The strange story of the Warrimo, the steamer that “travelled” through time

It’s possible to travel back in time or even be in two different centuries? Essentially not. Yet a particular event, recorded in an old logbook made famous by the chronicles, could give us the opportunity to overturn the certainties of our answers.

It was the night of December 31, 1899 when the SS Warrimo, an Australian steamer in line with the New Zealand & Australian Steamship Company, was heading for the calm waters of the Pacific Ocean, midway through its route from Canada to Sydney. She launched in the shipyards of old England, 105 meters long and capable of hosting passengers and loads that required refrigeration, Warrimo was under the command of the captain John D.S Phillipsskilled and experienced navigator who wanted to somehow “defy time”, perhaps after learning that the writer Mark Twain, author of Following the Equatorhe had written a few jokes about it while he was on board his ship.

In fact, a few turns of the clock from midnight, it seems that Phillips was waiting on the bridge for the first officer’s information F.J Bayldon, which had been commanded to calculate a star point to bring the ship, busy keeping its course, on a particular coordinate. The result, obtained through a series of calculations that at least we land or freshwater men cannot understand easily, was based on the previous hours. But considering the direction, the sustained speed and every variable of the case, it was enough to satisfy the captain who, intent on smoking a cigar while in the internal saloon he was one step away from celebrating the arrival of the “new year”, was preparing to enter the story individually. Phillips had realized, in fact, that given the position reached by the ship it was possible, by maneuvering as was convenient, to cross the Equator in correspondence with the “date line” precisely on the stroke of midnight. By arranging that his vessel – officially Australian Territory – was at the same time and therefore at the same time”in two different days, months, seasons and years, but above all in two different centuries”.

Having communicated the “feat” to his officers, he gave instructions for the bridge to prepare to maneuver in order to keep the ship in this singular “space-time” condition for as long as possible. Thus it was that between 1899 and 1900, the steamer Warrimo governed by the eccentric captain of the Australian merchant marine, found itself crossing the 180° E/W meridian between Ellice and Phoenix Islands – or on the “imaginary” date line established in 1884. And it was worth, at least of the fictional tradition , the victory of the bet accepted by Phileas Fogg in the famous novel by Jules Verne Around the world in 80 days. At the same time, the bow of the Warrimo it was in fact in the southern hemisphere, therefore in the summer season, while its stern, just one hundred and five meters further away, followed it from the northern hemisphere, therefore in the winter season. Thus, while in the stern section it was formally December 31, 1899, at 105 meters or a little less the first day of January 1900 was celebrated (although formally the beginning of the twentieth century was celebrated on January 1, 1901, ed).

The singular adventure from “Golden Shellback” of Captain Phillips and the Warrimo – in Anglo-Saxon tradition, shellbacks are sailors who ritually became “sons of Neptune” after crossing the Equator – he ended up setting a record that made history. Although not essentially demonstrable given the rudimentary instrumentation of that historical period. And this despite the fact that the secret of that night was jealously guarded by Phillips and his family until his retirement years.

Only in 1942, when the Warrimo – converted during the First World War into a troop carrier – had long since rested on the bottom of the Mediterranean next to the French destroyer Catapults who, hitting her, had sunk her with the explosion of her depth charges in 1918, a Canadian journalist of theOttawa Journal went to visit Captain Phillips to dig up that strange turn-of-the-century voyage. He told the world how it was possible to “travel through time”, despite being able to count on a top speed of just 14 and a half knots.

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The strange story of the Warrimo, the steamer that “travelled” through time

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