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

Captain Frederick Hack and CS All America

Introduction: American Cable & Radio, a subsidiary of ITT, issued this first day cover to its customers and friends in 1958.  The cachet shows the cableship All America, built in 1921 for All America Cables, the predecessor to American Cable & Radio.  The ship was 278.4 feet in length and had four cable tanks.

1958acrcover2.jpg (127791 bytes) 1958acrcover3.jpg (37376 bytes)

Fred Hack, whose father, Frederick F. Hack, was Captain of the All America from 1936 to 1953, shares the photographs below and describes the ship, its base in Peru, and his father's involvement with the cable industry.

—Bill Burns

Fred Hack writes:

Prior to captaining the All America, Frederick Hack was Captain of another ITT cable ship, CS Edouard Jeramec based in Brooklyn, NY. It was usually docked next to J.P. Morgan's luxurious yacht, which was almost as large as the cable ship.

In 1936 my father took over as Captain of the All America, based in Callao, Peru, and our family lived in a suburb of Lima. The ship's initial operating sphere was Central and South Pacific, and the ship's home base remained Callao throughout WWII, although it often stayed at Balboa in the Canal Zone for lengthy periods of time so that it had quick access to both the Caribbean and Pacific, and to save fuel.

Captain Hack in dress blues

The general harbor (outside the breakwater) in Callao (seaport for Lima).
I believe this photo was taken shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked and the Unites States entered WWII.
The All America is in the right foreground, where it usually anchored when not getting supplies or fuel at a dock. The quay (center, extreme right) is where my father's launch would pick him up and drop him off when "in port."
Behind the All America is a Peruvian destroyer (WWI vintage).
On the left are four German cargo vessels which happened to be in port when Peru declared war on Germany. The Peruvians seized all four of them and used them as their own all through the war.

During World War 2 the All America had a close encounter with a German submarine which, for whatever reason, did not attack. Towards the end of the war, the ship was protected by two DEs (destroyer escorts) in the Caribbean, especially when dead in the water while repairing/splicing a cable.

The All America at sea

In all the years that the All America was based in Callao, the Captain was American, the other officers and the cable engineer were either British or Canadian, and the crew was Peruvian. The crew loved the ship because it offered good pay, good food and quarters. They were very loyal to Captain Hack, as he was to them, although they sometimes referred to him as "little Hitler" because he was so meticulous about the condition of the ship.

Captain Hack at the Officers Mess

Left to right standing:
Chief Engineer Meservey, Captain Hack
L to R foreground:
Unknown, Cable Engineer John Bull

The family returned to the U.S. in November, 1945, and the ship's home base was moved from Callao to Kingston, Jamaica, about 1953. Once in Jamaica, the Peruvian crew was flown home and replaced by Jamaicans. Captain Hack came ashore permanently in 1953, becoming Marine Superintendent for ITT in Manhattan. He passed away in 1961.

Coincidentally, All America was broken up in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1961.

Photos of a dead whale that had become entangled in cable and drowned.
A New York Times article of 1950 (see below) mentioned the incident,
but described the whale as "threshing on the surface". According to the
Captain, the whale had been dead for quite a while and smelled very bad.

On board the ship's launch


CABLE REPAIR SHIP RESUMING PATROL
Vessel Ready to Resume Patrol of Undersea Networks in the Caribbean
Skipper of the All America Tells How She Finds and Mends Breaks, Halifax to Peru
ONE RIP MADE BY WHALE
Snarl Strangled it as She Stood By With Gear That Keeps Messages Moving

By GEORGE HORNE

One of the two cable vessels now under the American flag has been in port since last Friday for quick repairs and stores. She will depart late today for her patrol of southern communications routes, ending her first visit to New York in twenty-two years.

She is the steamship All America, owned by All America Cable and Radio, Inc., a subsidiary of American Cable & Radio, Inc., one of the affiliates of the vast Inter national Telephone and Telegraph Corporation family of communications concerns.

Capt. Frederick Hack of Hempstead, L. I., her veteran skipper, has commanded far-ranging cable ships for sixteen years and has been a seaman for most of his life

"We will sail out tomorrow and head back for the Caribbean again, and we won't get far on the route without a message about some break or a fault in the cable network, and off we'll go to fish it out of the sea and make repairs," he said.

The All America has just returned from the Caribbean area where she followed the unseen strands in 2,650 fathoms off Watling Island, and another stretch of the cable running from Guantanamo Bay to New York.

In patroling the undersea networks from Halifax to Peru, the 1,819-gross-ton ship carries red-leaded marker buoys, twenty miles of wire rope of eighteen-ton strength, miles of heavy armored cable of three dimensions for different water depths, and a weird assortment of grapnels.

What Can Happen to a Strand

Captain Hack and John D. Bull, an English expert who is rated on the ship as the cable engineer, explained the intricate business of tracking down breaks and flaws that either cut off the flow of messages or weaken and confuse them.

