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History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications
from the first submarine cable of 1850 to the worldwide fiber optic network

George West - 1883 Cable Repairs

Notes on cable problems off Cape Blanco

From discussion of a paper presented to the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1897 titled: "On Some Repairs to the South American Company's Cable off Cape Verde in 1893 and 1895" by H. Benest. [Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, Vol. XXVI - 1897]

Captain Lugar: I have listened with considerable interest to the paper read by Mr. Benest at our last meeting, and as it coincides somewhat with my own experience in another part of the world, I would like, with your permission, to say a few words on this subject.

While in command of the Central and South American Telegraph Company's repairing steamer "Relay," I was called upon, in April, 1891, to repair a section of cable connecting Payta, in Peru, with Santa Elena, in Ecuador. By tests from Payta, the fracture in cable was located at a position nearly due West, about 10 miles, from the small harbour of Talara, between Cape Blanco and Parina Point, in Northern Peru. (Talara, about this time was celebrated for the great quantities of petroleum found in the vicinity.) This section of cable was noted for the regularity of its rupture nearly every year, about the end of March, or early in April.

After arriving on the "ground," I took a series of soundings to determine position of gully said to lie off this coast. I then grappled for cable on either side, and succeeded in getting each bight to the surface without any difficulty; but, on picking up towards the fractured ends, I found the last half-knot on both sides deeply embedded in mud and clay, wires scoured quite bright, cable flattened in several places, and very "screwy," some of the wires broken and "rucked" up near the end, and showing unmistakable signs of having undergone great tension and considerable rough usage.

The weather was fine, light breezes and smooth water; in fact, in this locality gales are unknown, and rain seldom falls near the coast, but beyond 50 miles inland from Talara, at times the downpour is exceedingly heavy.

In repairing this cable I relaid the inserted piece some considerable distance further west, where, from the soundings I obtained, I thought the cable would be fairly clear of future trouble.

However, in the latter part of March of the following year—1892—it broke again, apparently from the same cause as in previous years. I had a similar experience in recovering the fractured ends. I devoted all the time I could spare to sounding, and traced the sides and bottom of the gully from about half a mile of the entrance to Talara Harbour to about 12 miles west. I noticed in nearly every case, the specimen of bottom brought up from the deep part of gully, was coarse gray sand, and small stones; that of the sides a very tenacious clay; and from the comparatively level part further away, soft green mud. The piece of cable inserted this time was laid about three miles more west, in over 1,000 fathoms depth of water, with an abundance of slack, and I felt confident we should be free from trouble in this locality for a year or two at least.

We returned to Callao on the evening of April 1st, and before coming to anchor, I received a message from shore, that the section we had just repaired was getting weak, and by the time I arrived at our Callao office, communication had been completely interrupted.

Mr. Kingsford, the company's engineer, took some tests from Chorillos, and reported break at practically same distance as before. I believe we actually found the fracture in the middle of piece inserted by us a few days previously. We found the cable flattened near the ends, and about 400 fathoms of either side stripped to the bare wires, which were quite bright; and this had been done inside of five days.

This time I carried the inserted piece seaward into about 1,400 fathoms, and nearly seven miles outside the position of last fracture, and I believe this section has not been interrupted off Talara since.

Some few months later, during a conversation with one of the officials of the Talara Petroleum Company, about the nature of the bottom outside their harbour, he informed me that a Peruvian half-caste he had employed at the wells asserted, that beyond the Amatape Mountains, which lie at the back of Talara, there existed a chain of lakes, which had an outlet through a hole in the mountain side, and that canoes and paddles lost on the lakes had been found on the coast between Talara and Parina Point.

This evidence, I think, goes far towards proving the existence of a submarine river in this locality, and that the greatest outflow takes place in the months of March and April: we have had fair proof of its action by the many interruptions to the cable laid across its outlet. These months coincide with the time of heaviest of the rainy season in the Cordilleras and Amatape Ranges.

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Last revised: 23 February, 2010

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