|Barbara Dyer: A secret in Camden
Maybe I am the only person ancient enough to remember an interesting
story from 1952. To give you some background on it, Camden Shipbuilding
Company, now Wayfarer Marine Corporation, built custom boats of any size
from naval architectural designs. They also stored, repaired and serviced
yachts, as Wayfarer does today. At the time they had just begun negotiations
with the Isbrandtsen Company, hoping for a contract with them. But one
of their vessels made the world news: Flying Enterprise met her demise
in stormy seas from Hamburg to New York. That vessel weighed 6,711 tons.
The captain kept cool, while the wind and seas kept rising. By nightfall his vessel pitched and rolled, that sent the furniture, books, dishes and everything flying. By dawn, two 75-foot waves had hit Flying Enterprise, cracking her hull. By mid-morning she rolled on her side , unable to right herself. The whine of the engines stopped and the generator failed.The pig iron shifted and at times the deck became nearly perpendicular. Ten passengers were aboard, plus a crew of 40 men. Captain Carlsen's first concern was to get the passengers off, but the thrashing seas kept rescue boats away.So he told them to jump, and a woman passenger did what he said. She was shortly picked up by a boat. After that, the others jumped with life belts secured on them, and eventually taken aboard ships.
The Captain remained with his sinking ship. The owners urged him to leave, but he refused. The old tradition is that the captains stay with their vessels due to laws governing salvage. The media called him "Captain Stay Put."He stayed alone for several days and nights clinging to the vessel. When they tried to get food to him, he told them they were risking their lives and he didn't need it. Finally, the Turmoil came along side and the mate that had been aboard Flying Enterprise swung aboard with a tow rope. Everyone had hope.But 57 miles out from Falmouth, England, they were hit by another storm and on Jan. 9, 1952, the 750-foot hawser broke. Finally Carlsen and the mate, Dancy, had to jump and they were pulled aboard the Turmoil. Shortly after they jumped Flying Enterprise went under.This was a media event. Everyone wanted to be first with the news and pictures. For two rough weeks, the newsmen bribed, went without sleep, drank too much and some got very seasick.
The public loved Captain Carlsen, who demanded nothing and stayed with his ship, thinking about his wife and daughters. His hope being that they did not worry too much about him. Carlsen received offers while on the sinking vessel by his radio. He knew that radio needed to be used only for saving the ship and soon refused any unnecessary calls that wanted him to endorse various products. They tried to welcome him as a hero, but when he did get ashore, but he said it was only his job. He became astonished with all the parties, receptions, large sums of money and free vacations offered. He refused everything where his name would be used for advertising schemes. He did not want a seaman's honest fight to save his ship cheapened.
One offer was for $150,000 for film rights. He would rather earn his
money as captain on a vessel. He did not get one minute to himself after
he landed in Falmouth. He said that he had found a thousand reasons for
rejecting offers he turned down; he couldn't find one good reason for
accepting them. WHY NO PHOTOS? Kurt Carlsen's visit to Camden was so secret,
not even Barbie D. has a photo to accompany the story. But you can learn
a little more from the history section of the U.S. Navy web site, which
says Capt. Carlsen's effort "remains one of the great stories of
endurance and courage at sea."
Well, the shipyard in Camden secretly invited the heroic captain to come for a while to get away from all the publicity and offers. He came, enjoyed the town very quietly and was one of the nicest people I have ever met. We did not have television then, so people did not recognize him. He became the secret in Camden.