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Captain Walter C. Schafran

Other than two years at the NYS Merchant Marine Academy, Captain Walter C. Schafran sailed exclusively for Isthmian Lines from 1 March 1938 through December 1950. He served aboard the Anniston City, the Chattanooga City, the Chickasaw City, the Steel Inventor, the Steel Mariner and the Steel Navigator. He rose through the ranks from able seaman to Master.

He wrote:
"During WW II, as second mate aboard SS STEEL MARINER, I made a 294-day, 34,000 mile voyage around the world. It was quite unusual and unconventional, but it was wartime. We loaded a full cargo of war material for the then Soviet Union in Baltimore. Briefly, our route took us through the Panama Canal; down the west coast of South America; around Cape Horn to Capetown where we fueled. From there it was to Bandar Shapour in the Persian Gulf where the cargo was off-loaded, shipped by rail to Tehran and thence to Russia. For the return voyage we loaded in India and Ceylon for Baltimore. Our route home took us to Hobart, Tasmania, for fuel; the Panama Canal; and back to Baltimore."

Sadly, we report the passing of a good friend, Captain Walter C. Schafran, 7 February 2005. The following is from a letter to his family from the USCG.
On Thursday 17 February 2005 at 10:55 AM, the Officer in Charge and crew of the United States Coast Guard Cutter BARRACUDA (WPB 87301) had the supreme honor of carrying out the last request of Walter Charles Schafran. The burial at sea and scattering of ashes was performed in position 40 degrees 44.951 minutes North Latitude and 124 degrees 21.962 minutes West Longitude, apprximately 5.47 nautical miles southwest of Humboldt Bay, California. The weather was sunny and clear with a light breeze from the northwest and the seas were calm.

The ceremony was conducted in a manner that has become traditional for a burial at sea. The National Ensign was lowered to half-staff and the ship's crew was mustered on board for the ceremony. The Officer in Charge opened the ceremony talking about the time-honored traditions of the naval services and your family offered their prayers for our brother now departed.

Following this prayer, the ship's crew was called to attention for the committal, during which time the ashes were scattered at sea by member of our crew while your family cast flowers upon the ocean.

Almighty God, in whose eternal keeping are the souls who of those who love Thee; we commit these ashes of the body of our brother departed to the deep, in sure and certain faith that he doth now live in the life that is hereafter; praying that Thou wilt have mercy upon his soul, and that Thou will grant unto him Thy love and Thy peace forevermore. Amen.

After committal, Taps was played and the ship's bell was struck eleven times. Once the ceremony concluded all those on board had a chance to reflect on the fraility of human life on the transit back to Eureka.

The burial at sea is probably the most honored custom of seafarers and it was an honor for my crew to be able to conduct this cermony for you. On behalf of the United States Coast Guard and the crew of BARRACUDA, I extend my deepest sympathies.

Royce W. Heckendorn
Master Chief Boatswain Mate, U.S. Coast Guard
Officer in Charge

A memorial fund has been established in his name with donations directed to the Children's Diabetes Fund.

Children's Hospital Foundation
Diabetes Fund
Walter Schafran Memorial
P.O. Box 50020/S-200
Seattle, WA 98145-5020

Copyright © 1990 People Magazine
Photograph © 1990 Dale Wittner

Note..... Capt. Schafran has sent me copies of his A Wartime Voyage and Notes From Neptune's Post Office. With his permission, I am going to publish some excerpts from his books in this space.

Note..... Excerpt #1..... I am going to start by publishing the first three paragraphs of A Wartine Voyage.

A Wartime Voyage

Around The World
36,289 Miles
290 Days
SS Steel Mariner

by W.C. Schafran



The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was still searingly fresh in the minds of all Americans, the pain somewhat eased by the overwhelming victory over the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway in early June 1942, when the Isthmian Steamship Company's SS STEEL MARINER commenced loading cargo of lend-lease war material in Baltimore, Maryland, for the Soviet Union. She had just arrived at a loading berth after coming from Bethlehem Steel's Key Highway Shipyard where a gun had been mounted at the stern, two 20 MM guns on the bridge, and two 20 MM guns on the boat deck. A U.S. Navy gun crew consisting of one officer and thirteen enlisted men was to report aboard a few days later. Although traditionally the hulls of Isthmian Line ships above the waterline were painted gray, the deck houses white, and the funnel, masts and booms buff, she was now war-time gray all over. This was how I found her when I came aboard as Second Mate on 7 August 1942.

