Capt. Arthur David LINKLATER


As experienced by Arthur David Linklater c. 1910-16

Sandheads This section is based on one chart and sundry papers in my possession that formerly belonged to Arthur David Linklater who qualified as a Hooghly Pilot on 28 April 1911. Please do not hesitate to contact me as I would be more than happy to be enlightened or corrected by anyone with better knowledge! The chart I have, shown at right, is not an Admiralty chart but one published under the aegis of the Calcutta Port Commissioners dated 1909-1910. Some of those responsible for its production will be familiar to anyone who has dabbled much in Arthur's ‘Biography.’ The chart is ‘signed’ by the Deputy Conservator, F. A. Lovell who was, to all intents and purposes, Arthur's boss and also the author of a report to which I will return later in which he wrote; Since 1902-03 in addition to the monthly surveys, a large scale survey of the river bed, and its banks has been carried out from Calcutta to Saugor. These form a very accurate record of the river banks... A survey of the Sandheads on a scale of 2" to the nautical mile from Saugor to the outer light vessels was made during the cold seasons of 1909-10, 1910-11

Saugor Light This is the chart that I have. The surveyor is named as Lieut. E. A. Constable, R.N. who, at Lovells untimely death succeeded him as Deputy Conservator. Constable was assisted by six other named people including W.H. Coombs who was to become and remain a lifelong friend of Arthur and the author of at least one book entitled ‘The Nation's Key Men’ published in 1925. For anyone wishing to take the ‘virtual’ trip, as good a place to start as any is Saugor Light House, whose precise location - see right - is printed on the chart as: Saugor Light House at Lat. 21° 38’ 40.1" N and Long. 88° 2’ 27.2" E
Quite a number of years later Arthur wrote of the time he spent working on the Hooghly, from 1910 - 1916 - see the Hooghly pages of his biography. But among other things he wrote:

Hooghly Pilot's Certificate In the service of the Commissioners for the Port of Calcutta I was attached to the Port Approach and river Depts. On the completion of a years training in navigational and administrative duties on the river I obtained a Hooghly Pilotage Certificate, and was then transferred to the Survey branch of the service as an assistant surveyor in which branch I remained for one year being attached successively to the lower reaches, upper reaches and the town party sections.

Arthur was issued with a Steam Tug Pilot's Certificate for the Hooghly River on 28th April 1911 by the Port Office, Fort William having "undergone a strict examination". This meant that he had a good working knowledge of the navigational hazards of the Hooghly and the danger they represented to the various vessels he might be called upon to pilot from Sandheads in the Bay of Bengal to Garden Reach in Calcutta. A sine qua non was good seamanship and the ability to manoeuvre a ship at sea and in constricted waters.

Hooghly estuary Consider, as I was so often urged to do at school, the Bay of Bengal as an inverted funnel whose spout represents the Hooghly. All is safe beyond the funnel, but within the funnel there are hazards. Up the spout is a safe haven - Calcutta - but also the fate of an unwary navigator. The Bay of Bengal is an easy target to hit in navigational terms. It is, after all, roughly the size of India. Even before the development of accurate chronometers [before which longitude at sea could not be determined with any certainty] plane sailing to the Bay of Bengal would, in theory, present no difficulties. The difficulties arose in practice; in particular during adverse weather, which, while seasonal in the Bay of Bengal, is frequently very severe; combined with the restricted and tricky channels approaching the entrance to the river caused by constantly shifting sand banks combined with very strong and often fluky currents. Within the 'funnel' indicated on the chart, Sandheads sand banks represent the first immediate danger. These extend southwards from the mouth of the Hooghly River proper, say from Saugor Island, some 30 miles into the Bay of Bengal. On the chart, anything 'dark' blue was safe; the pale blue might be safe depending on the state of the tide and prevailing weather. The safe channel as indicated on the chart was within the 'funnel' then snaked its way

The Bay of Bengal is a lot of water. Beyond that is the Indian Ocean - more water. During the South West Monsoon, from the middle of March till the end of October, the strong wind tries to blow this water into the 'funnel'. All year round, the tides also move water twice a day in and out of the Bay of Bengal, altering the depths 12 to 15 feet. The river disgorges large amount of water into the bay i.e. in a roughly southerly direction. Landlubbers need to be aware that a south west wind or monsoon is one blowing FROM the south west. Landlubbers also need to know that the rule of thumb is that wind against water makes for rougher conditions than wind with water. With the river in flood, an ebb tide [going out of the river] and a south west monsoon you have the ideal combination for rough or very rough water, warnings of which are printed all over the chart; "heavy breakers during bad weather" in areas of the chart showing no other immediate hazards i.e. deep water, no rocks. Add that to the funnelling effect of the bay plus deep water moving into shoal water and you have the perfect recipe for hazardous conditions. In the normal way of things a seaworthy ship can put up with rough weather, but if a ship requiring say 20 feet of water to float sails into water with a charted depth of thirty feet during rough conditions with a 20 foot swell then the ship will founder. Charted depths of water are only averages; rough weather and tidal surges caused by the same or long periods of high or low atmospheric pressure will all have an effect on the actual depth of water. The people who are expert in all such niceties are pilots. Anything causing a ship to lose steerage such as dismasting, fouled rudder, engine failure etc within the ‘funnel’ would place the ship in jeopardy or "standing into danger".

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© 2018 Duncan Linklater