Remembering the day time stood still
It may sound like a Twilight Zone episode or a sci-fi motion picture or a fictional story from a writer's imagination, but it happens to be a true story of the passenger steamer the SS Warrimoo that went back to the future in international dateline waters at exactly the right moment and at the stroke of midnight, a moment that time stood still. The front of the ship was in the 20th century, the back half was in the 19th century. The front was in the Southern Hemisphere and the back was in the Northern Hemisphere. The bow was in summer and the aft was in winter. The ship was straddling two hemispheres, two seasons, two years and two centuries at the same moment.
It all started from a picture on the wall of Robert White's office, who has a collection of pictures of boats, ships, steamers, etc., that were left to him by his father, who was a Navy man who loved unique pictures of sailboats, warships and pirate ships, to name a few.
When I saw his hand-painted, beautiful picture of the Warrimoo on the wall, White started to tell me the story as it was told to him by his father and to his father by others, until one day he was given a finished painting of the actual steamer from the artist, John English, of Island Heights, N.J. Along with the painting was the official Lloyds Register steamer document that was registered that day.
The Captain of the Warrimoo, Captain John D.S. Phillips, was bringing his ship from the Far East and was required to report his position twice a day. The Warrimoo was quietly knifing her way through the waters of the mid-Pacific on her way from Vancouver to Australia. The navigator had just finished working out a star fix and brought Captain Phillips the results. The Warrimoo's position was spotted at about latitude 0 degrees 30 north and longitude 179 degrees 30 west. The date was December 30, 1899.
The mate, Matt Dayldon suddenly broke in, "Captain, do you know what this means? We're only a few miles from the intersection of the Equator and the International Date Line!"
The captain knew exactly what it meant and he was prankish enough to take full advantage of the opportunity to achieve the navigator's freak of a lifetime. In an ordinary crossing of the date line, it is confusing enough for passengers, but the possibilities he had before him were sure to confound them for the rest of their lives.
Captain Phillips immediately called four more navigators to the bridge to check and double check the ship's position every few minutes. He changed course slightly so as to bear directly on his mark. Then he carefully adjusted engine speed so that he would strike it at just the right moment. The calm weather, the clear night and the eager cooperation of his entire crew worked successfully in his favor. At exactly midnight local time, the Warrimoo lay exactly on the Equator at exactly the point where it crosses the International Date Line.
On record, the consequences of the ship's bizarre position were many. The forward part of the ship was in the southern hemisphere and in the middle of summer. The stern was in the northern hemisphere and in the middle of winter. The date in the after part of the ship was December 30, 1899. Forward, it was January 1, 1900. The ship's position signals read at 00degrees 00 position, latitude 00 degrees 00 N, longitude 00 degrees 00 E, course 000 degrees, speed 0.
Therefore, the ship was not only in two different days, two different months, two different seasons and in two different years, but in two different centuries, all at the same time. Moreover, it was said the passengers were cheated out of a New Year's Eve celebration and one entire day, December 31, 1899 had disappeared from all their lives for all time.
Until next time,
P.S. There was compensation for the people aboard the Warrimoo, as they were the first to greet the new century. And Captain Phillips, speaking of the event many years later, said "I never heard of it happening before. It was a day time stood still."