especially in later years by the RAAF flying F-111’s from Amberley air base near Brisbane.

We were at Saumarez during one of these missions. Very exciting to have the swing-winged aircraft flying low above Coralita (international dive charter boat) at high speed with wings folded back.

The Francis Preston Blair (7 196 tons) was built by Sudden & Christensen, San Francisco. Launched 8 January 1943, hull number 1230,  grounded on Saumarez Reef at 9:30 am 15 July 1945 while traveling between New Guinea and Sydney.

Our captain, Wally Muller, first visited the wreck shortly after the stranding and found a number of empty 4″ shell cases near the rear deck gun, summarizing the ship had been firing when it went aground – perhaps being followed by a Japanese submarine. This might have explained an explosion hole in the bow, below the water line.

The military has no knowledge of any enemy action having occurred causing the the stranding.
Liberty ships were being launched at the rate of one every day to ferry supplies for the war effort. Many were sunk by submarines.

Cameraman Walt Deas reported (August 2005) “Francis Preson Blair has now totally collapsed”.

Liberty Ships built by the United States Maritime Commission in World War II

Liberty ship was the name given to the EC2 type ship designed for “Emergency” construction by the United States Maritime Commission in World War II. Liberty ships, nicknamed “ugly ducklings” by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The first of the 2,751 Liberty ships was the SS Patrick Henry, launched on Sept. 27, 1941, and built to a standardized, mass produced design. The 250,000 parts were pre-fabricated throughout the country in 250-ton sections and welded together in about 70 days.

One Liberty ship, the SS Robert E. Peary was built in four and a half days. A Liberty cost under $2,000,000.

The Liberty was 441 feet long and 56 feet wide. Her three-cylinder, reciprocating steam engine, fed by two oil-burning boilers produced 2,500 hp and a speed of 11 knots. Her 5 holds could carry over 9,000 tons of cargo, plus airplanes, tanks, and locomotives lashed to its deck. A Liberty could carry 2,840 jeeps, 440 tanks, or 230 million rounds of rifle ammunition.

1974 visit aboard Coralita
1974 visit aboard Coralita

The following information tells how the ship became stranded on Saumarez Reef during a cyclone.  The author is the daughter of a crewman who was aboard.

The family consensus is that: Dad said that “It was the typhoon that put the Blair on the reef.”  They had been trying to avoid the typhoon for some time, and it got them off course.  There were high winds on this trip.   He would say that the ship would toss as the water heaved over the bow.  There was always the fear of Japanese subs. For some reason, they were not in a convoy on July 15.


At any rate, Dad would say that the ship went up and came down, nice and pretty, on the reef! and they were stuck!!   Once the Captain realized that the ship could not move, (it was grounded), he immediately gave the order that no one was to leave the ship. He knew that the waters were shark infested, and the reef would cut their leather shoes/boots. The ship offered the best protection.  The order also meant that no one was to get into lifeboats.  No one was hurt.

Officers and crew, all of them, wern rescued and thrilled to see The Liberty was 441 feet long and 56 feet wide. Her three-cylinder, reciprocating steam engine, fed by two oil-burning boilers produced 2,500 hp and a speed of 11 knots. Her 5 holds could carry over 9,000 tons of cargo, plus airplanes, tanks, and locomotives lashed to its deck. A Liberty could carry 2,840 jeeps, 440 tanks, or 230 million rounds of rifle ammunition.

1974 visit aboard Coralita
1974 visit aboard Coralita

 The Liberty was 441 feet long and 56 feet wide. Her three-cylinder, reciprocating steam engine, fed by two oil-burning boilers produced 2,500 hp and a speed of 11 knots. Her 5 holds could carry over 9,000 tons of cargo, plus airplanes, tanks, and locomotives lashed to its deck. A Liberty could carry 2,840 jeeps, 440 tanks, or 230 million rounds of rifle ammunition.

1974 visit aboard Coralita
1974 visit aboard Coralita

The following information tells how the ship became stranded on Saumarez Reef during a cyclone.  The author is the daughter of a crewman who was aboard.

The family consensus is that: Dad said that “It was the typhoon that put the Blair on the reef.”  They had been trying to avoid the typhoon for some time, and it got them off course.  There were high winds on this trip.   He would say that the ship would toss as the water heaved over the bow.  There was always the fear of Japanese subs. For some reason, they were not in a convoy on July 15.


At any rate, Dad would say that the ship went up and came down, nice and pretty, on the reef! and they were stuck!!   Once the Captain realized that the ship could not move, (it was grounded), he immediately gave the order that no one was to leave the ship. He knew that the waters were shark infested, and the reef would cut their leather shoes/boots. The ship offered the best protection.  The order also meant that no one was to get into lifeboats.  No one was hurt.

Officers and crew, all of them, were rescued. Sydney Morning Herald took a picture of the stricken ship.   

Wally Muller began with ‘Riversong’ – a fishing vessel.

