Albatross

Click here to view a relic of the Albatross Expedition of 1911


The account of Jack L. McSherry, U.S.N.
crew member of the Albatross
1911
 
 
Jack L. McSherry
    I found that duty, on the Albatross was all together different than it was on a battleship.   She was built in 1882 and her tonnage was only six hundred and thirty-eight tons; was also equipped with sails besides having coal burning fire rooms and engines.   The Albatross belonged to the Bureau of Fisheries, of what was then the Department of Commerce and Labor, and also had a crew on her that was loaned to that Department by the Navy.   Our Captain was a good and very efficient Naval Commander; his name was Guy Burrage. (In May, 1921', when Charles Lindbergh made his marvelous, lone flight to Europe, Admiral Burrage was over there in command of, I think, a group of cruisers.   The Navy Department authorized the Admiral to bring Mister Lindbergh home on his flagship, which was done. We left San Francisco to go Alaska on seventeen May, 1911 and stopped at Seattle, on Puget Sound, to fill our coal bunkers and to get other supplies.   We had to stay there a few days longer for some officials from the Bureau of Fisheries that were going to Alaska with us and were coming out to the coast from Washington by train.   Their reason for going to Alaska was to take some scientific tests  on the habits of salmon and other specimens of those waters?After four days at Seattle  we left and went by way of the inside passage and stopped at Comax, British Columbia for coal; the coal bunkers on that ship were sort of small, so we had to stop quite often for coal.   I believe that the capacity of our coal bunkers were only two  hundred tons?We also stopped at Ketchikan for coal and water.   That was a wonderful trip going by way of the inside passage.   It was sort of narrow and lined on both sides with dense forest most of the way.   I believe that we left the inside passage at  Icy Strait.   Places that we stopped at while in Alaskan waters besides Ketchikan were: Killino, Alitak Bay on Kodiak Island, Chigvik Bay, Akutan, Unalaska, Dutch Harbor, Macloid Harbor, Zarkof Bay, Yakatat, Disenchantment Bay, Symonds Bay and Sitka. We stopped at all of those places so that the Professors could get samples and take other observations.   We were in Alaska all of the summer of 1911 and we stopped several times at the town of Kodiak on the island having the same name.   I think that we liked that town better than any of the other places in the state. just about one year later, Kodiak was just about destroyed by heavy deposits of ash and pumice from a volcano at Katmai, almost one hundred miles away.

    Most of those small towns that we stopped at in Alaska had a store and a post office. Only the mail did not get there very regularly.   We arrived in Alaskan waters on May twenty-ninth and we received our first mail on twenty-one, July.   There was a Navy Coaling Station at Dutch Harbor, just around a point of land from Unalaska. Just before the Fourth of July, we were taking on coal and the Buffalo was there doing the same; that didn't happen very often that both of us were there at the same time.   In the evening, after we had the coal aboard and  had cleaned up, we walked on a trail from Dutch Harbor to Unalask-was not very far. The Headquarters for the United States Revenue Cutter Service, now the Coast Guard, in Alaska was at Unalaska.   Several Revenue Cutters were in the harbor to spend the Fourth of July there.  They were the Tahoma, Manning, Bear, McCulloch [which served at the Battle of Manila Bay - Pat] and Thetis. A Japanese battleship was also anchored in the harbor.   There were eight, small, two-mast schooners out of the water on the beach, they had been taken over from the Japanese by the Revenue men because of illegal seal hunting.   In the evening of July third and fourth, there was a dance at Unalaska; men from the Albatross and Revenue Cutters attended the affair.   Most of the women that were at the dance were Indian girls; they were very pleasant and most of them were real nice-looking.   On July Fourth, we full-dressed ship, the Japanese Battleship did also; that is a custom that is followed very closely by the navies of the world.   Also, during the holiday, there was a boat race between the Cutter Tahoma and the Japanese Battleship; the Japanese crew won the race.   Then in the afternoon, the Tahoma and Manning had a baseball game ? don?t remember which team won or what the score was.   That baseball game was played at Unalaska, pretty well out on the Aleutian chain of islands and the weather was much warmer than we had at some big league games that we attended in some of our eastern cities.   Several times when we were in those waters and had a favorable wind, we would make sail, possibly we saved some coal by doing so. We only used the jib and foresail. Making sail with the job and furling it was hardly any work at all but handling the foresail with a bunch of battleship men was something different.   But our crew was not all iron navy men, we bad three that had sailed on square riggers and, of course, they knew what to do and how to do it. Those three men didn't go aloft unless it was necessary to do so; they stayed on deck and directed the operation; they also manned the proper lines at the right time.   I never became very much of a sailing ship man, but there were two things that I got on to very quickly and they were, that the first two men to go up the ratlines and out on the footrope to the end of the yardarm, one port and one starboard, had it easy.   Those two men had very little of the sail to furl and only about two gaskets to pass.   The three men on deck would clew up the sail from the two outboard corners and that made it so that the men standing on the footrope and being next to the mast, had all of the heavy part of the sail to furl, and those sails were made out of real heavy canvas, and on wet days they weighed a ton or so more.   All of the men that were aloft had to work with both hands -we would hold on with our feet on the footrope and have our chest braced against the yardarm.   It was all sort of different for us men from the big ships that had only used sails in sailing our small boats that we had on the battleships.

