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Chaos on the boatdecks

Before departure, Bosun Elias Coffin swung four lifeboats out in their davits. The torpedo explosion shattered starboard lifeboats No. 1 and 3. Running past Jack Dominie, Coffin warned the sailor not to go starboard, “Everything over there is all tangled up.”

Dominie went on the port side, grabbed an axe and cut lifeboat No. 4’s belly bands. Hanging from the davits, this lifeboat was filled with more than 60 people. Coffin placed Steward Alex Bateman in charge.

A man with glasses wearing a suit and tie

Able Seaman John Dominie was at the wheel of S.S. “Caribou” when it was torpedoed.

Listen to a reading of John Dominie’s eyewitness account of the sinking  of S.S. Caribou (with transcript).

Also on the port side, passenger Nathan Walters lowered lifeboat No. 2 and crewmember James Spencer jumped in. William Lundrigan dropped in from a boom. He is one of 23 men saved in this lifeboat, which should have carried 45.

In the water, overloaded Lifeboat No. 4 capsized. Bateman swam to Lifeboat No. 2 and checked that the drain plugs were secured. Drains were left open in resting lifeboats, and no one remembered to plug No. 4 before launching her. As Dominie, one of the survivors of the swamped lifeboat, would say, “Whoever made that rule, I don’t know.”

Lifeboat full of sailors with sinking ship in background

Lifeboat in the North Atlantic

Meanwhile, bosun Coffin made his way to the back of the ship. He passed Steward William Currie cutting a life-raft free. It floated away empty. Coffin found Lifeboats No. 5 and 6 sitting on their chocks, weighed down by passengers. The bosun was last seen begging the passengers to get out so he could launch the boats.

Carley float liferaft

Life-raft or Carley float like those on S.S. “Caribou”