Warship Wednesday, July 10 Finding the Path

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week.

– Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday,  July 10.


Here we see USC&GSS Pathfinder, a classic ship from another age. Built on the lines of a clipper she lived through three naval wars and served the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey for forty years, mapping most of the Philippines and ending her life as a wreck in her waters. She was built 1897-98 by the Crescent Shipyard at Morris Heights, New Jersey. Her architect was Lewis Nixon, a household name among fast yacht builders at the turn of the century. She was a three deck steel ship of extra strength built for work in the Aleutian Archipelago where strong currents, distances from supply bases required a vessel of considerable power and coal capacity.

She had 15 water tight compartments with dimensions of 196′ 3″ over all, 33′ 6″ beam, 19′ 8″ “depth of hold” and equipped for sea draws 13′. She is brigantine-rigged with some 4,500 square feet of canvas and a single, 10′ diameter 13′ pitch, screw. Her vertical triple expansion steam engines with twenty-eight inch stroke developed 846 horsepower or 1,173 horsepower under forced draft with a speed of 10.5 to 13 knots. Her range was estimated at about 5,000 miles with a bunker capacity of 240 tons of coal. She was entirely steel with three decks.

Although built for the USC&GS, the Spanish-American War intervened in her birth.  In June 1898  the Navy took near-possesion of her and sailed her with a crew of 65 bluejackets lead by USC&GS officers (what today would be NOAA Ocean Service officers) and sailed her to Hampton Roads. There it was envisioned she could be converted to an armed auxiliary cruiser. Before this was done, the war ended and she continued to the Pacific as the USC&GSS  Pathfinder and not the USS Pathfinder in 1899. She spent a year doing coastal survey work along the California, Alaskan and Hawaiian coasts before being sent to the new US possession of the Philippines.

Survey work involved several ship's launches moving in a line along with ashore teams equiped with surveyors tools for making precise measurements. Some of the charts made from surveys done by  Pathfinder are still in use today.

Survey work involved several ship’s launches moving in a line along with ashore teams equipped with surveyors tools for making precise measurements. Without the work put in by this ship on a 40-year mission, the retaking of the Philippines by the US Navy in WWII would have been much harder. Some of the charts made from surveys done by Pathfinder (above) are still in use today.

With no reliable charts of the huge archipelago, the Pathfinder, meant for use in Alaska, spent four decades in the PI, combing every inch of shoreline. By 1910 she had a ‘submarine sentry’– a device which warned the crew when she was shoaling by a series of kites, as well as a refrigeration system and wireless; making her one of the most modern ships afloat.As her original crew retired, they were at first augmented then replaced by local Filipinos.   By 1920 the entire ship, save for a handful of USC&GS officers, were natives.

The PATHFINDER in drydock at Kowloon, 1906. NOAA Photo

Over the years she was sometimes pressed into transporting Philippine Constabulary troops and US soldiers to fight against the lengthy insurgency along the islands.

crew with constabulary

The crew at least twice had a run in with pirates, was beached in wild typhoons, dodged the German raider Emden in WWI, and watched nervously as Japanese planes flew dangerously close to her in the 1930s. When World War Two erupted in the Pacific, the 42-year-old converted yacht chopped over to the Navy’s control and she found herself the target of Japanese bombs at Corregidor. Damaged beyond wartime repair, she was beached in a sinking condition and burned so that the Japanese could not salvage her.

Within a year, the USS Pathfinder AGS-1, the first US Navy oceanographic survey ship, replaced her and assumed her proud name. She served until 1972.

usns pathfinder

Currently the US Navy still maintains a survey ship named Pathfinder, the USNS Pathfinder (TAGS-60), a 4,762-ton ship that has been in commission since 1994.

Length:     196.25 ft (59.82 m)
Beam:     33.5 ft (10.2 m)
Draft:     13 ft (4.0 m)
Depth of hold:     19.66 ft (5.99 m)
Decks:     Three
Installed power:     Triple expansion steam engines developing 846 horsepower or 1,173 horsepower under forced draft
Sail plan:     Brigantine-rigged, 4,500 square feet of canvas
Speed:     10.5 to 13 knots
Range:     5,000 miles
Notes:     Specifically built for Alaska service

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization


They are possibly one of the best sources of naval lore http://www.warship.org/naval.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

I’m a member, so should you be!


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