Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off 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. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.
– Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday Aug 13, 2014 A Sad Story of Fish, Genius, Sightseeing and Neglect
Here we see the majestic yacht Celt. Built by Pusey and Jones Co., Wilmington, Delaware (hull number 306), the 170-foot long steel hulled vessel with fine lines was built to the specs of one Mr. J. Rogers Maxwell, a long-time member of the Atlantic Yacht Club who had owned a number of famous racing yachts including the Peerless, Emerald and Yankee. Designed by Mr. Wintringham, Celt was 138-feet at the waterline and 170 oal. Intended for New York Bay and Long Island Sound, she was to be a tender and flagship to Maxwell’s racing fleet. Outfitted with a number of mahogany adorned cabins on two berthing decks, she was a a magnificent vessel. Two Almy boilers fed by some 42 tons of bunkered coal pushed a four-cylinder triple expansion Sullivan that generated 1200 shp. Completed in 1902, she was the toast of the New York coastline for a decade.
Maxwell’s racing team won the King’s Cup in 1907 in the Queen, but by 1914, the whole trans-Atlantic sprint had fallen into a slump due to the start of World War One. With this, Celt was laid up and at sometime during this time was renamed Sachem upon her sale to one Manton B. Metcalf. When the U.S. entered the war in April 1917, Metcalf offered the craft up for use by the Navy. As such, in July 1917 she rightfully became the USS Sachem (SP-192), an anti-submarine patrol craft. Her armament was an unimpressive 6-pounder 57mm deck gun, a pair of 3-pounder 37mm guns, and two Colt potato digger light machine-guns.
Then something odd happened.
According to Thomas A. Edison: Unorthodox Submarine Hunter by E. David Cronon archived over at the WWI.com website, Thomas Edison had a queer fascination with producing any number of novel ideas to sink the Kaiser’s U-boats. But he needed a ship as a floating laboratory. Keep reading:
“Edison would not rest, however, until he had acquired a boat for his anti-submarine experiments. In the spring of 1917 he obtained Secretary Daniels’ permission to charter a yacht for this purpose, but had great difficulty finding a suitable one at a cost he thought reasonable. He suspected this was because the owners hoped the government would commandeer their boats so they would “then get a good price for them.” “Many of them are old and the engines defective, approaching the character of junk,” he cautioned Daniels. “I think Roosevelt should be warned not to fall into this trap and be saddled with a lot of junk.”(31). This last was a reference to F.D.R.’s well-publicized enthusiasm for solving the U-boat problem with a fleet of small anti-submarine boats. After a number of false starts, Daniels finally arranged for Edison to have use of a Navy submarine patrol boat, the S.P. 192, and the Edisons moved to New London, Connecticut, to conduct experiments on Long Island Sound. Always protective, Mrs. Edison insisted on sharing the small cabin aboard ship with the inventor, much to the dismay of the Navy crew. “I detest it on the boat and long to be home, ” she wrote one of their sons. “I wish I knew just how much and what Papa wants me out here for. . . . The more cluttered the place the better contented father seems to be. I could kill Hutchinson for ever getting him into this mess.”(32). Mrs. Edison worried about her husband’s susceptibility to seasickness and his unwillingness to conclude his experiments or ever concede defeat. “It looks like a winter’s job as far as father is concerned, as you know father,” she lamented in another letter. “He constantly gets new ideas that leads [sic] to more experimenting and halfway never counts with him.”(33).
The use of a suitable Navy boat enabled Edison to conduct experiments on a number of projects requiring tests simulating conditions at sea. One of these was a water brake or sea anchor, which he called a “kite rudder,” and which when used in conjunction with a ship’s engines and regular rudder might enable it to turn quickly enough to avoid an oncoming torpedo. “On a merchant ship I propose to use 2 or 3 fastened to rail of ship.” Edison reported. “On signal, they are dropped and instantly act to turn the ship.”(34). In one experiment, a fully loaded cargo ship was able to turn 90 degrees in only 200 feet using four sea anchors, whereas it advanced 1,000 feet while executing the same turn with no sea anchors in use (35).