The SS STEEL MARINER was one of 28 freighters owned and operated by Isthmian Steamship Company, New York, New York, then a subsidiary of United States Steel Corporation. They were built in the years 1920 through 1921, 14 by Federal Shipyard at Kearny, New Jersey, and 14 by Chicksaw Shipbuilding and Car Company at Chicksaw, Alabama.

While not a large ship by today's standards, STEEL MARINER (and her sister ships) was of average size for her day, being of 5,690 Gross Registered Tons, 3,450 Net Registered Tons, and 9,400 tons Summer Deadweight. Her other registered dimensions were: Length, 424.2 feet (about 440 feet overall); Breadth, 56.2 feet; and Depth, 26.5 feet; horsepower was 3,100. These ships had trim lines and were known throughout the U.S. Merchant Marine as being “good sea-boats.” And although the company might haggle over a few hours of overtime, it seldom questioned expenses for the maintenance and upkeep of its ships.

Note..... Capt. Schafran goes on to explain "well deck" and "flush deck" ship designs.

Note..... Excerpt #2.....


Normally, when first joining a ship, It is good seaman-like practice to familiarize oneself with all the parts of the ship and her equipment. I recall that when reporting aboard a ship for my first assignment as Third Mate, the Chief Officer ordered me to locate and identify every sounding tube, reach-rod (remote control to an inaccessible valve) and vent pipe on the weather deck. But this wasn't necessary aboard STEEL MARINER for I had served aboard sister vessels for several years as able seaman and Third and Second Mate. I did, however, immediately check the master gyro compass and repeaters and the ship's chronometers, all of which are traditionally the responsibility of the second mate. The chronometers, on which celestial navigation depends, must be wound daily at the same time--and God help the second mate who lets one run down!

Another important responsibility of the second mate is the vessel's charts and nautical publications which must be adequate for the coming voyage and corrected up-to-date by the latest Notice to Mariners. Additional in port duties include the supervision of the loading and stowage of the cargo.

As was noted previously, cargo was being loaded for the Soviet Union. At a time early in the War, when merchant ships were easy prey to marauding German submarines, I was much relieved to find that there were no items of an explosive nature in our cargo. It consisted of disassembled railroad rolling stock--the sides, ends and roofs of box cars were stowed separately as were the wheels and flatbeds--miscellaneous steel products and some food stuffs. The cargo was to be discharged at two ports in the Persian Gulf, Bandar Shahpour (now called Bandar Khomeini) in Iran and Basrah in Iraq, for transshipment to the Soviet Union.

Note..... Excerpt #3.....

One at a time, we stepped up to the table, showed the Shipping Commissioner our license and/or our seaman's papers and affixed our signatures to both copies of the Shipping Articles of Agreement. Sitting at the table was the ship's Master, Captain George Georgopoulos, with whom the agreement was made. And although signing-on signaled the beginning of the voyage for the crew, for statistical purposes this voyage, Voyage 59, began on 18 July 1942, the day following the day all inbound cargo from the previous voyage had been discharged.

Captain George Georgopoulos obviously was of Greek descent, and he was no stranger to me as I had sailed with him as Third Mate on SS STEEL INVENTOR prior to the outbreak of World War II. Captain Georgopoulos' appearance belied his sharp intelligence, keen business acumen and capable seamanship. His appearance was far beyond any comparison with the stereotype Hollywood concept, being less than average in height and somewhat pudgy, with an olive complexion, black mustache and hair, and a round bald spot appearing at the top of his head.

Nor did he dress like a captain. His most common attire was a pair of baggy brown trousers, a shirt with a detachable collar (Do you remember them?) but without the collar and tie, and an old blue uniform jacket. He smoked cigarettes and had the habit of holding a cigarette at the very center of his lips. He would speak with the cigarette in that position, the ash growing longer and eventually dropping on the front of his uniform jacket. But again, his appearance was deceiving.

Note..... Excerpt #4.....


