The passenger/cargo ship Zaandam was launched on May 2, 1882 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. She was an iron hulled steamer 324' long and registered at 3,154 gross tons. She could carry 924 passengers and was built for the Holland-America Line. Her trials took place on July 20, 1882 and were deemed to be quite satisfactory to the company representatives who were present. On July 29, 1882 she made her maiden voyage to New York and remained on New York service until 1888. She was then shifted to South America until 1892 when New York again became her destination. She was sold to the Austro Americana Line in 1897 and renamed Styria and in 1902 she was again sold, this time to the Luckenbach Steamship Company of New York and renamed Julia Luckenbach.
In April of 1912, just two weeks after the Titanic disaster, Julia Luckenbach sprang a leak after leaving San Juan, Puerto Rico. Since she was now equipped with wireless an S.O.S. was sent out and she was escorted back to San Juan under her own power. When she arrived she had 13' of water in her holds and over $100,000 in sugar had been damaged, but no passengers were aboard and no lives were lost. That however was not the case a few months later.
On January 3, 1913 she was bound for Baltimore with a load of phosphate rock, the British steamer Indurakuala was outbound from Baltimore at the same time. Both ships had to anchor in the Chesapeake Bay the night before due to fog, but both got underway in the morning, Julia Luckenbach around 7 a.m. and Indurakuala at about 6 a.m. The conditions were mostly clear, but around 730 a.m. more fog descended on the area.
The steamer Essex overtook the Julia Luckenbach at about this time and proceeded up the bay passing the Indurakuala not long after. While Essex clearly sighted both ships, those on Julia Luckenbach did not sight the Indurakuala and a few minutes after Essex had cleared the area the Indurakuala crashed into the Julia Luckenbach about 3 miles from the Tangier Gas Light.
The thirty year old iron ship was no match for the new steel vessel, she hit her on the port side and carried away some 30' of plating and making a deep gash through the main deck. There was so much damage that the Julia Luckenbach sank in under two minutes. For those below decks there was no hope of survival, and for those above the decks survival would be dependant on sheer determination and the bravery of another crew.
Those who were on deck scrambled up the rigging of the two masts, one climbed the funnel, but it broke away and he was lost. Captain Gilbert tried to find his wife, who was with him on many of his voyages. There are two versions of what happened to them, some survivors said he was last seen swimming toward the after section of the ship trying to save her, but that she was trapped below and never seen again. Others, who had been picked up by Indurakuala, said she came up to the top deck and embraced him, as she had always said if he was lost at sea she would go with him. Which ever is true, both perished on that day.
Six men were picked up by Indurakuala, which was in a sinking condition and pulled away. Her master was criticized by the survivors still on the wreck as having abandon them to die, however this was later found to be untrue. The men in the rigging stayed for five to six hours until another ship, the SS Pennsylvania, who had been directed to the wreck by the Indurakuala, arrived on the scene. In the intervening time, in fact not long after the sinking, a ferocious gale blew in, some said it was the worst storm in 25 years. Winds of 60 mph left a trail of destruction up the east coast and out into the Atlantic, a number of ships were sunk, grounded or otherwise destroyed by the storm. Even the large Hamburg-Amerika liner Amerika grounded due to the storm.
The survivors in the rigging had no protection from the storm and they were battered and bruised by the wind and the waves, lashed by the rigging and frozen to the bone from the cold. The wind and waves took their toll, several men could take no more and fell into the water where death was easier than life. One man, Chief Engineer Christopher Knugsen was heard to say; "Help me boys my strength is gone. Catch me before I drop." Nobody could help, his hands and face raw and bloody from the spray and the beating he was getting from the rigging, he fell into the sea.
When the Pennsylvania approached captain Lessner could not get too close due to the high seas, there was little he could do, but a boat with six men was sent over, it was under the command of 1st Officer Jorgenson. It took over two hours to rig lifelines and rescue the eight survivors. Chief Officer Frederick Hunt said; "I have never suffered such torture in my life as I did during these hours I clung there." Hunt and the others all commented on the courage of the men who saved them, Hunt said; "I cannot say too much in praise of the bravery displayed by the officers and crew of the Pennsylvania, who rescued us." The eight men picked up by Pennsylvania and the six picked up by Indurakuala were the only survivors, fourteen others all perished and one man, Coal Passer William M. McDonald, died on Indurakuala.
The overall blame for the wreck was placed on the Indurakuala for failing to slow down before entering the fog bank, but some blame was attached to the Julia Luckenbach. Indurakuala grounded to avoid sinking and was later towed off and repaired, she was sold several times before finally being renamed Botavon. On May 2, 1942 she was in Murmansk, Russia, having arrived in convoy PQ-15 when she was hit by an aerial torpedo from a He 111 flown by Hauptmann Bernd Eicke and sunk.
The Luckenbach Steamship Company built another Julia Luckenbach in 1917, she served with the U.S. Navy as USS Julia Luckenbach ID-2407 as a transport for the Naval Overseas Transportation Service and was returned to the company in 1919. On Sept. 23, 1943 she was in a collision with the tanker British Resolution and declared a total loss.
© 2012 Michael W. Pocock
The eight survivors that were picked up by the Danish steamer Pennsylvania. Shown are;
1. Frederick Hunt (1st Officer)
2. William Brunn (2nd Officer)
3. George Davis (quartermaster)
4. Theodore Loshner (Seaman)
5. George Little (1st Assistant Engineer)
6. Peter Anderson (Carpenter)
7. William Hoffman (Fireman)
8. George Doyle (3rd Assistant Engineer)