"HEAVEN HELP THE SAILOR ON A NIGHT LIKE THIS." -old folk prayer In late December 1951, laden with passengers and nearly forty metric tons of cargo, the freighter S.S. Flying Enterprise steamed westward from Europe toward America. A few days into the voyage, she hit the eye of a ferocious storm. Force 12 winds tossed men about like playthings and turned drops of freezing Atlantic foam into icy missiles. When, in the space of twenty-eight hours, the ship was slammed by two rogue waves-solid walls of water more than sixty feet high-the impacts cracked the decks and hull almost down to the waterline, threw the vessel over on her side, and thrust all on board into terror. Flying Enterprise's captain, Kurt Carlsen, a seaman of rare ability and valor, mustered all hands to patch the cracks and then try to right the ship. When these efforts came to naught, he helped transfer, across waves forty feet high, the passengers and the entire crew to lifeboats sent from nearby ships.
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June 27, 2006
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Excerpt from Simple Courage by Frank Delaney
In the national archives of the united states in washington, D.C., lies a dense report-several inches high of typed papers- on top of which rests a separate, summarizing document ten pages long. This is the record of the Marine Board convened to investigate subject casualty, together with its Findings of Fact, Opinions and Recommendations. Dated February 26, 1952, and signed by P. A. Ovenden, Chief of the Merchant Vessel Inspection Division in the United States Coast Guard, this official prose contains no hint of the magic energy that conceives a legend.
Mr. Ovenden's conclusions, sent by the Coast Guard to the chief of Merchant Marine Safety, begin by observing that a welded freighter named S.S. Flying Enterprise departed from Hamburg, Germany for New York on 21 December 1951, loaded, among other things, with 762.6 tons of pig iron in No. 2 lower hold and 508 tons of pig iron in No. 4 hold.
Flying Enterprise, a freighter in the class known as "C1-B," was built in the Wilmington yards at Los Angeles by the Consolidated Steel Corporation and released from the shipbuilder's yard to the War Shipping Administration on March 18, 1944. (The man who stamped her brass registration plate made an error in the date, and his original "1943" is overstamped with "1944.") She had the registration number 245133 and the combined signal and radio call sign KWFZ. After the war she went, in January 1946, to the U.S. Maritime Administration, where she was named Cape Kumukaki.
On April 25, 1947, Cape Kumukaki became one of twelve vessels in the Isbrandtsen Line, out of New York, owned by a buccaneering Scandinavian, Hans Isbrandtsen, who, to echo the old sailing clippers, used the prefix Flying for all his cargo ships. He had accumulated his fleet largely by purchasing, at bargain prices from the U.S. Navy, those ships no longer required for the transport of wartime supplies. For this, his competitors in the bare-knuckle freight shipping business disliked him-largely because he had stolen a march on them.
His son, Jakob Isbrandtsen, thinks today that Flying Enterprise must have been one of the last of the C1-B class. They weren't great freighters; they were too small and too slow.