19 August 1942 saw the last ton of cargo stowed and secured below decks. We were lucky not to have had deck cargo. Aside from the normal problems associated with a deck cargo, a deck cargo during war time created many additional hazards from flying debris should the ship be struck by torpedo, bomb, or shell. As each hatch was finished, the hatch beams were lowered into their sockets, the wood hatch covers slid into place, and three tarpaulins stretched over the wood covers. The overhang of the tarps were neatly folded and tucked behind cleats welded at an angle to all four sides of the hatch coaming. Then, long, flat-steel bars, called battens, about 1/2” x 4” x 20', were forced between the cleats and the tarps. And lastly, several flat-steel cross-battens, each as long as half the width of the hatch, shaped at one end to catch the flange of the hatch coaming and at the other end so as to meet at the middle of the hatch and butt against the one from the other side, were laid across the hatch and bolted together.

This “battening-down” of the hatches is done by the deck department under directions of the bo's'n. But there is one final job to be done, and traditionally this belongs to the ship's carpenter. When all battens on a hatch are in place, along comes the carpenter with a gunny sack of wood wedges and a maul and he will proceed to drive a wedge between each cleat and side batten, tightly securing the tarps.

With the hatches now secured, the deck department begins to lower and cradle the booms, stripping and stowing the blocks and runners (the moving wire that raises and lowers the cargo). When the booms are lashed in their cradles and all cargo handling gear stowed away, the ship generally is ready to go to sea (Sometimes, if a hatch is not completely filled with cargo, one or two hatch covers are left open and as a boom is lowered, the running gear is stripped right into the hatch).

Note..... Excerpt #5.....

So, the night before we were to depart Baltimore I knew that the ship would be anchoring in New York's Upper Bay. I was born and grew up in New York City, and my parents were still living in Manhattan, so I telephoned and told my mother that the ship would be anchored in the Upper Bay but that I would not be permitted to go ashore. I suggested that if she would ride the Staten Island ferry, which crosses the Upper Bay, she might catch a glimpse of the ship. She told me later what happened.

Borrowing a pair of binoculars, she boarded a ferry and made a trip to Staten Island, searching among the many ships at anchor for STEEL MARINER, but with no success. She remained on the ferry for the return trip and three more round trips, all the time peering through the binoculars at the ships at anchor, until her actions aroused the suspicions of two naval intelligence officers who had been observing her. As my mother told it, she was quite startled to be questioned by the two officers and to be suspected of intelligence gathering for the enemy. The naval officers weren't quite sure of her explanation that she was only trying to see her son's ship, but they accepted it, and when the ferry again docked at the Battery, she hurried home.

Note..... Excerpt #6.....(From CHAPTER 4 - UNDERWAY, CHESAPEAKE BAY TO NEW YORK)

Arriving off Sandy Hook the same day, each ship of the convoy took on a pilot and in single file proceeded to a designated anchorage in Upper New York Bay. If Lynnhaven Roads was thought to be crowded, Upper New York Bay was unbelievably “chockablock” with anchored vessels, many flying the flags of allied countries. How in the world would my mother ever find my ship amongst this multitude?

But as it turned out, it wasn't even necessary. Amazingly, the purser and I, because we both had family in New York City, were given permission to go ashore. Because of the rapid build up of the Merchant Marine, many of the men manning the ships had never been to sea before, and the purser was one of them. He had been to one of several schools run by the federal government and had been issued a uniform. He was eager to impress his family and neighbors, so when the water taxi pulled alongside the gangway, he emerged in full uniform.

The water taxi called at several anchored ships before heading for its dock on the East River side of the southern tip of Manhattan Island. It was now growing dark. Mooring outboard of several water taxis already at the dock, we had to cross all of them to reach the dock, an old wooded structure which looked like it had been there from when the Dutch governed New York. I was ahead of the purser and jumping the short distance from the last boat rail to the dock, started walking up the dock. After taking a few steps (it was now dark), I saw his uniform cap on the dock alongside an opening in the dock surface made by two broken planks. A few seconds later the purser came clawing his way up through the opening, having jumped from the boat rail right through the opening and into the dirty East River. Needless to say his uniform was ruined, but miraculously he had missed all the structural members beneath the dock and was unhurt.

The information and photos on this page are courtesy of Captain Walter C. Schafran and family © 2004.
All rights reserved.

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