« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
how important it is that the weight of the apparatus should be reduced as far as is consistent with efficiency.
With this object, the Government instructed Lieut. Lyle to investigate the rocket systems adopted in other countries, and accordingly he reported upon the Russian, German, and English (Boxer's) Rockets, also Hooper's, an English invention, but not, I believe, adopted by the English Government.
Lieut. Lyle is evidently not in favour of rockets, as with them, he says, "One never knows what may happen or where they will go to when fired."
In the opinion of the Board there are grave objections to the use of rockets for life-saving purposes, such as their liability to deterioration when stored for any length of time, the uncertainty of their flight, and other matters. The Board was of opinion that the apparatus now in use in the service is, in addition to its undoubted greater economy, superior in efficiency to any system of rockets that has been tried, but recommend the adoption of the English wreck lights for illuminating the beach when a wreck occurs.
Having thrown the line over the wreck, the shipwrecked crew proceed, as in England, to haul on the line, to which is attached the tallyboard, with instructions how to proceed printed in different languages, also the tail-block and whip. The tail-block being made fast on board the ship, the surfmen haul on the whip and convey the hawser to the wreck; one end being made fast on board, the rope is carried over the crotch or tripod, and hauled taut by means of tackles secured to the sand-anchor; the hawser thus forms a sort of suspension bridge between the wreck and the shore. Various methods have been used for conveying persons from the wreck along the hawser, and until recently the department adopted the life-car, which is in effect a small covered boat, capable of holding from two to four persons, and suspended from the hawser by rings; the life-car has the advantage not
possessed by any other contrivance of bringing women, children, and sick people to shore in a dry condition, and without risk, and on some occasions bullion and other valuable property has been saved by its use. Two hundred and one persons were saved by the car at the wreck of the Ayrshire, on the New Jersey coast. But it has its disadvantages; one being the inconvenient means its narrow hatchway affords in the commotion of the sea for receiving those who are to enter it; but the most serious drawback to its use is its excessive weight of 221 lbs., as compared with the 21lbs. of the breeches-buoy; consequently the use of the life-car has been reserved for cases when large numbers of persons have to be saved, and when the crews of several stations have collected at the wreck, the breeches-buoy being taken first to the scene of action for the sake of speed.
The life-car is the invention of Captain Ottinger, who received $10,000 from the Government for his invention.
Life-rafts have also been tried as a means of saving life; they consist of cylinders with a platform between them, and possess the advantage of being able to accommodate a considerable number of persons at one time, that they are easy to get on board, and can be used as boats under oars. On the other hand, they may be capsized and those on them thrown into the surf, and are not so well adapted as the lifecar for the conveyance of feeble persons. In 1879 the report of the department states, that after considerable enquiry it has been found that however valuable they may be as a means of escape on shipboard, the superiority claimed for them in effecting rescues from the shore has not yet been established.
The life-saving dress invented by Captain Merryman, of the Life-Saving Department, and made familiar to most people by the exploits of Paul Boyton, is one of the authorised
equipments of a life-saving station, and on several occasions has been used with great advantage.
Sometimes the surfmen, after firing a line over a wreck, put on these dresses and haul themselves along the line to the vessel, the crew of which are perhaps too terrified or too ignorant to work the apparatus; on other occasions, by the aid of these dresses, the men can venture into the surf and rescue people from drowning who would otherwise have been carried out to sea by the fearful undertow.
In cold weather a surfman, clad in this dress, will sometimes proceed from a station to the mainland, his route being through creeks and marshes which could not be safely traversed in an ordinary costume.
The admirable storm signal system of the Signal Service of the United States is connected with a number of the lifesaving stations, and great benefit has resulted therefrom; telephones are also being rapidly introduced where practicable.
Having now described the principal items of the apparatus used by the service, I must say something of the crews which man the stations.
Like all other appointments in the United States, the position of a surfman has been the subject of political partisanship, and vigorous efforts are being made to remove this reproach from the service. A bill was introduced into Congress for the improvement of the service in 1879, and was not carried, but it is hoped that soon it will become law. The last section of the bill embodies the important provision "that the appointment and employment of all officers and crews of the Life-Saving Service shall be made without reference to their political or party affiliations, and solely with reference to their fitness."
The reports of the service constantly reiterate the necessity of selecting its agents strictly upon grounds of professional qualification; in fact, so much is said upon this
subject, that one cannot help feeling that a large number of men now in the employ do not possess the requisite qualifications, but have been appointed for political reasons.
The office of General Superintendent is filled by Mr. Sumner J. Kimball, who was appointed in 1871, and to whom the present organisation of the service is due; and it is to the admirable reports issued by this gentleman, which may be found in the Free Library, that I am indebted for the information I have been able to bring before you.
The post of Inspector and Superintendent of Construction of Life-Saving Stations is occupied by Captain J. H. Merryman, of the United States Revenue Marine, who has for long rendered noble service in the Life-Saving Department, is the inventor of the dress already alluded to, and the author of an admirable article in Scribner's Monthly for January, 1880, the graphic illustrations to which will convey a better idea of the services rendered by the station crews than can be done by words alone.
The total number of stations is one hundred and seventynine, one hundred and thirty-nine being on the Atlantic coast, thirty-four on the Lakes, and six on the Pacific coast.
There are twelve districts on the Atlantic, three on the Lakes, and one on the Pacific. Each district is under the immediate charge of a superintendent, who must reside in it. He nominates the keepers, makes requisitions for stores, and pays the crews their wages.
To each district is assigned an Assistant Inspector, who is also the commanding officer of the revenue cruiser.
All officers of the service are invested with the powers of Customs officers, which enable them to protect the interests of the Government in preventing smuggling.
As a check against the employment of incompetent men as keepers or surfmen, it has been found advisable to hold an annual examination of the stations by a Board, composed of
an Inspector of the Service, who, in addition to his inquiries into the qualifications and behaviour of the men, inspects the condition of the stations and their appointments; secondly, of a Medical Officer (a surgeon of the Marine Hospital Service), who subjects each person to a thorough test of his physical soundness, and also gives the usual instructions in the method of resuscitating the apparently drowned; to these is added a practical surfman, qualified by long experience and ripe judgment to decide upon the abilities of the keepers and crews as they are put through the manoeuvres of handling their boats in the surf before him, or conducting operations with the wreck guns and life-car gear.
The crew of a station consists of a keeper and six men, which is simply adequate to the manning of the six oars of the boat and the oar of the steersman.
The following description of the duties of the surfmen is taken from Captain Merryman's article already mentioned:
"Each day has its drill and exercise, and much spare time is devoted to keeping the building and apparatus in repair; at night the duties become severe, and often perilous. The interval from sunset to sunrise is divided into three watches. At the beginning of each watch two men set out from the station on patrol duty, and follow their beats to the right and left respectively until they meet the patrol men from the adjacent stations, with whom they exchange certain tokens as proof to the keepers in the morning of the faithful performance of their duty. The meeting and exchange of tokens is required of course only upon continuous beaches where the stations average a distance of three to five miles apart; at isolated stations the limits of the patrol are fixed by specific boundaries. The watching of the beach is of cardinal importance, and neglect of this duty is punished by banishment from the service and prohibition of future employment.