When the Angels Steered a Ship
God the Skipper?"
Reported by Henry Galus in 'Fate' magazine April-May 1952
In June 1887, the 'Canton' left New Bedford, Mass., for the whaling grounds of the south Atlantic. After several whales had been killed and rendered, the ship sailed north to the island of St. Helena to unload the barrels of sperm oil and take on water.
Soon after the 'Canton' left the island early in September to return to the grounds, the ship assumed a course of her own in defiance of the helm and the wind. Time and again Captain Howland pulled the vessel back on the determined course, but each time she swung away with a weird will to proceed in her own direction, her sails flapping in protest.
Captain Howland was a God fearing man. With his eyes on the sky, he said, "this is a good ship and there's no reason why she shouldn't respond to the wheel. It must be the hand of Providence. Let her go the way she will. May God take us to where He wants us to go!"
During the next two days the Yankee captain spent most of his time standing silently at the rail, giving his orders gently. On the third day First Mate Antone Cruz noticed a number of dots on the surface ahead. When the Canton drew closer, the dots became small boats, scattered, loaded with gaunt human beings waving their hands and shouting hoarsely .
Captain Howland soon learned that he has rescued survivors of the British trader Monarch. The trader with over two hundred cases of dynamite in her hold had caught fire seven hundred miles off the Cape of Good Hope. The flames quickly spread beyond control and the vessel was abandoned. Suffering from hunger and thirst, the passengers and crew had drifted about one hundred and fifty miles.
"Thank God for your rescue," the captain told the survivors. "He was the skipper that brought us to you. Thank Him in humble prayer."
Notes- The survivors were taken to the Cape of Good Hope. Later the British Government awarded Captain Howland a solid silver teapot, and a gold medal.
It was the only time during her long career that the Canton failed to be responsive to her wheel and wind. She was a 227-tonner with an excellent record for sea worthiness. William H. Tripp, whaling museum curator, in a paper titled "Brief History of the Bark Canton," says the ship was "blunt of bow and old-fashioned." (she was built in 1835 at Baltimore), but adds that she "was a good sailor on the wind and was always spoken of as a dry ship."
Captain Howland was a seafarer since the age of sixteen and had sailed throughout the world. Records reveal he was an expert navigator of unblemished reputation. He died in 1923 at the age of seventy.