Lt. George Blow's report on the Condition of the Wrecked Spanish Cruiser Infanta Maria Teresa



U. S. S. POTOMAC,
Caimanera, Cuba, August 23, 1898.

SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the work done on the wreck of the Maria Teresa since the last inspection made by Lieutenant-Commander Pillsbury, on August 15, 1898.

In obedience to your order, I relieved Lieutenant-Commander Pillsbury as the representative of the Navy Department on August 16, receiving from him a copy of the contract, the name scroll, and an order relating to the same.

0n Friday, August 19, the Potomac being engaged in raising the Sandoval, I started for the wreck of the Infanta Maria Teresa for the purpose of making the regular inspection; but the boiler of the Alvarado began to leak, and it became necessary to return to Guantanamo Bay.

On Monday, August 22, in obedience to your further orders, I took passage on the U. S. S. Hist, and visited the above-named wreck, as directed.  The following is a general description of the work done during the past week and the work now in progress:

As explained in the last report, the water has risen in the wreck, having entered through the leaks forward and worked aft through a large number of openings, many of which are still unknown to the wreckers.  This influx occurred over two weeks ago, when an attempt was made to pull the ship off, and which caused the original plans for salving the ship to be changed.  At present the water inside is only slightly below the level of the water outside the ship.  I am informed by Captain Sharp, however, that the ship can easily be freed of this water at any time, but that it is considered safer to keep this water in her until the big leaks forward are definitely located and gotten under control.  He fears that, should he pump the ship out again before he is ready to make another attempt to haul off, the ship may be permanently injured by being raised and dropped by the swell on the rocks under the bow.

There are four large pumps ready for work, but only one in use, this one being used forward to keep the water down in the forward compartments, where nearly all the work is now being done.  These pumps are being worked from the two donkey boilers of the wreck and the four portable donkey boilers put on board by the wreckers.  There is no steam on the ship's boilers at present, the fire rooms being full of water.  I am informed by Captain Sharp that the fire rooms could be pumped out and the main boilers used again if it was considered necessary, but that the donkey boilers gave all the steam necessary, and, being above water, are much more convenient and cooler. He also informed me that they had not used the pumps for three days, and that during that time the water had gained only 2 feet, or about 8 inches a day.

Since the unsuccessful attempt to float the wreck was made, the whole plan of work has been changed.  The original method of what Captain Sharp calls "quick dispatch," which consisted in closing all accessible holes, putting in enough pumps to control the leak, hauling off, and towing to the nearest port for docking and repairs, has been abandoned and efforts are now being made to find and stop the leaks before another effort to haul off is made.

The heavy back wash from the beach has not only piled up the sand around the bows, thus concealing the holes, but the undertow makes it impossible for the divers to work effectively from the outside.  Blankets, canvas, etc., have been pushed down near the supposed location of the holes, but have either been carried away by the swell or sucked completely inside the ship.  At any rate they have not checked the leaks.

The method now being followed is to locate and stop the leak from the inside.  The approximate position being known, heavy pumps will be concentrated on that (or those) compartments, and the divers will attempt to locate and stop the holes.  Meanwhile the ship will be kept full of water, to avoid all motion from the swell.  This is the present plan of operations, as explained to me by Captain Sharp.

The main leak is supposed to be in the third (and possibly the fourth) water-tight compartment, counting from the bow aft.  This compartment is under the chain lockers, which rest on the protective deck, and is full of small storerooms, lockers, etc., too intricate and dangerous for a diver to work in or for the heavy flexible suction pipes of the wrecking pumps to follow from deck to deck.  To overcome these difficulties, a number (said to be thirty) of native Cubans have been employed and are engaged in clearing out the storerooms, and throwing overboard the foul and most unhealthy decayed and rotting stores.  Only the canvas, hammocks, bedding, etc., are being kept, to be used in stopping the leaks when found.

A hatchway about 3 feet square is being cut through the protective deck, to admit the diver, pumps, etc.  The point selected is in the chain lockers, on the crown of the deck, where it is thinnest.  As the metal is about 2 inches thick and only two drills are at work, it will be several days more before this work is completed.

In the meantime very little work is or can be done by the wreckers, except that of cleaning out the storerooms.  No attempt has been made to lighten the ship since the anchors and chains were removed, as previously reported.

In my opinion, the facilities for stripping the various wrecks of guns, anchors, torpedoes, and ammunition are entirely inadequate, though Captain Sharp assures me that he can remove all except the turret gnus with his derrick boom.  The wrecking tug Merrit is the only vessel at the wreck, and as far as I know there are no pontoons or steam derricks available for the work.

In this connection, I would respectfully call attention to the large number of Schwartzkopf torpedoes still on board the three wrecks, and suggest that they be removed as soon as possible.  Some of these torpedoes have been injured by fire and some seem to be in excellent condition.  It is believed that out of the total number (about 18 on the Maria Teresa alone) probably 10 or 15 perfect torpedoes could constructed.

There is also an unknown amount of ammunition and torpedo war heads on board the different wrecks, which is not only in the way of the wreckers, but is a source of danger to them, and to the large number of officers who visit the wrecks.  I would respectfully recommend that the torpedoes and war heads be recovered and sent home, and that the ammunition be removed and stored or destroyed.  I would also suggest the desirability of removing all the secondary battery as soon as possible, as the guns and mounts are rapidly being ruined.

Very respectfully,

GEO.  P. BLOW
Lieutenant, U. S. N.,
Commanding, and representing Navy Department.

Commodore J. C. WATSON, U. S. N.
Commanding Eastern Division


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