Excerpt from Shockwave, by Dr. Clive Cussler
January 7, 1856
The Tasman Sea
Of the four clipper ships built in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1854, one stood out from the others. She was the Gladiator, a big ship of 1,256 tons, 198 feet in length and a 34-foot beam, with three towering masts reaching for the sky at a rakish angle. She was one of the fleetest of the clippers ever to take to the water, but she was a dangerous ship to sail in rough water because of her too fine lines. She was hailed as a ghoster, having the capability of sailing under the barest breath of wind. Indeed, the Gladiator was never to experience a slow passage from being becalmed.
Unfortunately, and unpredictably, she was a ship destined for oblivion.
owners fitted her out for the Australian trade and emigrant business, and she
was one of the few clippers designed to carry passengers as well as cargo. But
as they soon discovered, there were not that many colonists that could afford
the fare, so she was sailing with the first and second-class cabins empty. It
was found to be far more lucrative to obtain government contracts for the
transportation of convicts to the continent that initially served as the
largest jail in the world. . .
. . . After the Gladiator's safe passage through the Bass Straight between Tasmania and the southern tip of Australia, the evening sky filled with ominous black clouds and the stars were blotted out as the sea grew vicious in proportion. Unknown to (Captain) Scaggs, a full-blown typhoon was hurling itself upon the ship from the southeast beyond the Tasman Sea. Agile and stout as they were, the clipper ships enjoyed no amnesty from the Pacific's anger.
The tempest was to prove the most violent and devastating typhoon within memory of the South Sea islanders. The wind gained in velocity with each passing hour. The seas became heaving mountains that rushed out of the dark and pounded the entire length of the Gladiator. Too late, Scaggs gave the order to reef the sails. A vicious gust caught the exposed canvas and tore it to shreds, but not before snapping off the masts like toothpicks and pitching the shrouds and yards onto the deck far below. Then, as if attempting to clean up their mess, the pounding waves cleared the tangled wreckage of the masts overboard. A thirty-foot surge smashed into the stern and rolled over the ship, crushing the Captian's cabin and tearing off the rudder. The deck was swept free of boats, helm, deckhouse, and galley. The hatches were stove in, and water poured into the hold unobstructed.
This one deadly, enormous wave had suddenly battered the once graceful clipper ship into a helpless, crippled derelict. She was tossed like a block of wood, made unmanageable by the mountainous seas. Unable to fight the tempest, her unfortunate crew and cargo of convicts could only stare into the face of death as they waited in terror for the ship to take her final plunge into the restless depths.