   We thought that Montaque Island looked like a wild sort of place.   Sailing along near that island, we saw some of those large Kodiak bears on the beach-we suppose that they were out for the purpose of catching some fish for their dinner.   Another thing that we remember about that trip to Alaska was how we got our fresh water when we were not tied up to a pier.   Of course, that old vessel did not have the equipment to convert sea water to fresh water like the battleships and other newer ships had, so we had to get our fresh water wherever we could.   When we would be moored to a pier, there was always plenty of fresh water nearby.   One time, we went into a small placer think that it was named Symonds Bay, it was not very far from Sitka. The professors were taking some tests or getting some specimens of something, so our executive officer thought that it would be a good place to fill up our water tanks. While some of the men gave our small boats a good cleaning up inside, two of us went over to the beach in the power boat to locate a small stream near the water's edge where it would be convenient to fill the boats with a hose.   We found a perfect place-it was about six miles from Sitka at Symonds Bay on Biorka Island.   It was a good stream of clear, cold water and up high enough from the water's edge so that we could fill the boats with a hose without any unnecessary exertion on our part, which meant that about all we bad to do most of the time, was to eat berries and enjoy the scenery.   When one boat was full enough, the man in charge of the power boat would tow it back to the ship and there, the water would be pumped in to the tanks from the engine room with a power pump.   I believe that it took most of the day to get enough water to fill all of our tanks.   Out there on the small island, along that stream of water, we saw things that we did not expect to see in Alaska; one was mosquitos-they didn't bother us too much; and the other was berries-just now, we do  not remember what they were like, except  that they were good to eat-they had a very good flavor.   From the time that we had gone to school and studied about Alaska in our geography lessons, we always pictured all of that land as having winter and big snows just about all of the time.   We found it quite different and it was a very pleasant surprise for us. (I remember in the late eighteen nineties, one of my older brothers took me to an ice-cream parlor in Airville, Pennsylvania, to get a cold soft drink and the name of the drink was "Klondike Fizz." That was just at the time when a lot of people were heading for Alaska and the Klondike looking for gold. )

   I do not remember what time that the sun showed up in the morning while we were in Alaska, but I think that sunset was just about eleven o'clock or, the common sense way of saying it, twenty-three hundred. After the sun went over the horizon, it did not get real dark, just sort of dusk.   We were at Yakautat Bay for a while and from there, we had a wonderful view of Mount St. Elias; that mountain is the fourth highest peak in North America.   It is just about on the boundary between Alaska and the Yukon Territory of Canada.   Mt. St. Elias is eighteen thousand and twenty-four (18,024) feet high.   From the base of the mountain to the coast, there is the Malaspina Glacier. The view that we had of that mountain when we were cruising along about three or four miles from the shore was wonderful.   On a clear day and near sunset in the summertime, it is a beautiful part of nature to watch and hard to describe.   The time that we spent in Alaskan waters was only a little over three months, but to me it was a wonderful summer.   When one likes the great outdoors, it is very easy to forget all about the cities.

  There were several salmon canning plants along the coast of Alaska.   The company that owned and operated those establishments also had some square rigged sailing ships.   In the spring of the year, those ships were sailed to Alaska, having on board all of the employees that were necessary to run the canning houses, except the natives that worked there during the busy season and also all equipment and supplies.   When the canning season was completed, the crates of canned fish were loaded on the square riggers and sailed back to the west coast ports and unloaded and we suppose, sold.   It is possible that the canning house companies saved a pretty large amount of money by using that system of transportation.   The professors that we took to Alaska would go to the canning houses occasionally.   I suppose it was part of their work to look them over when they were in that vicinity.

   A few days before we left Alaskan waters, there was a fight between two of our men.   I don't know what their difference was or what  their argument was about, maybe I did know at the time-am not certain.   One of the men was the first class rated man that was in charge of all of the deck force.   The other man was a seaman and was on his second enlistment in the navy.   I remember that he was from New York City.   His parents had a business of some kind in that city and had expected that he would stay home and help them run it, but it seemed that he liked navy life a lot better than being a business man.   I don't know what the two men were fighting about, but it was quite an affair. They were both just about the same size and weight, sort of short and stocky. They stood toe to toe and slugged it out for about ten minutes, then for some reason, we looked up toward the bridge deck and there stood the captain, just standing there watching the fight.   Then, just about that time, the fighters started to slow down and he told them in a very quiet voice that they could very easily call it off because they both had proved to each other and to their shipmates that they were both men.   That ended the fight and it did not break out again, as far as I ever knew.

  We left Alaska and returned to San Francisco in September and, of course, we were all glad to see that great city again.



Source: McSherry, Jack L., Things We Remember, 1966


Back to Albatross Directory ||| Back to Arctic Expeditions Page
Back to Main Page