The fact that no signals of distress were displayed, that the steamer 'Mackinaw' was allowed to pass without being signaled, that Capt. Roberts did not do what any seaman of experience would have done to bring the vessel to the wind when she failed to come round with the jib - navigators say it would have been an easy matter to have dropped both her anchors with a full length of chain or thrown out a drag and brought the vessel to the wind - and further, that the 'Holyoke' was not ordered to steam under the lee of San Juan with her instead of out into the storm, that the passengers were not put on board the tug 'Holyoke' - all these things are being cited, and more, by critics who are severely blaming Capt. Roberts.
A prominent Port Townsend shipping man, in speaking of the 'Clallam' disaster, said: "It seems to me that the whole affair resulted as disastrously as it did on account of thick headedness and most likely a desire to save salvage charges. To start at the beginning, the storm signals were flying from the local signal station, giving warning of a southwest gale. If that was not sufficient to warn the master of the 'Clallam', the sea and gale he run into upon rounding Point Wilson certainly should have convinced him that safety lay in remaining on this side. From published interviews with survivors it appears that the 'Clallam' was discovered leaking when but four miles from the American shore, and that Captain Roberts was requested to turn back to this port at that time. Refusing to do this, he might have changed his course and run in the lee of the shore toward Dungeness, where he might have remained in perfect safety until the worst of the blow was over.
"Again, after Roberts was notified that the deadlights were broken, instead of using the one hour's steam which he had left in getting to land in the direction in which the gale was blowing, he kept the 'Clallam's' nose turned towards Victoria, which was about the most difficult direction in which she could run under the existing conditions.
"The boats in which the women and children were sent away, were launched in absolutely the most dangerous region of the entire Strait. The tide rips there are something fearful, and it has been said that one of the boats launched was sucked under, carried beneath the hull of the 'Clallam' and appeared again on the opposite side from which it was launched. A drift of half an hour would have taken the 'Clallam' out of this ride-rip region, into less dangerous waters, where the boats may have fared better.
"It is agreed that the vessel was supposed to be sinking, but there is no record of any careful observations being made of the speed with which the water was filling the hull. Had this been done, an estimate fairly correct could have been made of the length of time the 'Clallam' might have remained afloat. The judgment of an experienced mariner, such as Capt. Roberts has generally been credited with being, should have weighed more than the pleadings of inexperienced women and children at such a time. Results showed that the vessel lasted for ten hours longer.
"There were no blue-flare signals or rocket aboard the 'Clallam'. It was only by accident and through the generosity of Captain Libby that the tugs 'Sea Lion' and 'Holyoke' were despatched to the rescue, and it was further an accident or an act of Providence that the 'Holyoke' found the steamer.
"The next mistake was made in failing to notify the captain of the 'Holyoke' of the distressed and troubled condition of the 'Clallam' at once, instead of asking to be towed into Victoria, or failing that, to Port Townsend. It would have been impossible to reach Victoria in the teeth of the gale, and, as results showed, it was also impossible to reach Port Townsend. It would, however, have been possible to have beached the vessel on San Juan Island shore and had the captain maintained the same view of the condition of his vessel as he did when the women and children were sent in the boats, and conveyed that view to Capt. Hall when he first reached the 'Clallam', either by word of mouth or, failing of that, by use of the signal code in use between vessels when beyond speaking distance, much loss of life might have been averted.
"The vessel was picked up within eight miles of a safe harbor on San Juan Island. She was towed twelve miles in another direction before breaking up.
"Captain Roberts, by his own admission, as published in the interviews with him, states that as soon as he found the vessel was taking water, he got up and went to the pilot house, remaining there until he got off the 'Clallam' onto the life raft. The place of the master would have been that of general supervisor of the efforts made to keep the vessel afloat and to endeavor to keep the passengers and crew cheerful, but prepared for emergency."
The above quoted expressions emanated from one Port Townsend man of those who denounce Captain Roberts most strongly. The opposite view has been taken by many, and another Townsend shipping man, whose identity will be plain to those who remember the drowning of his father on the 'Bristol', and his brother's action on the 'South Portland', has expressed himself with much feeling, as follows: "It is easy for you and I to stand here on dry land and talk about an accident of this kind and suggest what should have been done. I have had some narrow escapes myself, and I know that no two disasters ever happen in the same way, so there is absolutely no precedent by which to act. My father was master of a vessel. He was shipwrecked and went down with her. He was called a fool for staying as long as he did and not taking to the lifeboats. My brother was in command of a steamer. Shipwreck overtook him, and he was among the men who left the vessel and reached land. He was denounced as a coward for that act. I myself was shipwrecked and drifted about for hours, and I know what it is to hang onto a life raft with the gale blowing and the icy water washing over me. After all has been said against Captain Roberts, I still believe that he is now, as he was considered to be before this terrible wreck, a careful navigator, and that he did all in his power and in his best judgment told him at the time, for the safety of both his passengers, the crew and the vessel."
Capt. Roberts is ill at his Seattle residence as a result of the exposure and worry.