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March 4, 2010
Many ventured and most were
right when it came to cor-
rectly identifying the most
recent mystery ship, Miss
January (appearing in the February 4
I'm a bit like the man from Mars in
the world of mystery ships -- short of
knowledge about what is a real challenge.
Perhaps I need some good reference
My predicament was most eloquently
described by retired ancient mariner Dave
Rickard from the Home of the Fringe
"I'm extremely disappointed by this
month's choice of Mystery Ship, Sir," he
says, showing a talent for whinging set
to eclipse that of the great and notorious
'Guns' Manolas. More of his response
ILS Manager with the Tactical
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Project Mark
Edmistone, who's usually spot on, reck-
ons Miss January is the late-'40s Antarctic
research vessel, HMAS Wyatt Earp.
Mark has lots of interesting informa-
tion about Wyatt Earp -- how she was
built as a herring boat named Fanefford
in the Bay of Biscay, bought by American
polar adventurer, Lincoln Ellsworth, as
a support ship for his attempted flight
across Antarctica between 1929 and 1933.
As he says: "Ellsworth refitted the
ship and strengthened her hull for ice
work with oak and armour plate. He re-
named her Wyatt Earp after his child-
hood hero -- the brave, frontier marshal of
Dodge City and Tombstone, who typified
for many the pioneer empire builders of
the American West.
"Sir Douglas Mawson was instrumen-
tal in the Australian Government refitting
of the vessel for an Antarctic exploration
vessel in 1946. With a round-bottomed
hull, the Wyatt Earp had the reputation of
being able to roll violently on wet grass!
"The Wyatt Earp was only slightly
bigger than Captain Cook's Endeavour,
which visited Australia in 1770.
"Just out of Melbourne on her first
ANARE exploration voyage, the ship met
a force 10 gale, sustained considerable
damage, and everyone on board was vio-
lently seasick. Not an auspicious begin-
"Thwarted by mechanical problems,
bad weather and heavy ice, Wyatt Earp
finally approached within 30 miles of
King George V land coast at Cape Grey,
and visited the Balleny Islands. Her com-
mander, Karl E. Oom, considered the
Wyatt Earp to be too old, too slow, and
too small for the task, and commented:
'Never have I known a vessel which could
throw staff so violently from side to side.
She doesn't even roll like a lady!'
"On June 30, 1948, Wyatt Earp ended
her Antarctic career and was sold to the
Arga Shipping Company. She was re-
named Wongala and later Natone, and
used as an Australian coastal trader. She
ran aground 150 miles north of Brisbane
on January 24, 1959 and was dashed to
Sounds as if Wyatt Earp was no lady
-- certainly not a ship deserving of the
title 'Miss' -- more of an angry bronco
when it came to attitude towards the crew
in lumpy conditions.
Fascinating stuff Mark -- but no, Miss
January was not HMAS Wyatt Earp.
Brian Mackenzie thought it might be
an old lighthouse tender turned cable-
"Is it HMAS Bangalow?" he asks.
"Its description is that of a cable-layer
type and the foredeck of the mystery ship
appears to have three substantial cable
reels on it. Used as a small survey vessel
No, it's not, Brian.
The only other mystery-shipper to put
a foot wrong was the 83-year-old salt,
His first effort was: "I think Miss
January is a Castle class trawler rigged for
minesweeping. Ko ra aga or Gunundaal.
Bit of a toss-up, So I'll pick Koraaga."
But he corrected himself later.
Honours for the speediest identifica-
tion of Miss January go to the indefati-
gable (there's a good, big word) CMDR
Dave Goble. He says: "Miss January is
without doubt HMAS Kinchela. She was
an auxiliary boom defence vessel requi-
sitioned by the RAN in 1942. She served
in the Brisbane River until the end of the
war when she was sold off for disposal.
She was arguably the slowest ship in the
fleet, thus the words 'dead slow' painted
on her bow."
