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White Sox-Giants World Tour: Typhoon

The RMS. Empress of Japan runs headfirst into the worst storm in 10 years of crossing the Pacific

The RMS Empress of Japan.
The RMS Empress of Japan.

It's Dec. 2. Do you know where your globetrotting ballplayers are?

Well, they're not in Yokohama. There were supposed to arrive in Japan today, but they had a valid excuse. The RMS Empress of Japan ran right into a typhoon, forcing its crew to act under emergency orders.

One of the tourists unaffiliated with either team was Frank McGlynn, a film director. He and his cameraman, Victor Miller, shot footage of the tour for a movie that has been may sadly be lost forever, and they filmed the start of the storm before retreating below deck. In an article for Baseball Magazine, he described what they endured after.

At 4 A.M., Mr. Holland, the first officer, was on the bridge when the ship was being buffeted by giant seas and the darkness was so great that no estimate could be made as to their direction, except by the "feel" of the vessel as she was struck by each successive wave. As soon as the least ray of dawn gave an idea of direction she was "hove to" and for sixteen hours labored against the tempest and mountainous seas. Three boat booms were snapped like pipe stems, on boat stove in and one wave struck the bridge, forcing Mr. Holland and his men to jump from the superstructure for fear it would be carried away. The sight at daybreak was the most appalling and awful it has ever been my lot to experience. The waves ran so high (60 feet, according to Capt. [W. Dixon] Hopcraft's estimate) that at no time was there any horizon line visible from any point, one succession of mountains of water, each with a roaring crest of froth, which, on striking the gale, would be lashed into lather and run down the great trough of the sea. [...]

The Empress of Japan, a steel ship, 485 feet long, was tossed about like a small rowboat, and as the sea would strike her, a sound like the roar of artillery would accompany the blow. As she mounted a wave and dipped toward the yawning gulf of gray below, her twins crews would be in the air, then, taking the sea, as she slipped down the incline, they would send a shudder down the frame; down, down, down. It seemed an interminable distance the stout old craft would go; then, like a thing of life, she would seem to pause and judge the oncoming mountain of water that threatened to completely submerge her. How she ever kept her head up is a mystery that can only be answered by the brave men who stuck to their work through cold and wet and impending disaster; but she rose to each occasion and gradually up, up, up till near the top, when crash! the last of the crest would strike her slightly off the post prow and hundreds of tons of roaring brine would cover her forecastle. Like a giant animal she seemed to strain and stagger and finally come through the seas as water rushed along her decks seeking an outlet over the sides through the scuppers and ofttimes into the coal bunkers, causing her to shudder and apparently lift in a spasmodic way as she righted herself for the next plunge down into the seething gulf.

The worst of the storm lasted 24 hours, and by the time it cleared and allowed the crew members to officially regain their bearings, they discovered the force of the storm blew the Empress of Japan backward. The ship had been pointed in the correct direction, but the difference between engine room's records and Hopcraft's post-storm location estimate revealed a net loss of nearly 200 miles.

On top of that, the lashing of the water into the engine room knocked out one of the four coal engines, and the other three boilers were working with sopping wet coal that didn't provide a whole lot of energy when burned.

In "The Tour To End All Tours," James E. Elfers writes that the Empress of Japan had never been more than a few hours late in its 10 years of crossing the Pacific. Knocked 200 miles off course and limping afterward with engine and fuel problems, they wouldn't see any of Japan for a few more days.

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