The wreck of the SS Atala

The SS Atala

About 9:00pm on Friday 2 October, 1925 the SS Atala a small steamship, originally an American built minesweeper, belonging to the Vicomte Le Guales de Mezambran and operated by Le Ligne Maritime France-Jersey struck rocks off the south east coast of Jersey. It had left St Malo for Jersey just after 5:00pm with a crew of twelve and two passengers, Mr JF Dutot and Mr J Jerrom. The cargo included three racehorses bought by Mr Jerrom for Mr PG Poingdestre of Ann Street, St Helier and two motorcars.

They had encountered thick fog north of the Minquiers and misjudged their position when they struck rocks and ran aground. Almost immediately the ship began gaining water which was forcing its way through a 27ft gash in the starboard side. One of the lifeboats was put over the side and the two passengers along with six of the crew M. Durand, the mate, Charles Gezequel, the chief engineer, Louis Courre, a stoker, Joseph Philippe and Allain Mat, seamen and René Grimauly, the cook - got in. It took them three hours rowing against winds and currents to reach shore. They landed at La Hocq where they went to the hotel to ask for help. The French company's agent M Buesnel immediately went to the hotel and the States tug went in search of the stricken vessel.

The Atala high and dry

Captain Gicquel, P Cadiou, the engineer, Marcel Morin a stoker and two other sailors and the "mousse" remained on board the Atala which had freed itself and was drifting towards the Seymour Tower. It struck a second rock about two miles from where the initial accident had happened. The men left the vessel about 4:00am and rowed to Gorey. By the time the tug came across the wreck only the funnel and wheelhouse were sticking out above the water. The three racehorse all drowned, one of them was washed up in Bouley Bay.

Later on the Saturday, October 3, when the tide dropped the crew retrieved most of their belongings and work started on repairing the damage. Captain Gicquel, Mr Buesnel and a farmer, Mr Perredes approached Albert Barnes of Barnes Garage in New Street to repair the damage.

Albert Barnes and Harold Benest inspect the damage from the Diana while water gushes out the the hull of the stricken vessel

Using the Lloyd agent Harold Benest's boat (the Diana) as a work platform they found the Atala on a sandbank. She had a gash 27 feet long from which water squirted like a fountain. In order to repair the gash it was necessary to empty the vessel of water so an 18" square was cut out of the hull. When they returned on the next low tide the Atala had emptied herself. This allowed the damage to be repaired and a new plate welded over the draining square. When they returned the following day she was riding to her anchor.

She was towed into Gorey harbour by Captain Marret in the steamer Corbière. After the legal wranglings over salvage costs Albert Barnes was awarded 80 by the French insurance company.

Albert Barnes watches as Eddie Ahier cuts a hole in the hull to release the water trapped inside

Among those who helped Mr Barnes were Frank Le Quesne, Frank Lawrence, Eddie Ahier, Harold Benest and Gilbert More, the father of actor Kenneth More. When the Atala arrived in Gorey just after 8:00 am on October 8 she presented a sorry picture. Her funnel and wheelhouse had both gone, iron stanchions were bent back, the cargo was submerged.

The last phase of the story took place on 23 November, 1925 when the Atala was towed to her home-port of St Malo by the SS St Brieuc to be broken up.


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