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The Wychwood was a steamer built in 1950 by a company in Sunderland, UK, and had length of just over 300 feet, a beam of 45 feet and she displaced just over 2,500 gross tons. On the night of 11 August 1955, she was sailing from Nova Scotia to Trinidad carrying barites (used in the drilling of oil wells), and ran aground in about 5m of water trying to avoid Hurricane Connie. A tug, the Papago, and the USCG cutter Rockaway eventually managed to refloat her on the 12th. The first tow line sent over exploded in the middle, and the second line also broke. Although her she was leaking pretty badly, her pumps were managing to cope, and a crew from the Rockaway were transferred to help keep the ship afloat. Just before midnight, the towing lines snapped again, including one that slammed through a bulkhead. The waters continued to rise, and the cargo turned the waters red, eventually leading to clogged pumps.
Fighting an increasing lost cause, the Coastguard crew were still determined. In answer to an offer for relief, the reply was "Negative ... we'll walk off or swim off." In sight of the harbour of St George's the Rockaway couldn't tow any further, as the water was too shallow. The Wychwood crew was taken off, leaving the USCG men on board with Hurricane Diane less than two hours away. The first boat to leave the stricken vessel was thrown into the Rockaway's anchor, shattering the boat and throwing men into the seas. Amazingly, no lives were lost, only the papers and money. To avoid losing any more lifeboats, the nine of the remaining men prepared to jump from the Wychwood. One man waiting noted ten sharks circling... All men made it back to the Rockaway, leaving eight men on board the sinking ship. The only boat left on board would have held only 2 or 3 men, but as it was lowered, a wave hit it and jammed it in position. An Air Force crash boat was also on the scene, and told the last men to jump directly on to it's bow. In fine maritime tradition, Captain Thomas was the last man to leave his ship.
In a cruel twist, Hurricane Diane veered off course and passed 300 miles south of Bermuda. On Sunday 14 August, approaching noon, the stern of the Wychwood slowly settled below the waves. Although Captain Thomas was full of praise for the American rescue team, a group of British mariners that came out to help actually did nothing as they had been offered a £500 bonus if the ship sank. The skipper of the Air Force crash boat had been reprimanded after scratching the paint on the boat, but the crew of the Rockaway protested to the CO of the Air Force base, and in a private meeting, the sergeant was rated a hero.
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