Always accurate (and sometimes
alliterated) analyst with SAPOL Alan
Baddams was second in with the correct
answer. He says: "Too many clues: the
auxiliary boom defence vessel HMAS
Kinchela, was commissioned. Kinchela
was laid down in 1914. She was requi-
sitioned for the RAN, from her owners,
Dead slow; dead easy...try this!
A BEAUTIFUL SIGHT IN SYDNEY
HARBOUR: Can you identify Miss
Inset: Dead Slow -- alias HMAS
The Macleay River Co-op SS Co Ltd, NSW, on August
"The photo itself: Brisbane, QLD. 1944-03-15.
Starboard bow view of the boom defence vessel HMAS
Kinchela. Painted on the side are the words Dead Slow.
(Naval Historical Collection)."
Regular Mark Biega says Kinchela was one of 23
vessels taken over by the RAN in the WWII period. He
says that the wooden lighter had a gross weight of 370
tons, that she measured 145 feet by 31 feet, that her
maximum speed was nine knots and she had two .5 inch
machine guns, one on each bridge wing.
Another regular, Reg Bonney, says she was also
armed with a 20mm Oerlikon gun.
SQNLDR Jimbo Stewart says Kinchela was unoffi-
cially re-christened Dead Slow by her ship's company.
POSE Jaffa Robinson says she was moored perma-
nently in the Brisbane River at Fort Lytton after being
Jules Smibert picked up on the clues I (quite unnec-
essarily) offered. He says: "Mr John Kinchela was born
in Kilkenny, Ireland on January 1, 1774. He served as
Attorney-General of NSW from June 25, 1831 to April
18, 1836. The hamlet of Kinchela NSW (about 23km
NW of Kempsey) is named after him."
Others who deserve honours for correctly naming
Kinchela are: SO Fleet Ops Cerberus CMDR Graeme
Furlonger, Jason Simpson, John Partington, ex-commu-
nicator (not papal chucker-outer) Harry Firth, Richard
Jones, SBLT Steve Dunne, ANC, Harry Goodall, Tony
Woodland, HMAS Albatross' CPO 'Dogs' Barker,
CMDR Les Roberts, CAPT Steve Pearson, John Gates,
CPOET Michael Wordsworth, Gordon Branch, ex-RO
Sandy McNab, CPOMW 'Daisy' May (who's apparently
in Navy Ward at St. Vincent's Hospital), Dave Rickard,
'Guns' Manolas and ANZACSPO Techo Danny Grose.
I'm indebted to 'Guns' who, rather than complaining
on this occasion, offers what could be a fresh insight into
the Dead Slow emblazoned on Kinchela's bow. "The
'Dead Slow' is a navigational warning to passing vessels
so as to assist the crew in Kinchela in their efforts work-
ing cables and winches on deck, etc," he says.
CPO 'Daisy' May, who's currently adrift from
HMAS Waterhen, says he's 'alongside' Navy Ward 8, St
"If (Kinchela) was anywhere near as slow as life in
(the village) Kinchela," he says, "she was indeed dead
slow...bit like spending time in St Vinnies!"
The last word belongs to Dave Rickard who appears
to have temporarily usurped Guns' role as Chief
Whinger: "I'm extremely disappointed in this month's
choice of Mystery Ship Sir! After much detective work,
I came to the conclusion that 'Dead Slow' was probably
the old WWII requisitioned lighter HMAS Kinchela.
"Then, just casually browsing through the late
Ross Gillett's superb book, Australian & New Zealand
Warships, there was exactly the same picture staring up
at me! That was the end of me feeling pretty chipper
about being 'up to the challenge'. Thanks very much."
Perhaps you're English Dave? That would explain your
mastery in the art of whinging.
Your remarks have been noted and I've made a spe-
cial effort, with the help of Army's SGT David Morley,
to find a mystery ship that's unlikely to be in many of
the usually reliable references.
Have a look at Miss March. No clues, and let me
have your opinions and best guesses on her identity to
email@example.com by March 17.
-- LCDR Antony Underwood
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