I wish we could remember the name of the Captain, as he was quite a character and was well respected.  Our guess is that he would have taken the log books with him.   Wonder what happened to them?  Dad would often wonder aloud, through the years, what happened to the Captain and the other guys.FPB - Zangari prop FPB - Zangari gun FPB - side entrance FPB - Coralita

Captain Peter Bristow

The Cod Hole in 1983

CAIRNS was put on the international map by visiting fishermen. Before this the town was a sleepy  port and the main tourists were Australians who made the long trek north on a narrow sealed road we called The Crystal Highway (littered with broken car windscreen, one every 2 Km).

 

Avalon at The Ribbons

The story how black marlin were found as they spawned along the edge of the continental shelf is best told by the experts.

The changes to the town of Cairns between 1972 and 1982 were enormous.  Free  or very cheap vacant land given by the state government allowed international hotel’s and a resort at Port Douglas to be fast-tracked.

Cairns is the major gateway to The Great Barrier Reef. Previously these had been further south Gladstone, especially.

Fishing aboard Peter Bristow's "Avalon"
Fishing aboard Peter Bristow’s “Avalon” – Susan’s Perry. Deck hands Noel Burtt (guiding the chair) and Trevor Hathaway on the other side.

 

Camera running at 64 frames per second captured this. © John H Harding
At 64 frames per second. © John H Harding 1975

 

The men who put Cairns on the international map.
In this collage  are the boat skippers who went searching for big fish, Peter Bristow, Peter B Wright and Dennis ‘Brizakka’ Wallace.
Peter Bristow  and his charter-boat skipper mates. Tourism experts say it was the big game fishing  by international millionaire fishermen that put Cairns on the tourist map.
Bristow is one of the Famous Trio.

AstraThe Old Man of the Sea

 

Peter Bristow and TV personality of the past, the great Bob Dyer (a keen big game fisherman).
Peter Bristow and with radio and later TV personality of the past, Bob Dyer (an active  international big game fisherman).

 

Mr James Perry
Mr James Perry of Aspen Col. USA

 

The wire-man in action aboard "Avalon" (1975)
The wire-man in action aboard “Avalon” (1975).
Tiger shark recycles Brizaka's 1006 pound Black marlin (1975)
Tiger shark recycles 1006 pound Black marlin caught earlier.  16mm film frame

FOOTNOTE:

Captain Peter Bristow initially set in motion what was soon to become The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority with the talent of Mrs. Valerie Taylor, based in Sydney, lobbying the media and politicians.

Peter Bristow enlisted the help of his friend Mrs Valerie Taylor to lobby for protection of a small section of reef near Lizard Island known as Cormorant Passage (commonly called The Cod Hole).

It was feared a population of large and tame Potato cod would be wiped out if not given urgent protection.

Others had similar concerns.

Valerie Taylor through her influence was able to get the media and political attention which set in motion the first gazetted protection for the Great Barrier Reef.

For her success Valerie was ‘Ordained a Knight in the Order of the Golden Ark’ by the Prince of the Netherlands, an award which sadly no longer exists for conservation.

 © J.H. Harding.

The Most Excellent Order of the Golden Ark (Dutch: Orde van de Gouden Ark) is a Dutch order of merit established in 1971 by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. It is awarded to people for major contributions to nature conservation.[2] Although not awarded by the government of the Netherlands, it is considered by the government as a recognized chivalrous order.[3] Since its inception, over 300 people have been recognised by the award. Now that Prince Bernhard has died, the future of the order is uncertain. (Wikipedia).

SPEAR FISHING 1969 – Black marlin at Point Lookout

Black marlin The Group 1969We’d just arrived at the small bunch of rocks off Point Lookout (North Stradbroke Island, Queensland) where the water is quite deep.
A visiting game fishing boat was hooked up with a small black marlin. The fish made a few jumps then the line broke.
Trevor Collins slipped over the side of our boat with a  gas gun and secured the fish. From memory it weighed 78 pounds.
Trev black marlin Trev Collins black marlin
The reconstructed spear fishing scene was included in my first documentary \Aquarius – People and Wildlife of the Sea\ (1970).
It was meritorious as the first black marlin speared in Australia – under unusual circumstances which kept it out of the record book.
The game fishing boat’s name Mercury is visible on an enlarged version.  This post was using dial-up, so pictures were kept small.
I asked Peter Bristow via email if he might know who owned the boat.
Peter is a former Point Lookout- based fisherman. From about 1970 he pioneered big game fishing in Australia at Cairns, North Queensland, and subsequently helped put that once northern sleepy town on the international tourist map of the world.
Here is Bristow’s reply from the island of Madeira where he now lives:
My God yes. The owner and driving the boat is Steve Murphy. He was a close friend of Bob Dyer. The guy on the rod is his son Rick and standing next to him is his son-in- law, Jack. They were all close friends of mine. Steve was chief engineer at Bulimba Brewery in Brisbane and a constant source of free beer!
From memory, that (incident) took place somewhere near Boat Rock off Point Lookout–Correct?
It would have been mid to late 60’s ???
The boat was built by Clem Masters at Cabbage Tree Creek, Shorncliffe, Brisbane. It originally had Mercury outboards; hence the name.
It was 30 feet long. He then replaced them with inboard-outboard drives.
I was a regular crew on it when I lived in Brisbane and even went to the launching.  (Thanks for the memory).