The story of the loss of the American sailing ship Alfred D Snow is well known in Waterford harbour. Following a ferocious storm overnight the American sailing ship was seen at 9am inside the Hook with much of her sail taken off and working upriver with a SSW Gale at her stern. By 2pm that day nothing would remain of the ship or her 29 crew after she grounded on the Wexford side of the harbour, close to Broom Hill. But where had she come from and what had she already endured?
Alfred D Snow was a three masted fully rigged timber sailing ship, built in the Samuel Watts shipyard in Maine, USA. Sometimes her type was referred to as a ‘Down Easter’. She was 232 feet long with a beam of 42 feet.
She sailed into San Francisco bay on what was described as a gloriously sunny day almost 6 months before, on the 20th July 1887. She was one of 26 deep sea ships; both sail and steam in the Bay that late afternoon and as the sun set she found herself anchoring beside another ship from her home state of Main the Joseph B Thomas under the command of Captain William Learmond. As was customary in such situations, the officers and crew made the most of the opportunity to visit each other’s craft and share yarns and news of home.
The skipper of the Alfred D Snow was Captain William Willey and he was described by a contemporary as “handsome with his jet black hair, moustaches and side whiskers”, and was held in high regards by his crew and the business people he dealt with.
She was 143 days out of New York having sailed around the Cape Horn. Tragedy had followed them on the trip however, not uncommon in the days of sail, as first a 26 year old Swede named Charles Lindgren fell from the rigging on March 28th and was killed instantly when his head struck the rail. On April 8th the main topsail staysail block gave way and struck a German sailor, 30 year old Chas. Brown. He died two days later of his injuries. Both men were buried at sea, as was custom at the time.
In the hold of the Alfred D Snow was a mixed manifest including 1000 tons of steel rails and once removed an outbound cargo was secured. A local businessman William Dresbach, known as the wheat king of California, chartered her to carry a cargo of wheat (3150 tons, valued at $95,000) and 36,000 feet of dunnage lumber. She loaded her cargo in Oakland and on the 31st August she sailed out through the Golden Gate Strait into the pacific and turned south for the Horn. Her trip according to most accounts was described as uneventful, however as we already know, her arrival into Waterford harbour would be anything but.
Approaching the Irish coast a south east gale started to blow. The crew battled bravely but in vain and as the storm grew in force they were forced to seek shelter in Waterford Harbour. She rounded the Hook on the morning of the 3rd January (a Tuesday) 1888. Her sails were reduced, leaving her without much helm, the ship tried to either work its way up the harbour or under the Hook peninsula, in an effort to find shelter.
On land the people were helpless to give direct assistance; despite the turn out of the local coastguard on the Wexford side, the ship and her crew could not be reached from the shore. The Dunmore East lifeboat, Henry Dodd was called but didn’t respond until much later in the day with a makeshift crew, which was a matter of controversy at the time. The paddle tug Dauntless did try to respond. A telegram reached Captain Cotter who immediately departed from sheltering at Passage East. It was a trip in vain however; manoeuvrability was hampered after a paddle wheel was damaged in the fury of the seas.
The crew of the Dauntless could clearly see the ship was grounded. From a distance they witnessed the ship heeling on to her side, the waves crashing aboard, and the desperate efforts of the crew to launch a ships boat. This they lowered into the sea with some difficulty and eventually got away with some of the crew. The onlookers were helpless however as it was swamped and all aboard were drowned. Their remaining crewmates took to the rigging of the ship, hoping for salvation. As the gale continued to roar and the seas continued to pound, the ship started to break up and the exhausted crew were washed away, swallowed up in the surf.
Although the memory of the tragedy lives on, I can never help but ponder how unkind fate was to these sailors. Having endured the roaring forties, the Cape, her surging greybeards and the might of the wintery Atlantic, had she made the Tuskar Rock that night she would surely have survived as she entered the relative shelter of the Irish Sea. We will never know for sure of course. Several other questions are posed too of course, for example can we be certain the 29 man crew survived the trip to reach the Irish coast? These will have to wait for another time.
I would like to thank David Carroll, Brendan Dunne, Joe Falvey Mark Holoan and Captain Willeys gt gt granddaughter Betsey White for assistance with this piece
 The details of the preceding paragraphs, except the introduction, was taken from an article titled The Wreck of the Alfred D Snow. By Michael D White in the March 2018 edition of Sea Classics. Vol. 51, Iss. 3 Pp 10-14
 Power. John. A Maritime History of County Wexford. Vol I 1859-1910. 2011. Olinda Publications. Kilmore Quay