Once near Lobos Island, off Peru, they sighted a big sperm whale threshing on the surface, with three turns of the weighty cable they were seeking coiled around his body. [see photos above]

"He had apparently been feeding along the bottom at 400 fathoms and ran into our cable," Captain Hack said. "A whale can't reverse, you know, and he kept pushing ahead and finally choked himself and drowned.

"That deep sea cable is 0.98 inch in diameter and in water it weighs a ton a mile. There are two other sizes, up to the 3.15 inch stuff for shore-end laying, which weighs nineteen tons a mile in water."

Communications stations detect a mishap to the cable and start a system of intricate electrical tests to determine whether it is a break or a flaw. Many faults develop by chafing, by undersea upheavals or simply by long submersion.

With Mr. Bull working on the ship, and the station crews on the ends, the experts determine first whether the mishap is an actual break or simply a bad spot, and then they run down its location with uncanny accuracy. The All America heads for the spot and usually hits it within a half mile.

Then begins a series of right-angle dragging runs with various types of grapnels - the flatfish drag for mud and sandy bottom, a chain-type, a common grapnel and a rock-holding grapnel with a wooden peg that gives way and permits the cable to be caught and held for raising to the surface.

Breaking While Lifting Cable

Cable is laid with an 8 per cent slack, meaning that over a given mile there will be 8 per cent more cable than necessary. Despite the slack it is almost impossible to pull up the cable for splicing and repairs without breaking it.

"Sometimes it's pretty deep," the captain said. "The deepest I've worked is about three miles. You can rarely pull it up without a break as you'd be lifting cable for twenty miles along the line. It breaks 90 per cent of the time."

The repair experts pay out cable at four to six knots, pick it up, or drag at a mile an hour with the almost rigid wire rope by using a series of "sheaves" which are really heavy pulleys strung in tandem along the foredeck. A six-foot drum hauls or pays out the lines winch-style. In a storm work eases after the broken ends are attached to buoys.

Under the main deck are wells into which the cable is coiled-300 miles of it when the vessel is fully loaded.

Normally the patrol route is from Valparaiso north to San José, Guatemala, but occasionally the All America gets into the North Atlantic as far up as Halifax. She is the only American ship on the run, but there is another, the Restorer, working out on the West coast.

The two officers agreed that "you never know when a cable will go." Some lines lie on the bottom for fifty or sixty years without needing attention, while others develop repair needs a month after laying, due to damage or flaws. Corrosion, teredos that bore like sea-going termites, chafing, imperfect manufacture - all are contributing causes.

Strangely, the gutta percha covering over the heavy metal strands almost always outlasts the steel armor covering.

The 296-foot cable vessel was docked during her lay-up here at the terminal of Brooklyn Piers, Inc., at Twenty-third Street.

[Source: New York Times, 29 May 1950]


CableShip Returns After 5 Years
Of Lonely Two-Ocean Patrol Duty

The All America, trouble-shooting cable ship of the All America Cables and Radio, Inc., is back in port after five years of patrolling in the Caribbean and off the west coast of South America. The 1,819 ton yacht-like vessel is undergoing extensive repair and refurbishing in the Todd Shipyards Corporation yard in Hoboken, N.J. In six weeks she will head to sea again on one of the loneliest assignments in the maritime field.

The All America and her sixty man crew are charged with maintaining and renewing 23,000 miles of submarine cables, some parts of which are as much as three miles below the surface. The vital work keeps the ship at sea almost interminably with only monthly calls for provisioning and cable replenishing.

Faults in the cables, which stretch from New York to Valparaiso, Chile, with numerous offshoots to Latin and South American countries, are detected by measuring the cable from shore to the break by its resistance to the flow of electricity.

Consulting charts giving the exact location of the faulty line, the All America criss-crosses the area, dragging a giant grapnel until the cable is hooked. Brought to the surface, it is tested and either replaced or spliced.

Capt. Frederick F. Hack, acting marine superintendent of the cable company, which is a subsidiary of the International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, said that the All America can carry 200 to 400 miles of cable depending on its diameter.

[Source: New York Times, 21 January 1955]


FREDERICK HACK, 61, HEADED CABLE SHIPS

Capt. Frederick F. Hack, marine superintendent of American Cable and Radio Corporation and in charge of its fleet of cable ships since 1958, died Friday of a heart attack in St. Vincent's Hospital. He was 61 years old.

Captain Hack, who lived at 223 Nassau Boulevard, Garden City, L.I., commanded far-ranging cable ships for twenty-seven years before 1958. He was a seaman most of his life and had been associated with American Cable for thirty-nine years.

He graduated from New York State Maritime College and received his master's license in 1935.

Captain Hack formerly commanded the steamship All America of the cable company, which patrolled southern communication routes. In the Caribbean area his ship patrolled and repaired cables from Halifax, N.S., to Peru.

[Source: New York Times, 27 March 1961]


See also George S. Watson's Remembrances of a Cable Operator
Life at All America's office in Balboa, Canal Zone in 1942.

Last revised: 27 February, 2017

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