The skipper and crew of the Allison Doura no doubt rank among the most fortunate seamen ever to set sail straight into misfortune.
The crew was six days out from Progresso, Mexico, with a hold full of sisal, 709 compressed bales in all, bound for Mobile, Ala.
The ship was heading crossways, its crew quite unaware, as the storm approached.
It was a mere month shy of 15 years since the 1900 Storm had torn across the Gulf, leveling Galveston. It had been a dozen years since construction had begun on a 17-foot-tall, concave seawall intended to henceforth protect the naked island.
By then, the National Weather Service, caught unaware by the 1900 tempest, had learned better to predict the path and pending destruction of such Atlantic monsters.
In fact, the similarly unnamed hurricane of 1915 was first noted — and word sent to ports warning of the peril — on Aug. 10. The hurricane, which by most measures exceeded the brute ferocity of the 1900 Storm, was first identified nearly 2,500 miles south and east of Galveston.
Within days the Galveston barometer fell precipitously, its needle quivering toward disaster. Long swells of surf ran counter to the wind’s direction. A certain frisson gripped the island survivors of the 1900 Storm, many of whom made their way to the beach to see how well the seawall would defend the rebuilt, backfilled city.
In ports along the Gulf, ships’ hawsers were wrenched taut around the bollards securing them as the storm approached.
Ships already at sea had no such fortune. Among them were the Allison Doura, a triple-mast schooner with a crew of eight men with Capt. Evans Wood at the helm.
The storm caught the Allison Doura 137 miles south of Mobile and some 500 miles east of Galveston.
An able-bodied seaman named Obed Quayle, a son of a Cape Cod family dependent on the sea — fishers and sailors all — eventually recounted the Allison Doura’s encounter with the storm in an oral history recorded for the U.S. Service.
“We were six days out of Progresso, Mexico,” he told his interviewer. “The weather had been fair, with a goodish bit of head winds, but we reckoned to make Mobile on Sunday, the fifteenth. On Friday the weather began to look dirty and there was a long rolling swell from the eastward that I thought was going to yank the booms out of her.
“At eight bells of the second watch, the wind shifted, and any one could see with half an eye that there was trouble brewing. The sea smelt of a storm. We made everything snug alow and aloft, put in double reefs and lay by.
“At two bells of the afternoon watch, the gale struck us, and it struck us hard. Captain Evans Wood, the skipper, a mighty good seaman, handled the craft well, but our fore-topmast was snapped right out before the gale had been on us an hour.
“The jib-boom, too, went with the crash and the nasty mess of timber and shrouds, floating to leeward, began to hammer at our hull in an ugly fashion. A couple of us got at the wreckage as best we could, but before we had cut it adrift, the Allison Doura had sprung a leak and four of us went to the pumps. …
“The wind was whistling like all possessed. It was asking more than any vessel had a right to stand, and around midnight the fore staysail was blown clean out of the boltropes and she lost steerage way again. We couldn’t hold her to the wind.”
Wood did what he could, ordering dual anchors dropped in hope of gaining a hold on the seabed, yet the anchors might just as well have been the talons of a declawed house cat for all the good they did in gaining the ship purchase as the ship spun in the throes of the violently shifting winds, anemometers by then topping 120 mph.
“Somewhere around dawn on Sunday morning, the wind decided to show us what it really could do,” Quayle recounted. “It was shifting northerly and then westerly and we all knew that we were being driven into the very middle of the storm. The gale grew fiercer and fiercer, the sea was lashed to a mass of foam and in the shrieking of the hurricane we couldn’t tell, half the time, whether we were under water or above it. …
“It was raining in torrents, too, but that didn’t make any difference, for there was so much water that you couldn’t tell whether it was the waves or the spray or the rain was drowning’ you; all we knew was that we were gasping for breath in an atmosphere that seemed about half air and half water.”
Yet, at that moment of utter despair came hope — or at least the promise of an end to the ordeal.
“In the night, I suddenly saw the lights of a town,” Quayle recalled. “It was Galveston, and we were driving’ right on for it.”
One of the Allison Doura’s anchors, after 500 miles of scuttling futility, at last caught hold, one of its flukes gaining purchase on the toe of the seawall at 31st Street, where soldiers at Fort Crockett saw its waterborne arrival and came to the drenched crew’s ultimate rescue.
“A sea picked us up and threw us at the sea-wall. … The schooner was thrown out of the water, as a porpoise jumps, vaulted the sea-wall and came to solid ground with a crash. We landed stern first, and the wave that followed us tore off our bow and foredeck and threw them clear over the vessel. The foredeck was found, after the storm, a hundred yards southeast of the maindeck. The bow was found eight blocks away, in the center of the business district of the city. …
“Daylight of Tuesday found me in bed, with an army surgeon straightening out my broken bones. The hurricane still raged over Galveston. We had been derelict for two days and a half, at the pumps for fifty-seven hours, without food or water for forty hours, yet not a man was lost. No other dismasted vessel has ever lived through the eye of a hurricane and been tossed over a sea-wall into the business streets of a city.
“Yet seven of us, all Americans, still live to tell the tale.’ ”