Captain Neilson had remained on the bridge since they left Leith. Chief Officer Frank Bond was on watch from midnight to 4 a.m. Fourth Officer Duncan Graham was assistant officer on watch.
At 3.40 a.m., when Coastguard Jefferies first sighted the ship, the Captain believed she was at least seven miles north east of Whitby.
At 3.45 a.m. he ordered a routine “cast of the lead” to ascertain the depth of water under the keel. This was one of the normal checks on the dead reckoning calculations. Graham left the bridge and went aft to supervise the depth sounding. As he reached the Poop Deck he noticed that one of the lifeboats had come away from its fixings and he directed some of his crew to secure it.
It was 4 o’clock before the cast was finally taken. The depth was 24 fathoms.
That was 144 feet of water and Rohilla’s draught was only 24 feet, but it indicated that they were much nearer shore than they should have been. Graham hurriedly set off for the bridge to report his findings.
Copyright © Ken Wilson 1981