“About nine o’clock Friday morning I was sitting on one of the hatches aft with some of the other engineers and officers of the ship, discussing the peculiar weather phenomena. I noticed a sort of grit that got into my mouth from the end of the cigar I was smoking.
“I attributed it to some rather bad coal which we had shipped aboard, and, turning to Chief Engineer Evans, I remarked that ’that coal was mighty dirty,’ and he said that it was covering the ship with a sort of grit. Then I noticed that grit was getting on my clothes, and finally some one suggested that we go forward of the funnels, so we would not get dirt on us. As we went forward we met one or two of the sailors from the forecastle, who wanted to know about the dust that was falling on the ship. Then we found that the grayish-looking ash was sifting all over the ship, both forward and aft.
ASHES RAINED ON THE SHIP
“Every moment the ashes rained down all over the ship, and at the same time grew thicker. A few moments later, the lookout called down that we were running into a fog-bank dead ahead. Fog banks in that section are unheard of at nine o’clock in the morning at this season, and we were more than a hundred miles from land, and what could fog and sand be doing there.
“Before we knew it, we went into the fog, which proved to be a big dense bank of this same sand, and it rained down on us from every side. Ventilators were quickly brought to their places, and later even the hatches were battened down. The dust became suffocating, and the men at times had all they could do to keep from choking. What the stuff was we could not at first conjecture, or rather, we didn’t have much time to speculate on it, for we had to get our ship in shape to withstand we hardly knew what.
“At first we thought that the sand must have been blown from shore. Then we decided that if the Captain’s figures were right we wouldn’t be near enough to shore to have sand blow on us, and as we had just cleared Barbados, we knew that the Captain’s figures had to be right.
“Just as the storm of sand was at its height, Fourth Engineer Wild was nearly suffocated by it, but was easily revived. About this time it became so dark that we found it necessary to start up the electric lights, and it was not until after we got clear from the fog that we turned the current off. In the meantime they had burned from nine o’clock in the morning until after two in the afternoon.
THE ENGINE BECAME CHOKED
“Then there was another anxious moment shortly after nine o’clock. Third Engineer Rennie had been running the donkey engine, when suddenly it choked, and when he finally got it clear from the sand or ashes, he found the valves were all cut out, and then it was we discovered that it was not sand, but some sort of a composition that seemed to cut steel like emery. Then came the danger that it would get into the valves of the engine and cut them out, and for several moments all hands scurried about and helped make the engine room tight, and even then the ash drifted in and kept all the engine room force wiping the engines clear of it.