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image from the book The Brittle Sea

Lost at Sea

Long distance communications became a reality in the early 19th century with the invention of the Telegraph. It worked by transmitting electrical signals over a wire laid between stations and nowhere were the benefits more evident than in the vast developing country of the United States of America. It was in July 1866 that the first transatlantic telegraph cable was successfully completed, allowing communication between America and Europe.

Ship to ship communication on the other hand relied on semaphore signalling. It worked only when two ships were in sight of each other. The other drawback was the lack of communication between ships and the shore, particularly with a ship’s home port. Ships at sea were prone to accidental damage and the loss of ships was not unheard of. Accidents at sea are common, with over 160 registered in January 1820 alone. Without long range communications ship owners were very much in the dark once their vessels set sail.

It was the British Royal Navy that pioneered beyond the horizon communication and by the late 19th century they began working with radio pioneers such as Heinrich Hertz on electromagnetic radiation and Guglielmo Marconi to use radio waves as a method of ship to ship and ship to shore communication. It wasn’t long before Morse code proved itself to be an effective means of communication at sea, using radio waves to carry the message. Not only did the world’s navies benefit but trade and travel between countries also benefitted. For the first time, ship owners could keep in close contact with their ships.

Of course, none of this was of use, let alone interest, to Gordon Bellagon who lost contact with The Lady Jane when his ship’s radio communications were destroyed off the coast of Africa. A sudden communications loss meant either his ship was lost at sea or his operator and or equipment no longer functioned. Either way, Bellagon was powerless to do anything and could only rely on the good nature of other ship owners who had ships in the area. However, Gordon Bellagon was not on good terms with many, if any, ship owners in New York. Requests for information were made and ignored in many cases. It was therefore something of a surprise to Bellagon when a telephone call was made to his office by a senior manager at a British shipping line. The call was short, urgent and devastating. The Lady Jane had been spotted by a British ship as it fled the rebellion in Lüderitz. The British ship escaped but The Lady Jane was seen taking shell-fire from the shore. Smoke had been seen coming from Bellagon’s ship before the British ship had lost sight as it passed over the horizon. Radio communication directed to The Lady Jane had failed to receive an answer. It was considered too dangerous to go back and try to help by the British captain as he had paying passengers to consider.

Bellagon was beside himself with anger and flew into a rage, railing at the stupidity of his own captain getting into such a situation. Bellagon’s thoughts were for the loss of his ship and a disruption to his burgeoning trading empire. Not a thought of sympathy or concern entered his mind for the crew of his ship.

In a similar, but opposing vein, Richard Blackmore thought nothing of his ship or his own life, only that of his men as his ship began to take on water. The last shell from the shore had hit his ship on the waterline and she was now taking on water. The shell had also caused an explosion inside the vessel that ruptured up and outward between where Blackmore and his first officer had been standing. Someone had called out that his ship was sinking, and the list she was developing was self-evident of a badly damaged vessel. But Blackmore’s thoughts were for the loss or injury to his men and to that end he had to take command of the situation.

Staggering to his feet, his head pounding, and left arm numb from there he had hit the rails, Blackmore stood and surveyed the damage. The list was so bad and worsening every minute that Blackmore realised he had no hope of saving his ship.

“Abandon ship!” His voice sounded strong and clear across the ship’s superstructure and everyone in shouting distance turned toward him. Then, with barely a moment of hesitation Blackmore’s crew went about their business of saving as many lives as possible.

Through the choking smoke Blackmore saw an inert body, lying on his back. Blackmore ran over to David James and made a quick examination. He was breathing but blood was coming from James’ side where a large chunk of metal had entered his officer’s side. The dark material of his uniform blackened darker by James’ own blood. Blackmore looked about but his crew were busy leaving the ship as best they could. It was up to Blackmore to save his first officer. As he stooped lower to take James’ lapels, hauling him up ready to pull the body over his shoulder, Blackmore once again heard a shell whistling down towards his stricken ship. Blackmore quickly hauled James onto his shoulder and as he did, his last thought before the shell hit his ship was how odd it was, he never noticed any noise from the field gun as it fired, only the whistling sound as it neared its target.

For the second time that day, Blackmore was engulfed in darkness as the explosive shock from the shell blew him and his first officer over the side and into the sea.

Copyright Tom Kane © 2019

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MARCH 15, 1931

APRIL 15, 1912



















This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors. Context and characters may change between now and the final publication date.

When published as an eBook and paperback at the end of the spring of 2019, this book will be the first in a trilogy: The Brittle Sea, The Brittle Land and The Brittle Sky.

As a English expat author living in Cyprus, you may think my life revolves around cocktails by the pool. You would be wrong. In ten years on the island I’ve had my fair share of adventures and interesting experiences.

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Living in Cyprus: 2015 here

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