Two of the inventor’s other schemes might have come from Rube Goldberg. Noting that 75% of torpedoed ships took more than fifteen minutes to sink, Edison experimented with what he called “collision mats” rolled up at the rail on both sides of a ship for its full length. When torpedoed, these-large mats would be released to cover the hole, and water pressure would hold them against the cargo, slowing the influx of water. “I think 50% of all the torpedoed boats can be saved and got to port,” Edison reported to Daniels in a handwritten note from Key West; “officers here think so.”(36). An even more fantastic Edison contraption was a 25-foot long tube of rolled up wire mesh made of quarter-inch cable. “It resembles a large window curtain,” he explained, which would be fired from the ship in the path of an oncoming torpedo.
In add Edison worked on some 45 inventions to fight submarines during the war, and none were put into production
The hardy Sachem never saw active combat and was returned to Mr. Metcalf in Feb. 1919 who sold it to a Philadelphia banker for use as a yacht (and rumored as a rum runner mother-ship during Prohibition) before selling it again to Sheepshead Bay New York charter fisherman Jake Martin in 1932. Martin soon put the now-30 year old craft into use each summer as a junket ship for tourists along the Jersey and New York coast.
Martin had the old steam engines replaced with a more modern 7-cylinder Fairbanks-Morse 805hp diesel during the winter of 1935-36 and continued her in service chasing tuna and sharks for day passengers. Then came another war.
On on 17 February 1942, just ten weeks after Pearl Harbor, the Navy bought the now-40 year old ex-yacht turned fishing boat for $65,000. Giving her a haze gray paint scheme, an obsolete 3″/23 cal gun recycled from a Coast Guard cutter who had traded it in for something bigger, four M2 water-cooled Brownings and some depth charge racks, she was commissioned USS Phenakite (PYc-25), 1 July 1942.
During the war the old girl plied the Eastern seaboard from Key West to New York doing patrol work but, like in her first war service, found no combat. By November 1944 she was laid up again and a year later Martin reclaimed her. He promptly sold her in poor shape to the Circle Line group of tour boats in New York City who spiffed her up and renamed her Sightseeker.
Moored at the popular Pier 83, the craft was very distinctive with its sleek turn of the century clipper lines (and welded over deck gun mounts). Even when the Circle Line divested themselves of most of their oldest vessels in the 1950s, they kept the Sightseer around as she was a crowd favorite. Captained by an experienced Norwegian master by the name of Harold Log, she was the flagship of the line well into the 1970s (being renamed the apt Circle Line V) until the Circle Line finally sold her for her value in scrap metal. Apparently, while derelict in New York harbor, she made it into Madonna’s “Papa Dont Preach” video.
The rest of her life is a mystery until she was picked up by one Robert Miller in 1986, nearly a decade after she was sold for scrap. Miller repaired her a bit, crewed her and sailed her to his property near Lawrenceburg, Indiana on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River
Unfortunately, she is still there as a ghost ship along the river frequented by kayakers and would-be treasure hunters searching for reasons to get a tetanus shot.
Now, some 112 years old, she rests in the mud.
Displacement 317 t.
1942 – 360 t.
Length 186′ 3″
1942 – 183′
Beam 22′ 6″
1942 – 9′ 7″
Speed 15 kts.
1942 – 13.5 kts.
Complement 49 (1917)
1942 – 40
Armament: One 6-pounder, two 3-pounders and two machine guns (1917)
1942 – One 3″/23 mount, four .50 cal. machine guns and two depth charge tracks
Propulsion: One 1,200ihp vertical triple-expansion steam engine, one shaft
1936 – One 805hp 7-cylinder Fairbanks-Morse 37D 14 diesel engine.
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